Stranger Than Fiction: The Truth About the German Shepherd Worth $400 Million
The story reads like something straight out of a Hollywood screenwriter’s elevator pitch: A rich European noblewoman dies and bequeaths her vast fortune to her beloved pet dog.
Picture it: A German shepherd with regal bearing, seated at the head of the table in a large, ornate dining room, being served a sumptuous gourmet dinner by a servant in full chef’s regalia.
In the next scene, the pampered pooch is lounging on the deck of his private yacht.
Additional scenes are shot in the dog’s Miami mansion — which was formerly owned by Madonna — and other shots are taken at his Tuscany villa.
It’s a fun idea that has captured the public’s imagination for decades.
There’s just one problem. It really is too good to be true, and it’s a bit of a shaggy dog story.
WARNING: The remainder of this story contains major spoilers for the Netflix documentary “Gunther’s Millions.”
Gunther was billed as “the richest dog in the world” — said to be worth over $400 million, according to People, which wrote about him recently to promote a new Netflix documentary about him called “Gunther’s Millions.”
He reportedly had a staff of 27 humans waiting on him foot and paw.
His existence resembled an episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” complete with private jets, international travel and a vast real-estate portfolio.
His backstory was heart-tugging and compelling, too.
As told by Slate, after the death of her husband and the suicide of her 26-year-old son Gunther, a German countess named Karlotta Liebenstein had no one else to leave her multimillion-dollar estate to, so she left it to her son’s dog, who, oddly enough, also was named Gunther.
To handle the canine Gunther’s affairs, she appointed her friend Gabriella Gentili, head of an Italian pharmaceutical firm, to manage the Gunther Trust. Gentili, in time, passed the duties along to her son, Maurizio Mian.
Mian, according to Slate, claimed to be honoring the memory of the original, human Gunther by investing the dog’s vast wealth in such endeavors as a pop music group and some weird film projects that supposedly were scientific but sound an awful lot like pornography.
Ultimately, however, a much more mundane truth came out: Mian acknowledged cooking up the tall tale to dodge taxes.
Mian’s “rich dog” legend has been written about — and debunked — multiple times over the years.
The Associated Press proclaimed in 2021 that the fable had “long been used as a publicity stunt to dupe reporters,” adding: “There is no evidence of a German countess.”
Town & Country Magazine, reporting on the Netflix series, said Mian’s mother really did have a friend “who helped Mian’s family for tax reasons.”
But there was no countess named Karlotta Liebenstein, per the AP.
“Her son who supposedly committed suicide was entirely fictional,” Town & Country reported.
In the final episode of “Gunther’s Millions,” Mian explained that when his mother’s friend — the one who helped “for tax reasons” — was dying in the early 1990s, he came up with the idea of having her dog “inherit” the fortune.
“It was a carefully curated decision,” Mian said, according to Town & Country. “A financial artifice for taxes.”
The part about Gunther being her dog was evidently another fabrication, Town & Country reported.
Mian has acknowledged that the animal belonged to him and his girlfriend. (Considering that the original ruse began several decades ago, it can be assumed that the original Gunther has been replaced over the years by subsequent Gunthers as their predecessors went on to that great, gilded doghouse in the sky.)
Even the Guinness World Records organization, that renowned authority on cultural extremes, acknowledges it was taken in by the scam — but only briefly.
“The whole world was hoodwinked by Gunther’s story at the time,” according to an article on the Guinness website.
“In our 1998 book, we had a whole section dedicated to canine finances,” the organization said.
That issue of the book did list Gunther under the category of “richest dog,” complete with juicy details about the canine’s jet-setting lifestyle.
However, the article added, “It seems we sniffed out the truth quite quickly though and didn’t feature Gunther’s story again.
“In fact, ‘richest dog’ is a record we’ve since stopped monitoring.”
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