Gunther III was the stuff of legend.
The German Shepherd reportedly inherited somewhere between $400 and $500 million from a wealthy German countess named Karlotta Liebenstein in the early 1990s.
The story went that Liebenstein had lost her 26-year-old son to suicide, and having no other human in the world, left her vast fortune to a dog.
The press billed Gunther III as the richest pet in the world — and he lived the life.
In 2000, it was widely reported that Gunther had purchased Madonna’s Miami mansion for $7.5 million. Then, later in the decade, the pup supposedly bought a Tuscan villa and a nightclub and soccer team in Pisa.
There was steak, caviar, yachts, private jets, Lamborghinis and servants — including designated head caretaker Maurizio Mian — with plenty of media attention to boot.
“I wanted to be a tick on that dog’s ass for the rest of my life,” Lee Dahlberg, a spokesperson for Gunther, says in a new four-part Netflix docu-series, “Gunther’s Millions,” out Wednesday.
But Gunther’s fabulous life was a load of dog crap, the new series reveals.
There actually was no bereaved countess. Mian, a university professor with mental health problems, was an heir to a vast Italian pharmaceutical fortune. Looking to avoid paying taxes, his mother had funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to a reliable friend in Germany via Liechtenstein, a well-known tax haven, and the Bahamas.
When the friend fell ill and died in 1992, Mian came up with the idea in order to continue to escape the tax man: Leave all the money to a dog.
It was “low grade comedy,” financial crime expert Jack Bloom says in the docu-series.
Gunther III was just a dog that had once belonged to an old girlfriend of Mian’s.
“He was very affectionate. He was a very special dog,” Mian says in the series. “It was also a carefully curated decision, a financial artifice for taxes … and then all of the media fell in love with this story of the countess and the dog.”
The doc’s director, Aurelien Leturgie, told The Post that while Mian willingly participated in the filming, he was an unreliable source. He was prone to what Leturgie dubbed “Maurizio moments” when he would make up things out of thin air, like that Gunther had been cloned.
“It seems to us that there was a deeper personal journey for him,” the docu-series’ executive producer Emilie Dumay told The Post. “These are the topics we reveal in this series. Really getting to know Mauricio and why he was doing all the things he was doing, and telling the stories and creating these fantasies.”
Mian first used Gunther III in the mid-’90s to promote the drug Fosamax, claiming that it was the “miracle cure” for the German Shephard’s osteoporosis.
Once Gunther’s 15 minutes of fame in Italian media had wound down, Mian wouldn’t have it. So he pulled an even bigger stunt by purchasing Madonna’s waterfront Miami mansion in 2000 for $7.5 million under the Gunther Corporation name.
Mian then held castings to bring in a supergroup of models who would live in the mansion with Gunther and present the image of a lavish and happy lifestyle to obsessed paparazzi.
All on Mian’s tab, the attractive singles played with, bathed with and cared for the canine as the group partied together and posed for photo ops. Behind the scenes something much stranger and alarming was going on. Mian’s alleged goal was to create a micro-utopian society of human euphoria that was centered around the dog.
The rotating group of five gorgeous men and women — which included Mian’s ex-wife, Carla Riccitelli — were allegedly part of a bizarre and often sexual experiment conducted and fully funded by the “mad scientist” Mian, as Leturgie called him, and a physician.
Predicated on the lie that the countess had a wish after her son’s suicide to learn more about what makes people happy, Mian brought in a team of researchers to study and film those living in the mansion along with their interactions with Gunther.
According to the documentary, they were allegedly encouraged to freely have sex with one another while abiding by 13 commandments — such as that science is king and sexuality should be openly expressed — that were said to come from the countess herself.
“There were definitely some cultish elements to it,” Dumay said.
“[It was a] wild, orgy-esque, Caligula situation,” Dahlberg, who lived in the house at one point, says in the series.
In 2001, Mian and Gunther returned to Italy, where Mian started a new group with local talent that he dubbed the Magnificent 5. It included Fabrizio Corona, a media personality who, years later, would be sentenced to jail for tax evasion and fraud related to compromising photos of some of Italy’s most high-powered figures.
This go around, members were allegedly required to wear bulky plastic mood readers draped over their chests. The dystopian device — which lit up in different colors and volumes for emotions being felt, including sexual feelings — could only be altered after an evaluation by Mian’s researchers.
At some unknown point, Gunther III died.
He was seamlessly replaced by a string of nearly identical German shepherds — Gunther IV, who lived until 2005, Gunther V, who lived until 2018, and current model Gunther VI.
“We always needed to have one dog that was clearly appointed as the heir,” Mian says of the progression.
In the early 2000s, the Gunther Trust bought a nightclub in Pisa — renamed the Bow Lab — which Mian supposedly used to helped him to recruit new bodies.
“It allowed him to invite a lot of people,” another ex-partner, Christina Mian, says in the doc. “He could observe them and see if they were suited to his ‘lifestyle’.”
Mian inflated the public spectacle more and more, having Gunther supposedly buy a soccer club and appoint an adult film star as a leader of their group.
“There was a need to talk about [sexuality] in a more scientific way and less angry or moralistic,” Mian says in the doc. “So the dog made some moves that were a bit peculiar.”
In that same timeframe, Mian also tried suckering media into believing that the child he had with Christina Mian was really fathered by Gunther to create a superhuman race.
Mian, who was never charged or convicted of any crime, defended his actions: “We have not done anything wrong, except to avoid taxes through a technical device,” he says in the doc.
In 2020, it was revealed that Alarico Sgroi, the Tuscan breeder whom Mian had been funding to advance Gunther’s bloodline since 2012, had actually been raising animals in horrific conditions. Police rescued over 50 dogs from Sgroi that year. Mian claimed to have not known of the circumstances.
Gunther VI currently lives in Italy with Carla and is doing well, according to Leturgie. Mian, who is well into his 60s, still helps care for the shepherd.
“He is very well taken care of,” Leturgie says. “He’s pampered and loved and is a happy dog.”
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