Why do criminals covet French bulldogs? The breed offers quick cash, but big trouble

MIAMI — In five minutes, Sailor’s life changed the way she knew it. She was snatched from her Marathon home and fed hot dogs by thieves who thought they had gotten payday.

But they were wrong. The sailor was sterilized. There would be no expensive puppies from her.

Their thwarted Plan A left them searching for ideas – until they accepted a $1,000 ransom. They took the dog and fled the Overseas Highway. A day later, they arranged a meeting at Dadeland Mall – a meeting where the police reunited Sailor with her family and arrested the suspects.

Sailor is one of 2 million dogs stolen each year in the United States. But she is also one of the lucky 10% who have found their masters.

French Bulldogs, like many other purebred dogs, are targets of theft due to their high value. Scammers seek to “fold dogs”: steal, take and adopt dogs to breed them, and resell them for a quick profit.

Even Lady Gaga has fallen victim to the trend. Her French bulldogs, Koji and Gustav, were stolen in a 2021 street robbery that left her dog walker shot and seriously injured.

Tales of violent encounters and snatched Frenchies are common across the country. A Miami breeder lost his award-winning French Bulldog, Che, and two litters of puppies to thieves in 2014.

Breeder Diana Zingaretti, owner of the Miami Blue French Bulldogs, has heard stories of stolen Frenchies all too often. The breed can range from $5,000 to $200,000 for a puppy, which attracts thieves looking to make a quick buck.

She said she saw cars circle her house and examine it. His property is filled with indoor and outdoor cameras.

“That’s why I really don’t like walking my dogs anymore,” Zingaretti said. “I just carry a gun now just to be on the safe side.”

She does not allow customers to come to her house to see the puppies. She usually meets them at a police station or shopping mall – and does a criminal background check before suggesting a meeting.

Breeders and owners shouldn’t leave Frenchies in their backyards unattended for even a minute, she said. The bandits are jumping the fences, ready to steal the dogs and run away.

“Unless it’s like Lady Gaga, it’s not all over the news,” Zingaretti said. “But it happens often.”

A 14-year-old Miami breeder, who asked that her name not be published for fear scammers would target her, said she thought French bulldog thefts were more common a few years ago. In many cases, the thieves raising the stolen dogs don’t know what they’re doing and the puppies end up with health issues, she said.

French Bulldog Village, a national rescue group, has seen an increase in the number of overbred and inbred dogs with serious health issues, said treasurer Cara Berardo. And it’s not just medical conditions. They are also behavioral.

Some Frenchies are even bred in “trendy colors.” Blue, merle and lilac puppies have more serious medical and behavioral issues, she said.

Although gentle and lovable, French Bulldogs can be stubborn and require training, said Philadelphia-based Berardo. And in some cases, they can become aggressive.

The rescue group has struggled with dogs biting volunteers and foster families, she said. Many pandemic Frenchie owners have abandoned their dogs because they are unsocialized and bite anyone around them.

A puppy was taken in by a Pennsylvania woman trained in caring for dogs with behavioral issues.

“If she hadn’t taken him, we would have had to drop him off and it’s not an easy decision,” she said. “This dog is a handicap for our volunteers and for the continuation of our rescue. If we are chased by someone because the dog bit him, that ends all the good we are doing.

Many French bulldogs have intervertebral disc disease and need surgery or they might never walk again, she said. The operation, which can cost up to $4,000, has a low success rate if not done immediately. Two Frenchies to the rescue are ‘almost unadoptable’ due to illness.

Berardo, who has worked with the breed since 2008, has experience caring for a sickly Frenchie. She rescued Conrad, a puppy mill dog from Missouri who was sold to a New York pet store.

When she adopted Conrad, he injured his leg. But that was the least of his worries. He had to have his soft palate cut off and his nostrils widened to be able to breathe properly.

Conrad also suffered from a deformed esophagus. For seven years, Berardo had to watch him struggle to eat and breathe and vomit after eating or drinking. The only thing she could do to save Conrad was to have him have a prosthetic esophagus, an operation with a low success rate.

So Berardo and his vet decided to let him live out the rest of his life.

And even with $30,000 in medical treatment, Conrad died of failure in his own body — because he was overblooded and likely inbred, Berado said.

“To watch this little life that was so precious and so wonderful… He just never should have been born,” she said. “He was born out of greed.”

Breeding French bulldogs is expensive and time-consuming, said breeder Michael Gomez, owner of Miami-area Bulldogs4Ever. This is why the average price of a puppy from a reputable South Florida breeder ranges from $3,500 to $10,000. They require blood tests, frequent medical attention and caesarean sections.

To ensure French Bulldog Village puppies are not raised, all dogs are neutered unless they have conditions preventing them from doing so, Berardo said. Those who adopt are required to sign a waiver agreeing not to breed the dog. The rescue also conducts reference checks, home visits and intense questioning to ensure the Frenchie gets into a forever home. Dogs that don’t like children aren’t placed with fosters, and adopters interested in a dog with health issues are warned of high medical costs.

Minutes after Berardo spoke to the Miami Herald, two Frenchies were dumped in the Southeast Veterinary Neurology parking lot near Miami. They were barnyard herding dogs in poor condition, she said.

French bulldogs with these conditions exist because of backyard breeders and puppy suckers, she said. People would rather get a puppy quickly than go on a years-long waiting list from a reputable breeder.

“It just reproduces in the culture of I see, I want, I get,” she said.

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