It’s the second-most popular dog breed in America and can fetch thousands of dollars from a potential owner: Notable for its jowly face and bulging eyes, the French bulldog has become a popular companion animal. Mannie the Frenchie, a popular French bulldog Instagram account, has more than a million followers. The breed’s popularity can also make it a target for theft.

On Monday, two women walked into the Petland Woodlands store in Shenandoah, Tex., and asked to play with Mario, a 10-week-old brindle-coated French bulldog. Shortly thereafter, they began to leave the store, Mario in tow.

“I started calling for her attention, and the more I called the faster she was trying to get out of the store,” said Debi Pierce, a pet counselor at the Petland Woodlands. “The other counselors and I ran into the parking lot, but they got in the car and sped off.”

The pet counselors called 911, and not long after the two women were stopped while trying to reattach license plates to their vehicle, police say. In their possession was Mario, who was valued by Petland Woodlands in a Shenandoah Police Department report at $11,499. Police arrested the two women, who had traveled about 30 miles from Houston, for investigation of theft, a felony.

“They’re very popular, very smart and intelligent,” Pierce said of the breed, which has been among the most popular breeds registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) and is known for its relatively easy care. “A lot of celebrities have them as well, so people might see them as kind of a status symbol.”

Adored by the Romanovs and Andy Warhol, the French bulldog can be a popular target for dognappers, who the AKC says victimize more than 2 million dogs a year.

Lady Gaga’s two Frenchies, Koji and Gustav, were taken in a February attack that left the singer’s dog walker in the hospital with a gunshot wound. The dogs were eventually returned, dropped off at a Los Angeles police station. A few months later, another Frenchie was stolen in an armed robbery in Culver City, Calif. The coronavirus pandemic also prompted an uptick in dog thefts, with demand for pets surging at a time when fewer companion animals were available in shelters.

Mario was returned to the Petland Woodlands store within a couple of hours, checked out by a veterinarian and given a clean bill of health.

“We’re giving him some rest and a lot of love,” Pierce said.

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