Michael Reynoso had dreamed of this day since the moment he’d brought Frankie home.
The French bulldog puppy — the first pet Reynoso had ever had, if you don’t count a goldfish when he was six — had completed all his shots and was ready to make his debut in the outside world. So on Aug. 3, the Fremont sales technician planned to take Frankie to work to meet his colleagues, who had been hanging on every story about the personality-plus pup.
All that joy and anticipation turned to fear and anguish, however, when Reynoso stopped at a 7-11 to buy coffee for his co-workers at 5:30 a.m. Pausing to move the coffee cups to the car, he set the 5-month-old puppy down. Moments later, Frankie had disappeared without a trace.
What happened next is a call that Bay Area police are answering a lot these days. Frankie is one of five French bulldogs dognapped last month alone in a trend that has escalated over the past few years. French bulldogs aren’t the only breed stolen, of course, but their popularity with dog lovers and thieves alike is unmatched.
Frankie, a “golden” Frenchie – so-called for his tawny brown color – was the first dog taken in August. A week later, three Frenchies were stolen during a Mountain View home break-in. On Aug. 13, a 14-year-old boy was walking his Frenchie in Oakland, when the dog was taken at gunpoint. And earlier this year, police in Oakland, Santa Clara and Berkeley investigated French bulldog thefts, too.
Frenchies, as they’re called, represent “a lot of dog in a little package,” says Brandi Hunter Munden, the American Kennel Club’s communications vice president, explaining the breed’s popularity. “They are very smart and adaptable. While they do need a bit of training, they are really great companions.”
The breed, which is popular for its smaller size, originated in England and was imported to France, where it developed its beguiling traits. And that diminutive size makes them especially favored among apartment dwellers who might like an American or English bulldog, but don’t have the room those larger bulldogs require.
Several other small dog breeds and even larger ones, such as Labrador retrievers, have been targeted by thieves, but the resale value of dogs on the black market has made the Frenchie an even bigger target.
French bulldog lovers often pay up to $7,000 for a purebred pup, partly because of their scarcity. Frenchies’ litter sizes tend to be small, with two to four puppies per litter, as opposed to a Lab’s five to 10. And while rescue shelters are full of Chihuahuas and pit bulls, it’s rare to find a French bulldog up for adoption.
The sheer volume of recent thefts has made French bulldog owners leery of walking their dogs and sharing their cuteness on Facebook and Instagram. Munden suggests owners be careful in how they use social media. Don’t over-share your dog, she says, and don’t tag your location in posts.
“Thieves pay a lot of attention to social media,” she says. And owners and their #frenchielife and #frenchiesofinstagram hashtags can make it easier for those dogs to be found.
But some thefts are simply crimes of opportunity – including last year’s high-profile assault in Hollywood, when two of Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs were stolen. The dogs were recovered, the dog walker – shot by one of the assailants during the struggle – survived, and five people were later arrested. Los Angeles police say the thieves hadn’t known the dogs belonged to the singer; they just grabbed the dogs to sell them.
Frankie also appears to have been a victim of happenstance, says Diana Allen, senior community service officer and crime scene investigator for the Fremont Police Department. Someone wanted the cute little dog for themselves.
Reynoso and his family were crushed by the theft.
“It was a heartbreaking day for us,” Reynoso says. “We were running in circles, trying to make sense of it. All we knew is that our hearts were gone that day.”
But Reynoso was one of the lucky ones. Fremont police were able to track Frankie down within two weeks and return him, none the worse for wear. Police are continuing to investigate the theft.
His brush with losing Frankie has made him a bit more cautious, Reynoso says, although the joy of sharing his dog with others is important to him. Frankie now has a microchip, and Reynoso is doing the opposite of keeping a low profile.
Police and Frankie’s vet, Reynoso says, told him to make sure that a lot of people see Frankie and recognize him in the neighborhood, so if he’s stolen again, he’ll be more easily spotted.
Others, however, are changing their online profiles and limiting who can view their cute puppy pictures, as well as reducing the number of outdoor excursions.
“I’ve heard that their owners are afraid to even take their dogs for walks,” Allen says. “I think that’s sad for the dogs.”
Meanwhile, police and the American Kennel Club have some tips on how to keep your Frenchie safe – or at least safer. Thieves look for patterns, they say, so vary your walking routes, maintain situational awareness and avoid walking your dog in isolated areas or late at night. Never leave your dog unattended. Exercise caution with social media and avoid tagging your location. Microchip your pet and make sure they have the appropriate ID tags. And if your pet is stolen, report it to the police. Pet theft is underreported, and the police have tools that can assist you in finding your pet.