On the Elite with Four Feet

As a lifelong Batman fan, I’ve always hated whenever they try to write some kind of alternate universe or evil twin plotline in an attempt to get really deep by asking “okay, what if Batman was a bad guy?”

Batman’s rich. We know what bad rich people do.

Wealth truly is one of the most powerful weapons on earth and to see someone use that weapon, often literally, to abuse and torment the weakest among us fills us with contempt. But even more infuriating than an evil billionaire is an apathetic one. The cruelest thing an evil Batman could do is not be Batman.

Greed and domination I can understand, but to know billions of people are starving, suffering, and begging for help, and use a position of great economic power do absolutely nothing? That is evil. And that is why with all the corrupt CEOs, sadistic entrepreneurs, and yes, even the monster currently sitting in the White House, to me the most prominent example of the obscenity of apathetic wealth is Gunther IV of Germany.

Gunther IV lives in a state of nearly offensive luxury. He wants for nothing, greeting each morning from one of his several mansions–he owns properties in Italy, the Bahamas, and even a Palm Beach mansion he bought from Madonna. A staff of well-toned, young women tend to his needs, from feeding him to twice-daily baths, all while the executives of his corporation handle the day to day work of expanding his financial empire. Despite his vast fortune, Gunther IV has no charitable giving to his name, no institutions adorning his title, no exploits to boast in the marbled halls of his stately palaces. Ignorant to the realities of the outside world, his primary activity is merely to waste the day away lying by his Olympic sized swimming pool, licking his own balls.

Gunther IV, the world's richest dog. Maybe.

With an estimated net worth of three hundred and forty-five million dollars, Gunther IV is the world’s richest dog. The story of his wealth is one of insanity, intrigue, highly-questionable accounting, and at various points in my research, arguably a lack of guillotines.

In 1991, Countess Reichsgräfin Karlotta Leibenstein, a name that, like everything else I am about to tell you, I could not make up if I tried, absent any children or blood relatives, bequeathed the entirety of her estate to her beloved German Shepard, Gunther III. Upon the elder Gunther’s passing the whole of said estate, then valued at around 90 million dollars, legally passed to Gunther III’s oldest son, Gunther IV. The estate’s operations were placed in the hands of a trust, which runs them to this day. These actions are clouded in controversy, given the intricate legalese allowing the trust near total control of the Leibenstein estate, with supervisory control bestowed upon Gunther IV, who can override any financial decision via verbal or written dissent. You will be shocked to hear he has never done this for some inexplicable reason.

The trust has expanded Gunther’s portfolio fourfold, mostly via the accumulation of numerous pieces of art and real estate, clearly the two greatest items of interest to a species known for being colorblind and afraid of stairs.

Now, here’s where it gets weird.

In my research one major item I completely failed to uncover was the identity of a single member of Gunther’s financial trust. The closest thing I could find was a single name: Maurizio Dial, who is mentioned in several news articles from 2001 as Gunther’s human representative at a high-price culinary auction in which he placed a winning $1,600 bid on a 2-pound white truffle. Upon further study, this also appears to be Gunther’s last public appearance: the dog once had a website that has since been shuttered, no other financials or articles about high-price acquisitions exist online, and most curiously, the average lifespan of a German Shepard is only 12 years.

Three hundred and forty five million dollars sits in the hands of an unnamed, unknown, unregulated shadow cabinet of elites possibly using a dead dog as a figurehead all because a definitely dead countess was petting that dog’s dad’s head one day and said “starving children? Eh, fuck em.”

I’ve thought a lot about Karlotta Leibenstein in a way many others have given the disaster at Notre Dame Cathedral. The same lament about the world’s elite rushing to donate billions to repair a Catholic Church applies to why a rich countess felt her dog was more worthy of fantastic wealth than any number of charities or causes. Of course, I suppose I could ask why Bruce Wayne doesn’t spend more money building a better Arkham Asylum instead of a better car he uses to hunt down the mentally ill.

I can mention one positive thing from all my research about this. Like most crazy stories like this you fall into that Wikipedia rabbit hole and learn more things than you expected. Lots of rich people will their money to their pets. Leona Helmsley left her dog $12 million, there’s a parrot that someone willed fifty grand, and so forth. But despite all the stories similar to Gunther’s, there’s an inspiring alternative. One of rags-to-riches ingenuity, hard work, and good, honest, American attitude. The second-richest animal in the world is Mrs. Tardar Sauce of Morristown, Arizona, better known as Grumpy Cat.

Grumpy Cat, whose genetic deformities usually harken a short, unloved life for her species, instead soared to popularity after her picture was posted on reddit in 2012. Her owner, Tabatha Bundensen, rapidly went from a job at an Arizona Red Lobster to the manager of a licensing empire valued around eighty million dollars. And while this is likewise absurd to think about for too long, Grumpy Cat is also one of the top non-human donors to charity in the world, having devoted numerous appearances and products as fundraisers for animal shelters and pet adoptions.

I kind of just wanted to end on that high note so I don’t have a deep lesson here. I don’t know, I guess it means animals can be financially exploited for good OR for evil. I don’t know installs a better message on all of us, but I do know this: Batman had a German Shepard too, and he trained it to fight crime with him.


Originally performed at Write Club in Atlanta, GA, April 18, 2019