Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rottweiler joins drug war after escaping role as mule

AZ Central

BOGOTA, Colombia -(AP)- Meet Heroina, the latest and surely cuddliest crusader in the U.S.-backed war on drugs.

The purebred Rottweiler was one of six fluffy black-and-beige puppies found in a raid on a clandestine veterinary clinic in Colombia, each with about a pound of heroin implanted inside their bellies.

Investigators believe a Colombian-based heroin-trafficking ring used the dogs as well as human couriers who swallowed the drugs to conceal millions of dollars of heroin on flights into New York for East Coast distribution.

The canines, with bags of liquid heroin surgically sewn in their abdomens, were shipped to drug traffickers posing as dog trainers wanting Labrador and Rottweiler purebreds for dog shows, Colombia's national police said.

Details of Heroina's saga were revealed this week, more than a year after the January 2005 raid, when Drug Enforcement Administration agents in New York announced that her former handlers were among 22 people nabbed in Colombia.

Ten of the suspects are already subject to U.S. extradition requests, DEA spokeswoman Erin Mulvey told the Associated Press on Thursday.

Ten other members of the drug ring were arrested last year in New York, Florida and North Carolina, and more than 52 pounds of heroin was seized in the two-year investigation, the DEA and Colombian authorities said.

It was unclear how many dogs might have been used in the smuggling scheme, said John P. Gilbride, who runs the DEA's New York office.

Heroina was the only female among the three pups who survived.

After a lengthy recovery, the pooch was adopted by Colombia's Judicial Police in Medellin and given the name Heroina, a play on the Spanish words for both the illegal narcotic and a heroic female.

Today, she is being trained to be part of a small army of Colombian dogs that sniff out drugs, and her two surviving companions are enjoying a dog's life as pets.

Customs agents at Colombian airports now use body-scanning devices to spot drugs concealed in capsules and plastic condoms and swallowed by human travelers. But pets shipped as cargo often bypass these devices.


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