Police in Italy have arrested 75 people from an alleged drug trafficking ring which forced dogs to swallow bags of cocaine and then brutally sliced the animals open to retrieve them before leaving them to die.
Suspects across northern Italy and Rome have been accused of using dogs as drug mules and other crimes, Italian news agency ANSA reports.
According to Focus News, the suspects were minors and adults thought to belong to gangs operating throughout Italy with links to South American drug cartels.
Investigations show that the gangs used large dogs, including St Bernards, Great Danes, Labradors, French Mastiffs and Italian Mastiffs - and made them ingest up to 1.25kg of pure cocaine before departure. They then killed them upon arrival to extract the drugs.
Around 50 dogs are believed to have been used in this way.
The suspects could now face charges of criminal association, drug trafficking and illegal weapon possession.
The Daily Mail reports that human mules often swallow carefully wrapped packages of drugs or stuff them into body cavities to keep them hidden as they are smuggled through airport security and across borders.
Mules face an agonising death if these burst in transit.
This is not the first case of dogs being used as drug mules. A few years ago a four-year-old sheepdog was flown from Colombia to New York City with cocaine sewn into its stomach.
Images: Pisa Today/Carabinieri Pisa
Two cruise staff arrested for smuggling cocaine
Shocking scans show Irish tourist tried to smuggle kilo of cocaine from Brazil