On December 28, Robert Marinelli, an interior designer, took his dog, Luca, on a seven A.M. walk around West Hollywood, up a stretch of Sunset Boulevard between the Soho House and the 1 OAK nightclub. He turned left off Sunset and was walking up a residential street when a man suddenly jumped out of a black sedan, pushed him over, and snatched Luca, his eight-year-old French bulldog, who is missing a toe.
While Marinelli was trying to pry the pup out of the back seat, the car door slammed shut, catching his clothing. As the sedan sped off with Luca, it dragged Marinelli down the road. Skin from the waist down ripped open before the fabric finally tore, freeing him. “I was bound and determined that they weren’t going to take the dog,” he says. “But they were bound and determined to take the dog.”
Marinelli posted a photo of Luca online with his phone number and a notice of a $10,000 reward. Two days and several false alarms later, a woman dubiously claiming to have found Luca on the side of the highway returned the dog to Marinelli in exchange for her reward money.
“I was bound and determined that they weren’t going to take the dog. But they were bound and determined to take the dog.”
“We don’t take him for walks anymore,” says Marinelli. “There really isn’t much else we can do at this point—either walk down the street with a gun or hire a bodyguard.”
In the past year, Westside Los Angeles’s French-bulldog owners fear their pets have become hot commodities with huge resale and bargaining value. Frenchie thefts generally end in one of two ways: either the dog is sold on the black market for a couple thousand dollars or it’s brought back to the owner in return for a reward.
Many Frenchie owners first realized that the sight of the breed flashed dollar signs on February 24, 2021, when Ray Fischer, Lady Gaga’s dog walker, took the singer’s three Frenchies (Miss Asia, Gustav, and Koji) on their evening stroll around the Hollywood Hills. At 9:40 P.M., while he was walking down a residential street just off Sunset, two men jumped out of a white Nissan Altima and said, “Give it up!”
Miss Asia hid in a bush while Fischer held onto the two other dogs’ leashes. One of the men shot Fischer in the chest, then took the dogs. As Fischer slowly recovered in the I.C.U., Gustav and Koji were anonymously returned—that is, after Gaga publicly announced she’d give half a million dollars to whomever found her dogs, no questions asked.
Several Frenchie thefts followed.
In March, two men followed Seven, a French bulldog, and its owner out of a North Hollywood Target and into the parking lot, where they pulled out a gun and stole Seven, who was just five months old at the time. Seven’s owner publicly offered a $12,000 reward for finding the dog, and about a week later the puppy materialized.
In May, a man saw a Craigslist post advertising a 10-month-old gray French bulldog, drove to the Culver City address, pulled a semi-automatic weapon on the seller, grabbed the dog, and left. (The puppy was later retrieved by the L.A.P.D.)
More recently, someone stole Rachel Avery’s Frenchie, Jag, from her West Hollywood porch. Police later found Jag, and the man suspected of taking him, in Philadelphia.
Police seem untroubled by the incidents. One L.A.P.D. officer I spoke to said thefts of Frenchies are “not something that we’re having a tremendous explosion of,” especially compared to other items often stolen, such as cars. A West Hollywood officer said, “Sorry, what? There is no theft of dogs.”
So Los Angeles Frenchie owners are largely taking matters into their own hands.
A woman who lives in Beverly Hills—who asked to remain anonymous for her dogs’ discretion—has stopped taking her three Frenchies for daily walks. “We don’t feel safe,” she says. To simulate walks, she has started driving her dogs around the neighborhood in the evenings. “We put them in the back of the car because the windows are tinted so nobody can see that Frenchies are in the car,” she explains.
Luis Marin, who moved to Woodland Hills with his fiancée, Christie McCarthy, and their Frenchie, Dice, in May, are nervous, too. “If a car slows down, I kind of get suspicious,” says Marin. When the couple want to take Dice out for fresh air, they put him in a children’s stroller with a cover so people can’t see who, or what, is inside. Marin also bought a police-grade taser, just in case.
Bel Altundag, who moved from Germany to Los Angeles to train with the Emmy-nominated dog whisperer, Cesar Millan, and runs Happy Doggies, a dog-day-care service, stopped training her French bulldog client following the Lady Gaga incident. For now, she says, “I don’t take any French bulldogs. That’s my precaution.”
In 2007, when Ross Abaya, who works in wealth management, got his Frenchie, Monster, he says the dogs were expensive and beloved by their owners, but not quite as expensive and popular—as in ubiquitous on Instagram, thanks to Chrissy Teigen, Travis Barker, 2 Chainz, Jonah Hill, and Victoria Beckham—as they are now. “Frenchies have become that accessory,” he says. A friend of a friend even bought his Frenchie a gold chain.
“It’s like the swagger of having a pit bull, but not so aggressive,” says Estée Lauder president John Demsey, a French-bulldog owner in New York City.
“There really isn’t much else we can do at this point—either walk down the street with a gun or hire a bodyguard.”
High-quality Frenchies generally range in price from $4,000 to $30,000. The price depends on the seller, and on the dog’s coat. Fawn- or cream-colored puppies are generally less expensive than lilac- and blue-colored Frenchies (think gray, not vibrant purples), which are harder to come by. Most expensive of all is the rare long-haired Frenchie, which can sell for $200,000 or more, according to Ary Toussi, a Los Angeles breeder.
Today, Malibu—with its sprawling, secluded beaches perfect for dog walks—beckons many French-bulldog owners.
Tracey Ross, a longtime Malibu resident, used to let her French bulldog, Lino, roam the beach freely, because he always returned home. “Lino was a dog that would leave my apartment, and Soho House [Malibu] would call me and say, ‘Tracey, Lino’s here,’” Ross says. “He would always come back to me—he was trained that way.”
A friend of a friend even bought his Frenchie a gold chain.
But even Malibu isn’t quite so laid-back anymore. Since Lino passed away, last April, Ross got a new dog, Roxy, a black Frenchie with a wardrobe of denim and Chanel jackets. Whereas she used to take Lino for walks as far as West Hollywood, she wouldn’t risk taking Roxy for a walk around the neighborhood on their recent visit there for an eyelash appointment.
“People don’t understand that French bulldogs are attached to one person,” says Ross. “You take that dog away from their owner, they will die of a broken heart.”
The anonymous Beverly Hills dog owner is even considering decamping to the beach. “We have a second home in Malibu, and we are seriously considering leaving [Beverly Hills] because we feel so uncomfortable,” she explained. “It’d be terrible if anything happened to any of them, ” she said, especially to one of her three Frenchies who “is highly allergic to most food and has a very particular diet—he has to take a daily medication. That’s very common with Frenchies.”
Jensen Davis is an Associate Editor for AIR MAIL. She grew up in Los Angeles