With more paint and a couple of horses, they could have had zebras, too: A pair of chow chow puppies dyed black and white looked enough like pandas to fool visitors to a traveling circus near Milan, officials in Italy say. Forestry officials—who investigate many animal cases in Italy—uncovered the ruse after a tip-off and have charged the owner with having false documents for the dogs, which had been imported from Hungary with false pet passports, the Guardian reports. The circus may also be charged with fraud and cruelty to animals, though the dogs' owners were able to hold on to the animals, so long as the dogs never masquerade as pandas again.
Circus-goers had been charged to have their photos taken with the "pandas"; the Local reports one dog was male and one was female. Investigators say that while the dogs were in generally good health, they had watery eyes that could have been caused by continuous exposure to camera flashes. A circus spokesman denies trying to trick the public, telling the Independent it was "obvious they are dogs." "No animal was mistreated," he says. "They are like children to us." (Meanwhile, this year saw a real panda with a fake pregnancy.)