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Japanese Sheep for Poodles Hoax

A bogus story about a sheep for poodle substitution scam in Japan has effectively pulled the wool over the eyes of many Western news outlets.



On April 26 2007, The Sun newspaper in Great Britain published a story that claimed many wealthy Japanese women had been duped into buying ordinary lambs in the mistaken belief that the animals were highly coveted miniature poodles. According to The Sun:
THOUSANDS of rich women were conned by a firm into believing LAMBS were valuable miniature POODLES.

Entire flocks were imported to Japan from the UK and Australia then sold by the internet company as the latest "must have" pet.

The bizarre scam was rumbled when Japanese movie star Maiko Kawakami complained on a talk show that her new poodle refused to bark or eat dog food.

Many other news outlets pounced on the story and it was subsequently retold in newspapers and on television and radio around the world. However, it seems that The Sun, a publication not exactly known for reliable reporting, got the facts of the story seriously wrong.

Apparently, Maiko Kawakami never claimed to own one of the "poodles" at all. Instead, she heard the story about sheep being passed off as poodles while attending a beauty salon and found it amusing. She then retold the story when she appeared on a Japanese television talk show.

The Sun article claimed that the Japanese police suspected that thousands of people had been caught out by the scam and were investigating. However a Japanese police spokesperson told Australian TV's MediaWatch program:
We have never investigated this incident, and we have never been asked to investigate such an incident. I have also checked with Hokkaido's consumer complaints office, and they have never had any complaint about this.
Moreover, a Ninesmn article notes:
Tall stories are common on Japanese talk shows and their authenticity is not carefully checked.

A Tokyo-based entertainment and culture reporter said she had not heard of the story. The story had not been reported in any Japanese newspapers, she said.
The Sun article claimed that the Japanese were more likely to fall for the scam because "sheep are rare in Japan and most people do not know what they look like". However, this claim is unfounded. Sheep are farmed in Japan, and it is highly unlikely that "most people" in the country do not know what the animals look like. Many city dwellers in all parts of the world may not have actually seen a lamb "in the flesh". However, virtually everyone, in Japan and elsewhere would have at least seen images of sheep in books, on television and movies, in advertisements or on the Internet. And, even if they somehow didn't know what lambs looked like, they would surely know what dogs look like and would be most unlikely to mistake one for a very different sort of animal. Perhaps a handful of especially gullible individuals might fall for such a ruse, but The Sun claimed that up to 2000 people had been scammed. This is improbable to say the least.

Thus, it seems that this International "news" story grew out of what may have been nothing more than an unsubstantiated anecdote idly passed along in a beauty shop. The story is strongly reminiscent of an old urban legend in which a hapless traveller in Mexico acquires an ugly but lovable little "dog" that she later discovers is a large rat.

Media outlets around the world seized this story with almost rabid glee. They lost no time in ridiculing those they believed had fallen for the scam. But, in reality, even reputable journalists mindlessly followed flawed findings in the original report just like a flock of sheep...I wonder who's laughing now!

Still, even if some are now feeling somewhat sheepish in retrospect, it has at least provided an opportunity to drop some cracking puns. Smile

View the MediaWatch TV Segment about this hoax (click "Play The video")




References:
Ewe've been conned ladies
MediaWatch: Journos Sold A Pup
Poodle scam story a hoax
Easy Guide to Hokkaido (Scroll to end for sheep photograph)
Hoax news story does the rounds worldwide

Last updated: 1st May 2007
First published: 1st May 2007

Write-up by Brett M.Christensen