For years, stories have circulated about a line of dogs named Gunther who inherited the fortune of a wealthy countess in 1992 — but is it all a hoax to help sell real estate?
At first glance, Gunther VI seems to have it all. The so-called “richest dog in the world” is the proud owner of mansions, yachts, and jets, and he is waited on by a team of doting human caretakers. But the truth about this millionaire canine is more complicated than it seems.
For years, most publications have parroted the same stories about a line of German shepherds named Gunther. They’ve written about how Gunther III was the beloved dog of a wealthy countess who, lacking heirs, decided to leave her fortune to him. Various outlets have reported about the exorbitant wealth of the original Gunther and his descendants, including how the current lucky pup, Gunther VI, lived in Madonna’s luxurious beachfront Miami mansion.
But though Gunther is a real dog, his story is not what it seems. In fact, it’s less of a fairytale and more of an elaborate plot.
How Gunther Became The “Richest Dog In The World”
For decades, news stories about Gunther all told the same story. They reported that Gunther III had been the beloved pet of a German countess named Karlotta Leibenstein. When Leibenstein died in 1992, she left the entirety of her $80-million fortune to the pampered pooch. That inheritance has now ballooned into a reported $500 million.
Gunther III was then placed in the care of a family friend, Maurizio Mian, who had been close to the late countess’s dead son. Under Mian’s care, Gunther III and his descendants (all named Gunther) enjoyed the fruits of Leibenstein’s fortune.
The dogs dined on steaks flecked with gold, traveled the world in private jets, and sunned themselves on yachts. As widely reported by outlets like People, Gunther IV even purchased Madonna’s Miami mansion for $7.5 million. His grandson Gunther VI and his handlers later sold the estate for an eye-popping $29 million.
But as the story of the world’s richest dog spread, some began to ask questions.
Maurizio Mian, The Man Behind The Curtain
As a dog, Gunther VI is attended by a number of human handlers. They take care of issues that the canine can’t, like buying mansions worth millions and preparing steak dinners. And of all his handlers, Maurizio Mian, the man who agreed to care for the line of prosperous pups, seems the most important.
A self-described spokesman, lawyer, and research scientist, Mian has often acted as the face of the Gunther Corporation (formerly the Gunther Foundation), which oversees the dog’s every need. In the 1990s, Mian claimed the company was devoted to “sports, science, and entertainment” and “of course, everything that gives the dog a high quality of life.”
But Mian’s role — and Gunther’s story — came under scrutiny from almost the beginning. In 1999, the Tampa Bay Times started to raise doubts about the world’s richest dog, declaring: “Rich dog’s tale just doesn’t wag true.”
The Tampa Bay Times started to grow suspicious of Gunther when the paper received a press release claiming that the dog was “eyeing” the luxurious estate of actor Sylvester Stallone. Digging into the pup’s past, they found that Italian newspapers had already discredited the dog. His benefactor Karlotta Leibenstein, it seemed, had never existed
Even Mian seemed to have acknowledged as much in 1995. He admitted to the Italian press that Gunther’s story was an “invention” to “publicize the philosophy of the Gunther Group and the Gunther Foundation.”
But four years later, Mian told journalists that he retracted his statement. And Stallone’s real estate agents told the paper that, whatever the dog’s origins, he seemed to have the funds to purchase the property.
“If you want to write it’s a joke, you can write that,” Mian told the Tampa Bay Times, seemingly unperturbed by their accusations. “I won’t do anything.”
Indeed, despite what the paper published at the time, others continued to repeat Gunther’s tale as Mian told it. The Associated Press even released a lengthy retraction after publishing a story in 2021 about how the world’s richest dog was selling Madonna’s mansion, writing:
“AP is replacing the story about the sale of a Miami mansion once owned by Madonna with this piece, which looks at how the tale of a German shepherd and a trust has long been used as a publicity stunt to dupe reporters. The AP fell for parts of the stunt and is removing the erroneous story.”
Instead, the outlet explained that Gunther was a “ruse” and a “joke” perpetuated by Maurizio Mian. They found that Mian had actually gained his riches from his family’s pharmaceutical company, Istituto Gentili.
But that, it seems, was just the tip of the iceberg. Netflix’s Gunther’s Millions promises to delve even deeper into the story of the richest dog in the world.
“Gunther’s Millions” And The Truth About The “World’s Richest Dog”
In coverage of Gunther in the 1990s and beyond, there are often passing references to the Gunther Corporation’s other areas of focus. In addition to the famous dog, the company appears to have dipped a toe into publishing, night clubs, a music group, and even research into the secret of happiness.
A Netflix documentary, Gunther’s Millions, seeks to pull back the curtain about the world’s richest dog even more. Where did Gunther’s $500 million really come from? Who is Maurizio Mian? And why exactly did the Gunther Corporation enlist young, attractive people to live with the dog?
The documentary seems to reveal some dark truths. Interviewees describe how their lives were regulated and how they were encouraged to have sex so that others could watch. Mian even seems to suggest that all the dogs that appeared at his side were actually clones of each other.
“If the tale of the fabulously wealthy hound seems far-fetched, that’s because it was,” the Times noted in an article about the famous dog. “It has now emerged as a ruse concocted by the scion of an Italian pharmaceutical company who, in a scheme possibly involving cloning and a sex cult, used Gunther to promote property sales.”
Gunther’s Millions, which premieres on February 1st, promises to dig deeper into this strange story than ever before. Mian and some of the dog’s other 27 employees sit for interviews, as do members of the “band” that lived with Gunther when they were younger.
Perhaps the Tampa Bay Times was right two decades ago when they noted that the world’s richest dog “might be nothing more than a hound dog.”
After reading about Gunther, the alleged richest dog in the world, learn about some of history’s most successful con artists and the scams they pulled. Or, discover the stories of some other famous dogs, like Balto.