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MONTH: June 2006

Dogs as drug mules


Among the grimmest indicators of the rising value of puppies is the increasing use of their bodies as live containers for smuggled illegal drugs––a dodge that can only work if the animals are in sufficient demand at high prices that import inspectors are not surprised to see them in transit.

Such a case shocked France in early May after the remains of 15 dogs were found among the trash left after the annual Teknikval rave music festival at Chavanne, near Bourges. “Most of the animals had their bellies cut open,” reported John Lichfield of The Independent. “The Société Protectrice des Animaux for the département of Cher said that it hoped to trace the owners of the dead dogs and investigate the deaths.”

“Some of the dogs were tattooed with official identification numbers,” an SPA investigator told Lichfield. “We are going to track down the owners and bring prosecutions against them.”

Wrote Lichfield, “Cases of dogs being made to swallow packages of drugs have also been reported in South America, Belgium and the Netherlands. This is the first case of its kind in France.”

John P. Gillbridge, New York City field division chief for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, testified in Brooklyn on February 1, 2006 that an early 2005 raid on a farm near Medellin, Columbia, rescued 10 purebred puppies from a makeshift veterinary clinic. Six had already had about a pound of liquid heroin apiece surgically implanted in their bellies. Three of the six later died from infected surgical wounds. The other puppies were awaiting the operation.

While the use of dogs as “drug mules” is relatively new, humans have long transported smuggled drugs in ingested plastic bags or hidden in body cavities, and have sometimes died of overdoses from leaking drug residues.

A safer tactic, traffickers discovered decades ago, was to induce exotic cats, snakes, and other potentially dangerous animals to ingest plastic bags of contraband. The animals would typically pass through border checkpoints without close physical examination, and the bags could be collected later from their feces.

Larger amounts of drugs could be surgically implanted in the animals, and then be surgically removed, but this is believed to have been done less, because surgical scars tended to give away the procedure.

The exotic pet import business and the transborder drug traffic expanded rapidly together from the 1960s to the 1990s. Among the best known traffickers known to have moved both animals and drugs were reputed Medellin cocaine king Pablo Escobar, killed in a 1994 shootout with police, and Mario Tabraue, of Miami, who in 1989 drew a sentence of 100 years in prison for allegedly dismembering and burning the remains of former federal informant Larry Vance Nash. Nash was allegedly killed by Tabraue associate Miguel A. Ramirez in 1980.

Both Tabraue and Ramirez won early release from prison by testifying against other drug dealers. After his release, Tabraue returned to operating his animal importing firm, Zoological Imports in Miami.