The two thieves who brutally robbed 27-year-old Marieke Bayens at gunpoint on a street in Oakland, California, were not after her purse — or her. They wanted the little dog at the end of her leash: Merlyn, a French bulldog.
From New York to Los Angeles, and from Miami to Chicago, thefts of the prized breed have been on the rise.
Small and friendly, and thus easy to grab, French bulldogs are hugely popular, selling for thousands of dollars on the black market.
They have the added draw of being a “dog of the stars.”
The most famous victim so far has been Lady Gaga. Armed men last year stole her pet bulldogs Koji and Gustav, even opening fire on an employee who was walking them. He was wounded but survived.
The superstar singer offered a US$500,000 reward for their return and eventually got them back. Police made five arrests in the case.
Bayens survived a similar attack in November last year while walking Merlyn, a friend’s dog. The attack occurred in broad daylight.
“I was waiting for Merlyn to go about his business when I saw two people coming,” she said. “Before I knew it, one was in front of me pointing a gun at my face and said: ‘Give me the dog.’”
“The other had already grabbed Merlyn off the ground, and when I didn’t respond to the one pointing the gun, the other pulled ... Merlyn’s leash out from my hand. They ran away towards their car and sped away down a street,” she said.
Similar tactics have been used elsewhere in the country.
Last year, people in San Francisco heard the story of 30-something Sarah Vorhaus, who was stopped by three armed men and brutally beaten by one, before they made off with her five-month-old French bulldog Chloe.
So why are French bulldogs such a tempting target for thieves?
Two key reasons: their high resale value — US$3,500 to US$5,000 or more — and their relative rarity, said Brandi Hunter Munden, vice president of the American Kennel Club.
“This is not a breed that has large litters ... and it can take a while to get one,” she said. “Their rise in popularity has led to an increase in thefts... The use of violence, however, is new and alarming.”
Experts recommend that owners have a computer chip implanted in their pet for tracing; always keep it on a leash when outdoors; keep its identity papers in a safe place; use a GPS-equipped collar; and be wary of strangers who come knocking.
However, the most crucial recommendation involves social media: Owners are strongly urged to resist the temptation of posting cute photographs or videos of their pets, which could enable thieves to locate them.
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