The two thieves who brutally robbed 27-year-old Marieke Bayens at gunpoint on a California street weren’t after her purse — or her. They wanted the little dog at the end of their leash: Merlyn, a French bulldog.
From New York to Los Angeles and from Miami to Chicago, thefts of the prized breed have increased.
Small and friendly – and therefore easy to grab – French bulldogs are very popular, selling for thousands of dollars on the black market.
They have the added appeal of being a “Star Dog”.
The most famous victim so far was Lady Gaga. Gunmen stole their pet bulldogs, Koji and Gustav, last year and even opened fire on an employee who was walking them (he was wounded but survived).
The superstar singer offered a $500,000 reward for their return and ended up getting the dogs back. Police made five arrests in the case.
Bayens survived a similarly traumatic attack in November while walking a friend’s dog, Merlyn, in the city of Oakland, California. The brazen attack happened in broad daylight.
“I was waiting for Merlyn to go about his business when I saw two people coming,” she told AFP. “Before I knew it, someone was standing in front of me, pointing a gun at my face and saying, ‘Give me the dog.’
“The other had already grabbed Merlyn off the ground, and when I didn’t respond to one pointing the gun, the other pulled the rest of Merlyn’s leash from my hand. They ran to their car and sped off down a street,” driving the wrong way down a one-way street, she said.
Bulldog thefts in other parts of the country have been carried out using similar cold-blooded tactics.
Last year, people in San Francisco heard the harrowing story of Sarah Vorhaus, around 30, who was stopped by three gunmen and brutally beaten by one before getting away with her five-month-old French bulldog, Chloe. Pictures on social media showed the young woman with a badly swollen face.
So why are French bulldogs such a tempting target for thieves?
Two main reasons: their high resale value — $3,500 to $5,000 or more — and their relative rarity, Brandi Hunter Munden, vice president of the American Kennel Club, told AFP.
“This isn’t a breed that has big litters…and it can take a while to get one,” she said. “Their rising popularity has led to an increase in thefts.
“However, the use of force is new and alarming.”
In the face of the spate of “dognappings,” experts offer a list of precautions for owners: Have a computer chip implanted in the pet to enable tracking; Always keep him on a leash when outdoors (and seal any dog door that allows him to leave the house unescorted); keep their identity papers in a safe place; use a GPS-equipped collar; and be wary of strangers knocking.
But the most important recommendation – and probably the one that gets the least attention – relates to social media: owners are strongly advised to resist the temptation to post cute photos or videos of their pets that could allow thieves to find them.
Countless celebrities — actors, athletes, musicians, models, and influencers — have ignored this rule. These include stars like Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Jackman, Chrissy Teigen, Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna, Snoop Dogg, Michael Phelps and Hilary Duff.
So it’s no surprise that Hollywood has become a hotspot for French bulldog theft.
In late December, a resident nearly died in an incident near Sunset Boulevard.
Robert Marinelli was walking Luca, his eight-year-old bulldog, when he was attacked.
Two thieves brutally beat him and when his shirt got caught in their car door, he was briefly pulled to the ground.
He suffered serious injuries and was hospitalized.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published by a syndicated feed.)