SAN DIEGO—Smugglers are flooding the Southern California pet market with disease-ridden puppies from Mexico, prompting law enforcement crackdowns, raising public health concerns and breaking the hearts of owners who watch their dogs die, often within hours of buying them.
Animal control officials estimate that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of puppies have died since an underground market, stretching from puppy mills in Mexico to street corners in San Diego and Los Angeles, was uncovered last year.
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But some suffer from parvovirus, distemper, scabies and other hard-to-detect ailments. Separated from their mothers too early, some die from starvation because they are so young they lack teeth to chew food. Such very young dogs also often fall prey to diseases because their immune systems are not fully developed.
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!<))sickpuppies.JPG! U.S. Customs agents, responding to requests from local agencies, have added sick puppies to their list of contraband items, like drugs and weapons, for which they search vehicles crossing the border at San Ysidro. Agents have found puppies stuffed in packing crates and hidden away in spare-tire wheel wells.