SAN DIEGO – Smugglers are buying puppies at rock-bottom prices in Mexico and selling them in the United States for up to $1,000, often to animal lovers who later discover that the canines are too sick or too young to survive on their own, authorities said Tuesday. The Border Puppy Task Force – a group of 18 animal-control and health agencies and animal-protection groups – said a two-week operation at San Diego’s two border crossings confirmed what they long suspected: Mexico is a breeding ground for unscrupulous puppy peddlers. “It’s a profit-driven practice; it’s a disturbing practice,” said Capt. Aaron Reyes, director of operations at the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority in Los Angeles County. From Dec. 5 through Sunday, agents at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings ordered vehicles carrying anything with “feathers, fleas, fur or fangs” to a separate area for more thorough inspections, Reyes said. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake The vehicle searches turned up 362 puppies under 3 months old, 155 between 3 months and 6 months and 1,061 adult dogs. Smuggled canines were found in trunks and under seats. It’s unclear exactly how many of those dogs were smuggled – it’s legal to ferry dogs if they are declared at the border and they have rabies shots and health records – but Reyes said the “vast majority” of those under 3 months were probably contraband. About half the puppies between 3 months and 6 months old were likely smuggled, he said. The puppies – typically small breeds such as poodles and Chihuahuas – are believed to be purchased in Mexico for between $50 and $150, then sold at street corners, parking lots and flea markets in Southern California for between $300 and $1,000 each. On Nov. 15, federal agents searching a Honda CR-V at the Otay Mesa crossing found 16 undeclared puppies in three cages that were covered by blankets and boxes of laundry detergent. The suspect, a Mexican woman with a record of animal cruelty, allegedly told investigators she needed the money and had lots of orders to fill. The Border Puppy Task Force formed last year after a spate of complaints from brokenhearted owners who reported that their dogs were turning sick and often dying. They were getting socked with thousands of dollars in veterinarian bills. Common diseases include distemper, rabies, parvovirus and ringworm. No arrests were made during the two weeks of inspections at the San Diego border crossings. Authorities described the operation as a “census” to measure how many dogs were being smuggled across the border. “We confirmed there is a problem,” Reyes said, vowing that authorities would continue working to stem the practice. “We’re not going to sit on our hands and let these puppies be brought over in the condition that they are, and to be sold sick, and to end up dying.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!