ELK GROVE, Calif. — The French bulldog business is booming for Jaymar Del Rosario, a breeder whose puppies can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. When he leaves home to meet a buyer, his checklist includes vet papers, a bag of puppy food and his Glock 26.
“If I don’t know the area, if I don’t know the people, I always carry my sidearm,” Del Rosario said one recent afternoon as he showed Cashew, a 6-month-old French bulldog of a new “mellow” variety that can fetch $30,000 or more.
With their piercing ears, pleaser gaze and short-legged crocodile waddle, French Bulldogs have become the “it” dog for influencers, pop stars and professional athletes. Faithful companions in the work-from-home era, French Bulldogs always seem ready for an Instagram upload. They are now the second most popular dog breed in the United States after Labrador retrievers.
Some are also violently stolen from their owners. Over the past year, flights of French bulldogs have been reported in Miami, New York, Chicago, Houston and — above all, it seems — on the other side California. Often dogs are caught at gunpoint. In perhaps the most notorious theft, Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, Koji and Gustav, were snatched from the hands of her dog walker, who was punched, choked and shot in the attack of the year. last on a Los Angeles sidewalk.
The price of owning a Frenchie has for years been a strain on the household budget – puppies typically sell for $4,000-$6,000, but can buy multiple times if they’re one of the hot new varieties . Yet, owning a French Bulldog increasingly comes with non-monetary costs: the paranoia of a thief jumping over a garden fence. Hypervigilance walking his dog after learning of the latest kidnapping.
For unlucky owners, French Bulldogs are a confluence of two very American traits: the love of canine companions and the ubiquity of guns.
On a cold January evening in the Adams Point neighborhood of Oakland, Calif., Rita Warda was walking Dezzie, her 7-year-old Frenchie, not far from her home. An SUV pulled up and its passengers got out and rushed towards it.
“They had their gun and they said, ‘Give me your dog,'” Ms Warda said.
Three days later, a stranger called and said she had found the stray dog at a local high school. Ms Warda is now taking self-defense classes and advises French bulldog owners to wear pepper spray or a whistle. Ms Warda says she doesn’t know why Dezzie’s kidnappers abandoned him, but it could have been his advanced age: Frenchies have one of the shortest lifespans among dog breeds, and 7 years was already a long time in the tooth.
At the end of April, Cristina Rodriguez returned from her job at a cannabis dispensary in the Melrose district of Los Angeles. When she pulled up to her North Hollywood home, someone opened her car door and took Moolan away., her 2 year old black and white Frenchie.
Ms Rodriguez said she could not remember many details of the flight. “When you have a gun to your head, you kind of pass out,” she said.
But footage from surveillance cameras in her neighborhood and near the dispensary appears to indicate the thieves followed her for 45 minutes in traffic before pounced.
“They stole my baby,” Ms Rodriguez said. “It’s so sad to come home every day and not see her say hi to me.”
It’s unclear how widespread French bulldog thefts are nationwide, and some local law enforcement agencies have said they don’t count these particular crimes.
French Bull Dog Club of America board member Patricia Sosa said she was not aware of any annual tally. Social media groups created by Frenchie owners are often peppered with warnings. If you own a Frenchie, says a post on a Facebook group dedicated to lost or stolen French bulldogs, “don’t lose sight of it”.
“Criminals make more money stealing from Frenchies than robbing convenience stores,” the post read.
Ms Sosa, who owns a breeding business north of New Orleans, said the lure of cashing in on the French bulldog craze has also spawned an industry of bogus sellers demanding deposits for dogs that don’t don’t exist.
“There are so many scams going on,” she said. “People think, ‘Hey, I’ll say I’ve got a Frenchie for sale and I’m making a quick five, six, seven grand. “”
Ms Sosa said herders were particularly vulnerable to theft. She does not give out her address to customers until she has thoroughly researched them. “I have security cameras everywhere,” she said.
French bulldogs, as their name suggests, are a French offshoot of the small bulldogs bred in England in the mid-1800s. An earlier version of the French Bulldog, as it is known in France, was favored as a rat catcher by the butchers in Paris before becoming the little dog of artists and the bourgeoisie, and the canine muses who appeared in the works of Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Today, the American Kennel Club defines French Bulldogs as having a “square head with bat ears and a cockroach’s back.”
In the world of veterinary medicine, Frenchies are controversial because their beloved characteristics — their big heads and puffy puppy eyes, sunken noses and folds of skin — create what canine expert Dan O’Neill at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, calls “ultra-predispositions” to medical problems.
Their heads are so big that mothers have trouble giving birth; most french bulldog puppies are delivered by caesarean section. Their short, muscular bodies also make it difficult for them to conceive naturally. Breeders usually artificially inseminate dogs.
Of most concern to researchers like O’Neill is the dog’s flat face, which can interfere with its breathing. French Bulldogs often make humming noises even when fully awake, they often tire easily, and they are sensitive to heat. They may also develop rashes in their skin folds. Due to their bulging eyes, some French Bulldogs are unable to blink.
Mr. O’Neill lead a group vets and other canine experts in the UK who urge potential buyers to “stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog”, a category that includes French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, Pugs, shih tzus, pekingese and boxers.
“There is a flat-faced dog crisis,” Mr O’Neill said. French bulldogs, he concluded in a recent research paper, have four times the trouble of all other dogs.
These pleas and warnings haven’t stopped French Bulldogs from skyrocketing in popularity, propelled in large part by social media. As in the United States, the French Bulldog in Britain is neck and neck with the Labrador for the title of most popular breed in recent years.
Ms. Sosa blamed poor breeding for the poor results. “Well-behaved dogs are relatively healthy,” she said.
Mr. Del Rosario, the rancher from Elk Grove, a suburban town just south of Sacramento, says professional soccer and basketball players are among his most loyal customers. He sold puppies to players from the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals. Four years ago, the San Francisco 49ers purchased Zoe, a black brindle Frenchie who serves as the team’s emotional support dog. Two years later, the team added Rookie, a blue-gray French Bulldog puppy with hazel eyes, to their dog list.
Mr. Del Rosario’s most expensive Frenchie was a “lilac” with a purplish-gray coat, light eyes that glowed red and a pinkish tinge to his muzzle. He sold for $100,000 to a South Korean buyer who wanted the dog for his rare genetics. The dog was one of several hundred puppies Mr. Del Rosario has sold over the past decade and a half.
He has kept seven Frenchies for his extended family, including his two daughters aged 9 and 10. The girls play with the Frenchies at home, but Mr. Del Rosario is strict not to let them walk the dogs alone.
“I don’t care if you go to the mailbox,” he said. “No, they just can’t take the dogs out on their own.
“With everything going on with these dogs, you never know.”