Jolie Rose, a 1-year-old French bulldog, was a common sight as she lounged on her owner’s patio along the strand on the Balboa Peninsula, eager to greet anyone stopping by.
In late March, someone scooped Jolie Rose off the patio, leaving her owners distraught and seeking any help to get her back. They offered a $5,000 reward, no questions asked.
“(Jolie Rose) is quasi-famous around the neighborhood,” her owner, Tracy Winkelman said. “She used to roam freely around our patio but we won’t be doing that again.
“We live in a nice place where I rarely locked my doors, but not anymore.”
Winkelman lucked out. Nearly a week after the dog was taken, someone dropped her off outside the Newport Beach police station. No one claimed the reward.
French bulldogs are in high demand and short supply. Since 2020, they have been second only to Labrador retrievers, No. 1 for decades among the American Kennel Club’s most popular dog breeds.
“They do not have large litters like some other breeds so it makes their supply limited,” said Brandi Hunter Munden, a spokesperson for the American Kennel Club. “It takes a lot of work to help a litter and responsible breeders are focused on taking all precautions to make sure the mother and puppies are healthy.”
The cost of a French bulldog can run between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on where they’re bought, be it from an ethical breeder or a puppy mill, with mills typically offering lower costs for dogs that have been improperly bred and suffering from underlying health conditions .
Dognappers have found a lucrative business in reselling them and undercutting the price, said spcaLA President Madeline Bernstein.
“French bulldogs are adorable; they’re friendly, portable and held by a lot of celebrities,” Bernstein said. “People want to carry a French bulldog around in their designer purse.
“But it’s like wearing a giant diamond on your hand,” she said.
In Garden Grove, Darlene Burton’s 11-month-old French bulldog Brioche also was taken from her front yard in late March. A motion sensor camera captured a man reaching over her fence, grabbing Brioche and putting him in a backpack before walking off.
“I had gone back inside for five minutes to get water for the Brita and I noticed it was oddly quiet,” Burton said. “Brioche is usually a loud dog, you can hear him snorting and running his paws on the pavement.”
Burton put up flyers around her neighborhood and shared posts on social media offering a $5,000 reward for Brioche’s safe return. The next day, she received a tip from a resident that a man attempted to sell the dog for $200 at a park near her neighborhood, but released it after failing to do so.
A good Samaritan, also a dog owner, later saw the dog wandering in the street.
“I get a text with a picture of Brioche and ‘I found your dog,’ ” Burton said.
The next day, Burton met with the man and Brioche was back in his arms. Though Burton said she offered the reward, the man declined to take it.
Several cases of French bulldogs being snatched off the street have been reported in Los Angeles. The most high-profile one happened in March 2021, when Lady Gaga’s dog walker was shot and two of the singer’s French bulldogs were stolen in Hollywood. Police said the suspects were not targeting her and didn’t even know they were her dogs, but swiped them because of the breed’s high resale value.
The singer offered a $500,000 reward. The dogs were later returned, though the woman who claimed to have found them was later arrested when authorities discovered she was in a relationship with one of the suspects who had stolen the dogs.
While offering a reward is common practice for the return of lost pets, Bernstein said owners should be wary of what amount is put on the reward poster, so as to not attract scammers claiming to have the dog so they can collect the cash.
In the days before Jolie Rose’s return, Winkelman said he received a handful of calls from people claiming to have his dog. “Some of them were skilled,” he said. “They knew how to find my address and claimed to know info about us.”
The callers’ focus on claiming the reward money was a telltale sign of their ill intentions, Winkelman said. “I asked them to show photos or give specific details on Jolie, and when they couldn’t, I just knew.”
Bernstein said pet owners should be careful how much information is shared about their animals, whether in public or on social media. The latter is a tool thieves often use to target dog owners, finding details such as where they live, how much money is spent on the dogs and when and where they’re taken for walks.
“The person following you online understands you’ve invested a lot in the dog, that you love the dog, and understand you’ll pay ransom,” she said.
To keep a dog safe, Hunter Munden also advises:
- Microchip the pet and keep that information up to date
- Be aware of the surroundings when walking the dog
- Don’t leave it unattended in places that are public or easily accessed — even at home in the yard.