For decades, an enduring urban and internet legend has provided a cautionary tale for people seeking to adopt a pet. While details vary according to the storyteller, it goes something like this: A woman on vacation takes pity on a stray, hairless dog she finds in dire shape. Bringing him home, he doesn’t seem to respond to generous helpings of food and verbal assurance that he's a good boy. Instead, he’s rather aggressive. Taking him to the vet, she realizes she didn’t pick up a dog at all but a massive, sewer-dwelling rat.
While a delightful story, it's probably not true. These cases are. Take a look at seven people who experienced some alarming examples of animals they thought were dogs, and dogs they thought were other animals.
1. THE FOX IS NOT A HOUND
As contemporary pet breeding produces new strains of Franken-pups, it’s likely people will continue to be confused by animals that resemble exotic breeds. Case in point: In May 2018, a woman purchased what she thought was a Japanese Spitz puppy from a pet shop in China. With its long, pointed snout and fluffy coat, the dog at first appeared to be an adorable addition to the household. Within three months, however, it stopped eating dog food and began to sprout a long tail. Strangely, it also never barked. Its owner thought it might just be quiet and finicky, but a local zoo confirmed she had actually purchased a fox, which the Japanese Spitz is said to resemble. The animal’s new forever home is behind fencing at the zoo’s fox habitat.
2. CHARLIE THE LABRA-LION
Hysteria briefly gripped citizens of Norfolk, Virginia in 2013, when a rash of calls to 911 reported a lion loose within the city limits. One caller described it as a “baby lion,” while another believed it to be the size of a Labrador retriever. Close. The “lion” was a Labradoodle named Charlie, who got regular grooming visits that gave him a mane and improved his regal stature. His owner shaved him to resemble a sports mascot at Old Dominion University.
3. THE COYOTE AND THE SAMARITAN
When an unnamed resident of Bartlett, Illinois drove past a cowering animal on a busy stretch of roadway in May 2018, the person stopped and swept up what was believed to be a lost dog. Driving to the local police department, the resident dropped the alleged puppy off, only to discover that the rescue had been in the service of a coyote. The baby was taken to Willowbrook Wildlife for safekeeping.
4. A BEAR TO DEAL WITH
Despite the propaganda pushed by cartoons, bears are generally difficult to live with and might devour younger members of the household without warning. No one would likely live with one on purpose. By accident? That’s another story. In 2016, a family in the Yunnan province of China adopted what they believed was a Tibetan Mastiff puppy, a stout and noble breed. To their slowly-dawning surprise, it turned out it wasn’t a dog at all but an Asiatic black bear cub that skyrocketed to over 250 pounds in a matter of months. He also had a tendency to stand on his hind legs, a trait domesticated canines still lack. The family reached out to authorities and the bear—which is a protected species in China—was relocated to a sanctuary.
5. THE CAT MISTAKEN FOR A DOG
Your standard orange tabby cats don’t have this problem, but certain feline breeds can wind up experiencing a real identity crisis. Snookie, a three-year-old Persian in Canada, has hypertrichosis, a condition sometimes referred to as “werewolf syndrome” because it causes excessive growth of hair, nails, and whiskers. As a result of her fluffed-up and rotund face, Snookie is often confused for a Shih Tzu puppy.
6. ACCIDENTALLY ADOPTING A WOLF
It could happen to anyone. In 2016, a man in Arizona responded to an ad giving away a free “puppy” and took it home. The animal’s owner was sufficiently charmed by his new pet’s adorable face that he didn’t notice the pup, which he named Neo, avoided eye contact and didn’t seem to have much use for dog treats. When the man built a fence to prevent Neo from cavorting with the neighborhood dogs, the animal dug under it. When a neighbor took Neo to the local Humane Society for trespassing, officials discovered it was a wolf—an illegal animal to own without proper permits. Properly identified, Neo was relocated to a sanctuary named Wolf Connection.
7. THE RACCOON-DOG HYBRID
The exotic animal trade in the UK has been trafficking tanukis, or raccoon dogs, for some time now. True to their name, the wild dogs resemble raccoons but are related to wolves and foxes. Unsuspecting owners purchase them for novelty’s sake, not realizing that they’re prone to wiping out frog populations and carrying hookworm and fatal fox tapeworms. Since they're nocturnal, they’ll also keep households up at night. Raccoon dogs are easily confused with actual raccoons and at least one distressed owner was afraid his pet would be harmed due to the likeness when his pet, Kekei, escaped in 2015. In the U.S., the only tanukis in residence are located in an Atlanta zoo. If you see a raccoon this large, run.