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 the house to meet a buyer, his checklist includes veterinary paperwork, a bag of puppy kibble, and his Glock 26.
“If I don’t know the area, if I don’t know the people, I always carry my gun,” Mr. Del Rosario said recently one afternoon when he showed Cashew, a six-month-old French bulldog of a new “fluffy” variety. which can bring in $30,000 or more.
With their perky ears, their look I’m eager to pick up and rock, and their short-legged crocodile waddle, French bulldogs have become the “it” dog for influencers, pop stars, and professional athletes. Faithful companions in the age of work from home, 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.
They are also violently stolen from their owners with alarming frequency. In the past year, French bulldog robberies have been reported in Miami, New York, Chicago, Houston and — most importantly, it seems — throughout California. Often the dogs are shot at gunpoint. In perhaps the most infamous theft, Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, Koji and Gustav, were snatched from her dog walker, who was beaten, suffocated and shot in last year’s attack on a Los Angeles sidewalk.
The price of owning a Frenchie has been heavy on the household budget for years – puppies usually sell for $4,000 to $6,000, but can go for multiples more if they’re one of the new trendier varieties. But owning a French bulldog also comes with an increasing non-monetary expense: the paranoia of a thief reaching over a garden gate. The hypervigilance when walking the dog after reading about the latest kidnapping.
For unlucky owners, French bulldogs are the confluence of two very American traits: the love of canine companions and the ubiquity of firearms.
On a chilly January night in the Adams Point neighborhood of Oakland, California, Rita Warda was walking not far from her home with Dezzie, her 7-year-old Frenchie. An SUV pulled up and the passengers got out and jumped over to her.
“They had their guns and said, ‘Give me your dog,'” said Mrs Warda.
Three days later, a stranger called and said she found the dog around a local high school. Ms. Warda is now taking self-defense classes and advising French bulldog owners to carry pepper spray or a whistle. Ms. Warda says she doesn’t know why Dezzie’s captors gave up on him, but it could be his old age: Frenchies have one of the shortest lifespans among dog breeds, and 7 years old was long in the tooth.
In late April, Cristina Rodriguez was driving home from work at a cannabis dispensary in the Melrose neighborhood of Los Angeles. When she stopped at her home in North Hollywood, someone opened her car door and took Moolan. along† her 2 year old black and white Frenchie.
Ms. Rodriguez said she didn’t remember many details of the theft. “If you have a gun to your head, you kind of have a blackout,” she said.
But CCTV footage in her neighborhood and near the pharmacy seems to indicate that the thieves followed her in traffic for 45 minutes before jumping.
“They stole my baby from me,” Mrs. Rodriguez said. “It’s so sad to come home every day and not have her greet me.”
Patricia Sosa, a board member of the French Bull Dog Club of America, said she was not aware of a tally of annual thefts. Social media groups created by Frenchie owners are often laced with warnings. If you own a Frenchie, says a post on a Facebook group devoted to lost or stolen French bulldogs, “don’t let it disappear from your sight.”
“Criminals make more money stealing frenchies than robbing convenience stores,” the report said.
Ms. Sosa, who owns a breeding business north of New Orleans, said the temptation to take advantage of the French bulldog craze had also spawned an industry of fake sellers demanding deposits for dogs that don’t exist.
“There are so many scams going on,” she said. “People think, ‘Hey, I’ll say I have a Frenchie for sale and I’ll make five, six, seven thousand dollars fast.'”
Ms. Sosa said that breeders are particularly vulnerable to theft. She doesn’t give her address to customers until she’s thoroughly researched it. “I have security cameras everywhere,” she said.
French bulldogs, as the name suggests, are a French offshoot of the small bulldogs that were bred in England in the mid-1800s. An earlier version of the Bouledogue Français, as it is called in France, was favored as a rat-catcher by butchers in Paris before becoming the toy dog of artists and the bourgeoisie, and the dog muses that appeared in works by Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec.
Today, the American Kennel Club defines French bulldogs as a “square head with bat ears and roach back”.
In the world of veterinary medicine, Frenchies are controversial because their much-loved features — their large heads and bulging puppy eyes, sunken noses and folds of skin — create what Dan O’Neill, a canine expert at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College, calls “ultra-predispositions.” for medical problems.
Their heads are so big that mothers have trouble giving birth; most french bulldog puppies are delivered by cesarean section. Their short, muscular body also makes it difficult for them to conceive naturally. Breeders usually inseminate the dogs artificially.
Most worrisome for researchers like Mr. O’Neill is the dog’s flat face, which can make his breathing difficult. French bulldogs often make snoring noises even when fully awake, they tend to tire quickly and are sensitive to the heat. They may also develop a rash in their skin folds. Because of their bulging eyes, some French bulldogs are unable to blink completely.
Mr O’Neill leads a group of vets and other dog experts in the UK urging potential buyers to “stop and think twice before buying a flat-faced dog”, a category that includes French bulldogs, English bulldogs, Pugs, Shih includes Tzus, Pekingese and Boxers.
“There’s a flat-faced dog crisis,” Mr. O’Neill said. French bulldogs, he concluded in a recent research paper, have four times as many conditions as any other dog.
These pleas and warnings have not stopped French bulldogs from rising in popularity, fueled in large part by social media. As in the United States, in Britain the French bulldog has been neck and neck with the Labrador for the title of most popular breed in recent years.
Mrs. Sosa blamed the poor results on poor breeding. “Well-bred dogs are relatively healthy,” she said.
Mr. Del Rosario, the breeder in Elk Grove, a suburb just south of Sacramento, says professional soccer and basketball players are some of his most loyal customers. He has sold puppies to players for the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals. Four years ago, the San Francisco 49ers bought 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 its canine list.
Mr. Del Rosario’s most expensive Frenchie was a “lilac” with a purplish-grey coat, light eyes that glowed red, and a tinge of pink on his muzzle. It was sold for $100,000 to a South Korean buyer who wanted the dog because of its rare genetics. The dog was one of hundreds of puppies that Mr. Del Rosario has sold over the past year 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 about not letting them walk the dogs alone.
“I don’t care if you go to the mailbox,” he said. “No, they just can’t walk the dogs alone.
“With all this stuff with these dogs, you never know.”