Puppies Implanted With Heroin by Smugglers, U.S. Says

By Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
February 3, 2006
To conceal their liquid heroin, South American drug traffickers
surgically inserted packets of the drug into the bellies of puppies and
then planned to transport them into the United States, U.S. officials
said this week.

But the criminals' plan was foiled.

The ten purebred dogs, most of them Labrador retrievers, were rescued about a year ago when U.S. law-enforcement officers raided a rural Colombia veterinary clinic.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials said six of the pups each had about a pound (half a kilo) of heroin inside it.

A veterinarian removed the pliable packets, but three of the puppies later died due to infections from the incisions.

"The organization's outrageous and heinous smuggling method of implanting heroin inside puppies is a true indication of the extent that drug dealers go to make their profit," said DEA Special Agent John Gilbride in a media statement.

(Related news: "Sick Puppies Smuggled From Mexico for Sale in U.S.")

The U.S. illegal drug market is one of the most profitable in the world, officials say, attracting the most ruthless, sophisticated, and aggressive traffickers.

The DEA didn't announce its find until now because it didn't want to compromise a long-term investigation into the smuggling organization based in Medellín, Colombia.

But on Wednesday the agency's two-year investigation ended with more than 20 Colombian nationals arrested for smuggling 53 pounds (24 kilograms) of heroin into the U.S.

Arrests in the case were made in Colombia and North Carolina.

The drugs involved in the wider investigation had an estimated street value of 16 million U.S. dollars, officials said. The traffickers' distribution network stretched along the U.S. East Coast from Miami to New York City.

The U.S. heroin market is entirely supplied from foreign sources of opium, say officials.

In addition to finding the puppies during the raid, agents discovered heroin concealed in body creams and aerosol cans, and pressed into beads, which were then sewn into purse linings and suitcases.

Using animals as drug couriers is nothing new, says Steve Robertson, a special agent at DEA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Over the years, he says, drugs have been found inside cattle and even parrots.

Human drug couriers are used too. As depicted in the 2004 movie Maria Full of Grace, human "mules" ingest balloons or condoms filled with heroin, then retrieve the packets after they pass through the couriers' systems.

Drug traffickers "will go to any means, any length, to smuggle their poison up to the streets of America," Robertson said.

How many puppies the ring used as couriers is unknown. But one thing is certain: The canine couriers' fates were grim.

Robertson suspects the dogs would have been immediately killed and slit open on arrival in the U.S.

Luckily, that wasn't the case.

Colombian National Police officers have adopted three of the seized dogs. Other Colombian residents have taken in the remaining surviving puppies.

Also see: National Geographic magazine photos: "Dogs: A Love Story."

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