Photographs of a dog reportedly maimed by drug traffickers in Mexico are attracting attention from world media, shining a spotlight on the animals who suffer at the hands of organized criminal groups.
The mutilated Belgian Shepard mix, known as Lemon Pie, reportedly had its front legs cut off by a criminal group in Zacatecas state, and is currently using a pair of prosthetics to move around. Mexico newspaper El Universal ran a story on the injured canine on January 7, followed by similar pieces on the Associated Press and the Washington Post World Views blog. It was also covered last year by Britain’s Daily Mail and the Toronto Sun.
The head of the animal sanctuary sheltering Lemon Pie said that the dog was abused by suspected members of a criminal gang, who cut off the dog’s paws as practice for the torture of human kidnapping victims.
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Some of the media headlines on poor Lemon Pie makes the story sound more like a trend than it actually is. It would be near impossible for animal rights activists to assess just how many dogs in the country suffer at the hands of criminal organizations, and this figure is likely far lower than the number abused by careless or cruel owners.
It is true, however, that Lemon Pie is not the first animal to be abused by those involved in the criminal world. One animal sanctuary in Cali, Colombia, shelters several beasts whose owners were once drug lords or paramilitaries. The animals include a lion fed Ecstasy and other drugs, and other jungle species that were beaten and starved.
Certain animals — especially purebred dogs and horses, and “exotic” species like big cats — are much in demand by some criminals. Sometimes the expense and the size of the animals are meant to serve as a status symbol, as appeared to be the case with Medellin Cartel leader Pablo Escobar, who memorably bred African hippos on his private retreat. In other cases, animals have served a more practical purpose for criminal groups. Mexican group the Zetas allegedly used a horse breeding company to disguise millions of dollars of illicit profits.
Animals have also suffered at the hands of some institutions meant to fight drug trafficking. According to one popular rumor, entry-level recruits to Guatemala’s elite special forces squad, the Kaibiles, are given a puppy at the beginning of their training, and then are forced to kill it in order to graduate.
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