MIAMI — In five minutes, Sailor’s life changed as she knew it. She was snatched from her Marathon home and fed hot dogs by thieves who thought they secured a payday.
But they were mistaken. Sailor was spayed.
Their thwarted Plan A left them scrambling for ideas — until they settled on a $1,000 ransom. They took the dog and fled up the Overseas Highway. A day later, they arranged a meet-up at Dadeland Mall — a meet-up where police reunited Sailor with her family and arrested the suspects.
Sailor is one of 2 million dogs stolen every year in the United States. But she’s also one of the lucky 10 percent of those reunited with their owners.
French bulldogs, like many other purebred dogs, are targets for theft because of their high value. Swindlers are looking to “dog flip” — steal, take in and adopt dogs to breed, and resell them for a quick profit.
Even Lady Gaga has been a victim of the trend. Her French bulldogs, Koji and Gustav, were stolen in a 2021 street robbery that left her dog walker shot and critically wounded.
Tales of violent encounters and snatched Frenchies are common across the country. A Miami breeder lost his prize-winning French bulldog, Che, and two litters of puppies to thieves in 2014.
Breeder Diana Zingaretti, owner of Miami Blue French bulldogs, has heard stories of stolen Frenchies way too often. The breed can range from $5,000 to $200,000 for one pup, which entices thieves looking to make a quick buck.
She said she has seen cars circle her home and scope it out. Her property is filled with indoor and outdoor cameras.
“That’s why I really don’t like to walk my dogs anymore,” Zingaretti said. “I just carry a gun now just to be on the safe side.”
She doesn’t allow clients to visit her home to see the puppies. She usually meets them at a police station or a mall — and runs a criminal background check before suggesting a meet-up.
Breeders and owners should not leave Frenchies in their backyards unsupervised, even for a minute, she said. Bandits jump fences, ready to steal the dogs and dash away.
Zingaretti said a friend’s adult French bulldogs and their litter were recently stolen after she went to pick up her child from school. Only one puppy was left because he was tucked under a blanket.
“Unless it’s like Lady Gaga, it’s not all over the news,” Zingaretti said. “But it does happen a lot.”
A Miami breeder of 14 years, who asked that her name not be published for fear that crooks would target her, limits who she allows into her home. Even if they don’t steal the pups at the moment, they may be casing the place to break in later.
Like Zingaretti, she conducts background checks before meeting a potential client. Her biggest fear is someone pulling a gun and demanding she hand over a puppy.
She likened the dogs’ allure to a Louis Vuitton purse or flashy diamond jewelry. As Frenchies became a fad, criminals witnessing the trend wanted in — and they believed they could rake in $3,000 to $5,000 by flipping the pups.
“People forget it’s a living animal, a pet, a loved one,” she said.
French Bulldog Village, a nationwide rescue group, has witnessed an increase in overbred and inbred dogs with severe health issues, treasurer Cara Berardo said. And they’re not just medical disorders. They’re also behavioral.
While sweet and adorable, French bulldogs can be stubborn and require training, the Philadelphia-based Berardo said. And in some cases, they can get aggressive.
The rescue group has struggled with dogs who bite volunteers and foster families, she said. Many pandemic Frenchie owners have surrendered their dogs.
One pup was taken in by a Pennsylvania woman trained to deal with dogs with behavioral issues.
“If she didn’t take him, we would have had to put him down and it’s not an easy decision,” she said. “This dog is a liability to our volunteers and to the continuation of our rescue. If we are sued by somebody because the dog bit them, then that ends all the good that we do.”
Many French bulldogs have intervertebral disc disease and need surgery or they may never walk again, she said. The operation, which can cost up to $4,000, has a slim success rate if not done immediately. Two Frenchies in the rescue are “almost unadoptable” due to the disease.
Berardo, who has worked with the breed since 2008, has experience caring for a sickly Frenchie. She rescued Conrad, a puppy mill dog from Missouri who was sold to a New York City pet store.
When she adopted Conrad, he had a leg injury. But that was the least of her worries. He had to have his soft palate cut down and nostrils widened so that he could breathe properly.
Conrad also suffered from a deformed esophagus. For seven years, Berardo had to watch him struggle to eat and breathe and throw up after he eat or drank. The only thing she could do to save Conrad was get him a prosthetic esophagus, an operation with a low success rate.
So Berardo and her vet decided to let him live out the rest of his days.
And even with $30,000 of medical care, Conrad died of his own body failing — because he was overbred and probably inbred, Berado said.
“To watch that little life who was so precious and so wonderful … He just never should have been born,” she said.