Madonna looked glum as she cradled her cheeks in two closed fists.
It was Thursday, just before the longest partial lunar eclipse in centuries. But the superstar was rattled by a terrestrial story out of this world. She explained her downcast Instagram selfie with a caption: “When you find out a dog is selling your old house for 3 times the amount you sold it for!”
That would be a German shepherd named Gunther VI. As The Associated Press reported this week, “the dog’s lineage dates back decades to when Gunther III inherited a multimillion-dollar trust from late owner German countess Karlotta Liebenstein when she died in 1992.”
Make yourself a cappuccino or gnaw on a Purina-Alpo T-Bonz because, in this doggone tale, there are many names and dates to track like a bloodhound.
Let’s start in 2000. That was the year Madonna sold her eight-bedroom Miami manse for $7.5 million (U.S.). As Salon reported then, the waterfront gem was “snapped up by a German shepherd named Gunther, who, according to his press-courting handlers, has $150 million burning a hole in his bank account, courtesy of a wealthy German countess who died in 1992.”
Dog buys Madonna’s house in 2000 for $7.5 million.
Dog lists Madonna’s old house in 2021 for $31.75 million.
In stories published this week, including by People, Architectural Digest, Fox Business, Newsweek, ABC and dozens of others, this was the narrative. Gunther, who allegedly has a Guinness World Record under his diamond collar and ranks No. 1 on a Wikipedia page titled “List of Wealthiest Animals,” is a shark in celebrity real estate.
But I was suddenly struck by a weird feeling of doggy déjà vu. So I checked.
Sure enough, in 1999, a pooch named Gunther tried to buy Sylvester Stallone’s house. The wire service pushing that story was Agence France-Presse, and that piece included this oddity: “Spokesmen for the potential buyer confirmed that ‘Gunther IV’ — a German shepherd who inherited a fortune from his father, Gunther III, who used to bark in a music band in Europe — was indeed looking for a place to lay his bones.”
I did a deep dive into Gunther III. I could find no evidence he barked in a Euro band or that he ever lived. This led to a secondary investigation. “Carlotta Liebenstein” first appears in the Factiva database in 1994, via another wire story, this one by Reuters.
It begins: “A one-year-old German shepherd about to become the richest dog in Italy is living a life of luxury near Pisa, relaxing in his Jacuzzi as he awaits millions of dollars left to him by a German countess.”
Note the discrepancy between 1992 and 1994. And enter a new name: Maurizio Mian, described by Reuters as “a pharmacologist who takes care of the dog on his estate.” At the time, Mian, more of an industrialist scion than an employee of Shoppers Drug Mart, was trying to break into the sports business, with bids for the Bologna football club and a Florence water polo team.
Reuters also claimed the dog was owned by “a Pisan lawyer, Antonella Signorini.”
That was the first and only Gunther media reference to an “Antonella Signorini.”
Reuters reported there was a legal dispute over this canine inheritance, but “Mian and Signorini refused to show a copy of the contested will or give the names of the lawyers handling the case.” Meanwhile, a German embassy spokesman in Rome said he was unaware of the story. This was not surprising.
Embassies are rarely informed of outlandish fiction.
“Karlotta Liebenstein” returns zero hits in the Star’s database. There are no Google images for her. There is no obituary. Even after searching German media via a translating app, there was no reference to her prior to 1999, seven years after she allegedly bequeathed her alleged fortune to an alleged German shepherd.
I’m pretty sure the Star’s new owners would not be pleased if I were to be sued for libel by the world’s richest dog. But I’m rolling the human dice here and calling BS.
AP? You should seriously consider retracting this week’s viral story.
I can’t find a reference to Gunther over at Guinness. Yet his alleged “World Record” as the richest animal has animated media stories for years. You can find images and stories of “Gunther” lounging poolside in designer shades or jetting to a Caribbean resort or bidding on rare truffles at auction or hanging out with bikini models.
Gunther reportedly lives like a Kardashian. According to AP, “A chef cooks his breakfast each morning made of the finest meat, fresh vegetables and rice. Sometimes he enjoys caviar, but there’s never any kibble … He travels by private jet …”
This would be one of the greatest stories ever — if it wasn’t an elaborate hoax.
This “Gunther” tale is as dubious as three years ago, when I argued another viral story — a photo of “Justin Bieber” eating a burrito from the middle — was fake news. Sorry, media — excluding the New York Post, which this week also accurately debunked — but there is no proof of any Gunther or any German countess. None.
There is proof Maurizio Mian has an overactive imagination and dreams of Hollywood. And proof he enlisted a furry prop for PR shoots in 1999, 2000 and 2021.
Did the media get snookered this week by a decades-long mutt ruse?
Is this story of a millionaire dog selling Madonna’s old house a total fabrication?
Mr. Mian, prove me wrong and I will correct the record, resign in disgrace and take “Gunther” on his walks, while subsidizing any caviar-and-truffle chew toys.
Until then, cheer up Madonna. Gunther did not live in your old bedroom since Y2K.
The world’s richest dog is not trying to flip your old mansion for a massive profit.
The world’s richest dog does not exist.