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New York-bound puppies used as drug smugglers, feds say

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- A crew of Colombian drug dealers turned purebred puppies into drug couriers by surgically implanting them with packets of liquid heroin, U.S. authorities said.

Ten puppies were rescued during a 2005 raid on a farm in Colombia, the Drug Enforcement Administration said Wednesday in announcing recent arrests in the two-year investigation.

A veterinarian had stitched 14 packets containing about 3 kilograms of heroin _ worth roughly $200,000 (euro165,000) wholesale _ into the bellies of six pups. Three of the dogs later died from infection after the drugs were removed.

The surviving dogs "are still alive and well, we're told," said John P. Gilbride, head of the DEA's New York office.

Colombian police said they adopted three dogs, one of which was being trained to sniff for drugs.

DEA investigators said they believe the drug ring, based in Medellin, Colombia, used the puppies and other methods to conceal millions of dollars in heroin on commercial flights into New York City for distribution throughout the eastern United States.

It was unclear how many dogs were used in the scheme, nor did investigators know their fate once they arrived on U.S. soil, Gilbride said.

"I think it's outrageous and heinous that they'd use small, innocent puppies in this way," Gilbride said. "It just demonstrates what lengths drugs dealers will go to get drugs into the country."

The puppy implants were the traffickers' inhumane take on the common practice of paying people to swallow dozens of drug-packed pellets made with condoms or latex glove fingers wrapped in tape. The couriers, called "swallowers," then take flights to U.S. cities, where they expel the drugs by going to the bathroom.

Authorities said swallowers _ who risk fatal overdoses if the pellets rupture in their stomachs _ also were part of the heroin operation. Drugs also were concealed in body creams and aerosol cans and were sewn into the linings of purses and luggage.

Recent raids in Colombia resulted in more than 20 arrests; another 10 suspects were in custody in New York, Florida and North Carolina. About 24 kilograms of heroin was seized.

Colombia's national police gave a slightly different account of the investigation, describing two raids, with the second, on Wednesday, involving 20 arrests. They said they discovered a clandestine clinic where veterinarians had implanted six dogs with a total of 3 kilograms of heroin.

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