Chow Chow puppies disguised as pandas. (The ones used in the Italian circus are not pictured.) Reuters

An Italian Circus owner was arrested and accused of animal abuse in Brescia, Italy, for trying to pass off dogs as pandas, ABC News reported Tuesday. The circus used black paint to disguise the white chow chow puppies, which were imported from Hungary, as "pandas."

Authorities closed the circus after dozens of people paid to take pictures with the phony pandas before the show started. Both of the puppies -- one male and one female -- were less than 6 months old. The dogs have since been removed and are said to be in good health, even though their eyes were watery. But the State Forestry Corp said that could have been from the constant camera flashes to which they were subjected.

Children reportedly couldn’t tell the difference, but police could. “As soon as our volunteers got closer they realized the animals had nothing to do with the East Asian bears but were chow chow dogs painted as pandas,” Animal Protection Party Chairman Fabrizio Catelli told Il Giorno newspaper, Buzzfeed reported. “We believe it’s unacceptable to ridicule animals for entertainment and profit.”

The secretary of the circus said it should have been “obvious they are dogs” and denied the trickery and animal cruelty allegations, the Independent reported, citing The Local. “No animal was mistreated,” Riccardo Gravina said. “They are like children to us.”

The owner’s identity was not released.

Check out what a chow chow puppy painted as a panda looks like below, courtesy of Corriere della Sierra.

Here’s what real chow chow dogs looks like:

Chow Chow
Two Chow Chow dogs. Reuters

And, lastly, these are real baby pandas:

A picture of twin giant pandas as babies. Reuters

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