Chow Chow dogs were painted black and white and passed off as pandas to unsuspecting children at a circus in Italy and their parents shelled out extra money so they could take a photo with the fake bears.
Authorities are now charging the circus owner with animal cruelty and falsified passports, according to The Local
. The circus owner could also face additional fraud charges for allegedly cheating customers out of cash, noted the newspaper.
The Local reported that police seized the dogs early this week after children visiting a circus in the northern Italy town of Brescia paid to take pictures with the animal.
Italian police said in a statement that the dogs were in generally good health except for watery eyes "probably aggravated by the continuous exposure to camera flashes," reported The Local. Authorities told the newspaper that the chow chows, imported from Hungary, are suspected of being six months younger than circus passport documents stated.
Riccardo Gravina, the circus secretary, denied that the business was trying to trick families because the ruse was "obvious," according to The Independent
"(It was) obvious they are dogs," said Gravina. "No animal was mistreated. They are like children to us."
Some in social media took exception to the circus allegedly trying to fool children.
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