On Wednesday, a dog walker took Lady Gaga’s three French bulldogs for a late-night stroll through Hollywood when a gunman shot him and fled with two of the pups. (The third dog was not taken.) Police have not said why the dog walker, who was in critical condition on Thursday, was shot. Lady Gaga is offering a $500,000 reward for the return of the two bulldogs, Koji and Gustav.
This isn’t the first Frenchie-napping, in even the past few weeks. One possible motivation: money. French bulldogs are very expensive to breed, thanks to the testing, artificial insemination, and C-section births (their huge heads get stuck in the birth canal) required of each litter. Sandy Briley of Francoeur Frenchies, a breeder outside of Los Angeles, says that depending on the color of the dog (lilac tan is popular) and its DNA, a puppy of hers can sell for up to $12,500. She predicted that a stolen puppy, without American Kennel Club paperwork, could probably sell for $2,000.
So was this incident part of a French bulldog–stealing epidemic? I spoke to pet investigator Karin TarQwyn to get some answers. Our conversation had been edited and condensed for clarity.
Slate: What does it mean to be a pet investigator?
Karin TarQwyn: I’m a private investigator, but I switched from dealing with messy people stuff to messy pet stuff once my own dog went tragically missing. I use my own dogs to track the scents of other people’s missing ones.
Can you tell me about the French bulldog?
The French bulldog is the most desirable and expensive dog. It would be hard to find a French bulldog puppy for under $3,500. Bulldogs are a hyped-up item. Somebody wouldn’t go into a grocery store, tie their bulldog up outside, and expect for the dog to still be there when they came back. Bulldogs have money on their paws.
Do you have a lot of French bulldog cases?
Yes, a lot. People really want French bulldogs—not just to sell, but to keep. The dog gets picked up by somebody, and instead of returning it, they make the decision to keep it. That’s what the case is 99 percent of the time.
French bulldogs are the hardest to get back. It takes a lot of reward money to get the dog back.
So French bulldog aren’t usually stolen?
The most commonly stolen dog is a French bulldog. But in most cases, people aren’t stealing the dog. Mostly, when a person takes what they think is a stray bulldog, they just think they’re being a good Samaritan or abiding by “finders keepers.” Sometimes, the dogs are held for resale and reward.
Bulldogs are stolen—by which I mean taken off their property with intent. But they’re not stolen as often as people think.
What happens when you get a bulldog case?
The first thing I ask is about the personality of their dog. People with French bulldogs almost always say their dog is friendly to strangers. I tell them that doing a written reward campaign is the best way to get the dog to come back—I don’t even have to come out there [to investigate]. Since chances are, with bulldogs, the dog wasn’t even out on the street two or three minutes before somebody picked them up. Somebody just wanted them for their own pet. It was random.
And the truth is that they’re not going to get in any trouble—the risk of taking a dog is not very high.
Why is that?
Police are never interested in the case, since it’s your word against the other person’s.
Someone will see a reward sign and call you up but will only give information if the police aren’t involved. So our signs always say the dog is “missing,” not “stolen.” People are more likely to respond to that. Like with this one case of mine with a French bulldog puppy in Tennessee, there was a $3,500 reward. This man called and said he found the puppy walking on the street. We know that’s not what happened. But he gave us the dog back, and we gave him the money.
What do you think about the Lady Gaga case?
This is very different than what I’ve seen before. They must have known they were Lady Gaga’s dogs. It’s weird that they shot the dog walker. But these dogs are expensive. I don’t know what Lady Gaga paid for hers, but they’re probably really well bred, so they’re going to go for more.
How common are violent dognapping scenarios?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a case of a dog stolen at gunpoint. The people who steal dogs aren’t gun-toting people.
Lady Gaga is offering a no-questions-asked reward for the dogs’ return. Is that even possible since the dog walker was critically wounded?
In cases I’ve worked on when somebody breaks into a house or car and steals the dog, we’re able to negotiate a no-questions-asked kind of deal, since my job isn’t to ask questions—it’s to get the dog back. The people who hire me just want their dog, not a lawsuit. But since somebody was shot, it’s going to be a lot harder to do something on the side. The police are going to want to get involved.
What do you think might happen in the Lady Gaga case?
Gaga may actually get a ransom call. It’s rare, but that does happen. And if it’s going to happen, it’s more likely that it’s going to happen with a celebrity.
How do you prevent your dog from being taken?
I’ve been doing this work for 17 years. You become paranoid. I don’t even have gates in my yard—you can’t get my dogs out of the yard unless you come through the house. You can’t leave your dogs outside. And you have to keep them microchipped.