Ten puppies with bags of liquid heroin surgically implanted into their bellies were seized in a drug bust in Medellin, Colombia, said authorities.
"They utilized a wide range of smuggling, the most repulsive of which was the use of puppies," said John P. Gilbride, head of the DEA's New York office.
"There have been cases of animal cruelty that have led to the discovery of drug labs, but not to the extent of an animal being used to carry drugs, especially a puppy," said ASPCA spokeswoman Jo Sullivan.
Investigators believe that the dogs were used to smuggle heroin into New York on commercial flights. The drugs were then to be distributed and sold along the East Coast.
"Ten puppies, including Labrador retrievers, were rescued during a 2005 raid on a farm in Colombia," said the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on Wednesday. The Agency also announced that they had made more than 30 arrests.
Authorities believe that a veterinarian, Andres Lopez Elorez (who is also believed to be a fugitive in Spain), opened the bellies of at least six of the ten puppies, inserted 3 - 3KG bags of liquid heroin, and then stitched them back up. Three puppies had died due to infections after the drugs were removed. A total of 14 bags, which were found using ultrasound, were recovered in six puppies.
"The surviving dogs are still alive and well, we're told," said Gilbride. "I think it's outrageous and heinous that they'd use small, innocent puppies in this way. This investigation identified the individuals who were responsible for overseeing and smuggling millions of dollars worth of heroin from Colombia to the East Coast."
The investigation revealed that the smugglers, whose ring was based in Medellin, not only used people and puppies to conceal their drugs, but also body creams, aerosol cans, and the linings of purses and luggage.
A tipster is said to have led authorities to the puppies.
It is not known how many puppies were actually used in the smuggling operation.
Three dogs were adopted by Colombian police. At least one of those puppies will be trained to sniff for drugs.
About 24 kilograms of heroin was seized in recent raids in Colombia which have resulted in more than 20 arrests and another 10 in custody in New York. A total of at least 24 kilograms have been siezed in these raids.