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Drug-smuggling pup reformed

Heroina, who once had a pound of heroin hidden in her belly, is now learning to sniff out drugs for Colombian police.

Associated Press
Published February 3, 2006

BOGOTA, Colombia - 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 commercial flights into New York for distribution on the U.S. East Coast.

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 arrested in Colombia.

Ten of the suspects are already subject to U.S. extradition requests, DEA spokeswoman Erin Mulvey said Thursday.

Ten other suspected members of the drug ring were arrested last year in New York, Florida and North Carolina, and more than 52 pounds of heroin were 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. "I think it's outrageous and heinous that they'd use small, innocent puppies in this way," he said.

Heroina was the only female among the three pups who survived after the drugs were removed by veterinarians in Colombia. The others died of infections after surgery.

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's being trained to be part of a small army of Colombian dogs that sniff out drugs, and her two surviving companions are police officers' pets, said Gabriel Jaime Gutierrez, a police spokesman in Medellin.

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

According to the latest statistics available, Colombian and DEA agents seized more than 1,650 pounds of heroin in 2004, said Gen. Jorge Alirio Baron, Colombia's antinarcotics police chief.

[Last modified February 3, 2006, 01:25:14]

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