GARFIELD, N.J. -- Two Florida residents were convicted of animal cruelty Thursday for packing 26 thirsty, imported puppies into a minivan found parked behind the Walmart in Garfield.
A judge in Hackensack ordered that all 26 puppies be surrendered to foster families who have cared for them over the past few months while convicting Vanessa Millan, 31, and Elaine Ramos, 27.
Charges were dropped against a third defendant, Jesus Gabriel Valentin Rivera, 36, who's in prison in Florida in another case.
The puppies' "extensive medical needs are being met and they are with loving, experienced families," officials at the Bergen County Animal Shelter said after the owners signed the dogs over to the SPCA as part of a plea deal.
The English and French bulldog puppies were discovered Aug. 19 by a concerned citizen who, suspecting something wrong, notified authorities.
The dogs were "contained within two cages and one cooler, all of which were feces-littered," Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal said after the discovery. "One of the cages housed thirteen of the puppies.
"The temperature in Garfield that day was 90 degrees, and the puppies had no access to water," the prosecutor said.
"It appears as though they were flown from Colombia to JFK yesterday and were on their way to Florida," Deborah Yankow, director of the Bergen County Animal Shelter, told Daily Voice after the discovery.
(Cartels have been known to import dogs for cash.)
CLICK HERE TO SEE SOME OF THE PUPPIES:
"First thing they did when we got them into the adoption van was lap water," Yanow said.
Yankow and her staff were in the middle of a "Clear the Shelters" event, sponsored nationwide by NBC and Telemundo , when they got a call from the Bergen County SPCA, which seized the puppies.
NBC had to postpone taping a segment as Yankow and her staff took the shelter adoption van to Garfield -- with a news crew tailing them.
"The puppies were behind the store locked in a white minivan," she told Daily Voice. "There were no humans with them.
"Eventually, someone showed up. They were supposed to produce paperwork, but I don't think they did."
NOTE: Report suspected animal cruelty, abuse, or neglect in Bergen County to: (201) 573-8900.
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