Look, I think you should brace yourself. I just want you to be prepared, because this conspiracy theory is … troubling.

It involves professional sports, an adorable, heartwarming tale and a very good dog.

Maybe two very good dogs.

First, the backstory: In 2014, a little white pup turned up at the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring training facility in Arizona.

The Brewers were, of course, completely charmed, because duh.

Just check out this doggie:


Hank!!! (Rick Scuteri/AP)

“Yeah, he’s making a pretty big impact, which I’ve got to say is pretty cool,” Yovani Gallardo, then a pitcher for the Brewers, told the Associated Press. “It’s getting a lot of attention, for sure. I think he likes it, too.”

The Brewers took in the little guy, who was eventually adopted by the team’s general counsel, and named him Hank, in honor of baseball great Hank Aaron, whose Hall of Fame career began in Milwaukee.

Hank became an unofficial Brewers mascot and a bit of a celebrity.

There are Hank T-shirts and Hank bobbleheads, and look, here’s Hank running in the Sausage Race and generally being the absolute best.

But some time has passed since Hank first trotted into our hearts.

And frankly guys, Hank looks … different.

Like … really different.

Which has led some to wonder …

Is this even the same dog?!?

Has Hank been replaced?

Hard to say!

But you should check out Twitter, because people are talking about it.

The best read on the Hank conspiracy (uh, besides this one, I guess?) is probably over on SB Nation’s Brew Crew Ball blog, in a post headlined “Bark and Switch: Hank the Ballpark Pup is an impostor.”

SB Nation’s Travis Sarandos writes:

Now, there is nothing wrong with the new Hank. Hank II is, like his predecessor, a Very Good Baseball Dog. But do not lie to me and try to tell me that the dog on the left and the dog on the right are the same dog. The coloring in the face and the ears is all wrong, the face isn’t shaped the same way, and his ears don’t lay in the same spot. They didn’t just dunk him in a bucket of bleach and poof him up a bit. These are different dogs, folks.

The Brewers have responded to the theories by … being sorta weird?

“The ‘real’ Hank? What is real and what is an impostor?” Tyler Barnes, Brewers vice president of communications, told MLB.com. “Is the Tooth Fairy the next target? Santa Claus? The Great Pumpkin?”

The Brewers also sent this truly perfect tweet:

… and on Thursday announced that a press conference had been scheduled “related to ‘Hank 1.'”

wowowowowowowowowow.

wow.

“I think it’s been about three or four months since people started to notice that, wow, this dog the Brewers are calling Hank is very different looking,” Sarandos, the Brew Crew Ball blogger, told The Post in an email. “And it wasn’t a ton of people going on about it, and the ones who were didn’t really have a lot of reach outside of Wisconsin, so yeah, it hadn’t really leaked outside our own little quiet corner of the internet.”

Plus, it wasn’t baseball season yet, and there was Packers football to care about, Sarandos said.

So the replacement dog theory was out there, but it wasn’t something people had really discussed all that much.

Sarandos said he was looking for something to write about last week and thought this would “be good for a couple of laughs in our little community over at Brew Crew Ball.”

But then people started taking notice, and it kept growing.

“It was on the 10 o’clock news here in Milwaukee, it’s been all over sports talk radio here the past couple of days so, it’s way more than I ever anticipated,” he said Wednesday night. “The Brewers social media guys and gals seem to be having some fun with it, but our local beat writers are pretty grumpy with me today.”

I’m a good reporter, so I consulted some experts for this one.

By which I mean I asked my pal Bill, a dog enthusiast, about the discrepancies in the dog pics. He had already read up on Hankgate and had a conspiracy theory of his own. But hey, he pointed out, at least we can all agree that New Hank is pretty great too, right?

I also asked The Washington Post’s Philip Bump (pictured here, holding a dog).

Bump was skeptical that there was a switch. I’ll be honest, the conversation did not go well.

bump

(In exchange for including this Slack screenshot, Bump made sure I also noted his opinion on hockey, which is my favorite sport and … not really his jam. Anyway, he thinks hockey is “bad” and “dumb.” I’m sorry you got pulled into this. But please feel free to use this information when you judge this “same dog” man’s opinion.)

At Friday’s press conference, the Brewers produced a letter from Hank’s veterinarian, confirming that his microchip number was the same and his dental records matched up.

“Hank the ballpark pup is still Hank the ballpark pup,” Milwaukee Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger said at the press conference. “There is no substitute. He’s the original. And we’re thrilled that he’s still part of the Brewers family.”

 

So what’s the takeaway here? I don’t know, man.

I guess, like my buddy Bill said, all dogs are good, even if they are impostors. And there should definitely be more animal mascots, if only because it could lead to more animal mascot conspiracy theories on the Internet.

But also, dang you guys, I think if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that we all need to spend more time on Brewers Twitter.

This post has been updated.

More on dogs and also the Internet:
The Internet’s most famous dog rater keeps disappearing from Twitter

The dark side of going viral that no one talks about

‘How should a dog wear pants’ is the meme we deserve for the end of 2015