Paw and Order

updated 04/17/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/17/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

THE MOMENT LAST DECEMBER THAT veterinarian Steven Weinstein examined the emaciated animal with the oddly bulging abdomen, he knew he was dealing with something that shouldn't happen to a dog. "She looked terrible," he recalls. "She was sick." The female Old English sheepdog had arrived at New York City's John F. Kennedy airport on a flight from Bogotá, Colombia. Suspicious Customs officials had taken her to Weinstein, who, after spotting the suspicious bulge, X-rayed her in his office. When he opened her up, he found 10 balloons, each stuffed with about half a pound of cocaine (street value $250,000)—a drug smuggler's surgically implanted booty. "I almost fell over," says Weinstein, who later nicknamed the dog Cokey. "This dog was scheduled to die a horrible death."

Soon afterward, John Erik Roa, 22, of Paterson, N.J., was arrested as he tried to claim her. Offers poured in from outraged animal lovers eager to adopt her. But since Cokey was considered evidence against Roa (who pleaded guilty to federal drug smuggling charges and was scheduled to be sentenced April 7), the Customs Service relocated her to its Canine Enforcement Training Center in Front Royal, Va., where drug-sniffing canines are taught their trade. "Even though she was victimized," says the center's director, Carl Newcombe, "she doesn't hold any grudges. The first time she came here, she sat right in my chair."

Cokey didn't make it as a drug detective. ("She likes to play, but she doesn't like to retrieve," says Newcombe.) But now recovered and 20 pounds heavier, she has a job of her own: appearing at area schools as part of the service's drug education program. At the Stafford Elementary School in Stafford, Va., Cokey recently charmed 300 kids even as her story—related by Customs agent John Krob—left them appalled.

"I learned that criminals will do anything to get what they want," said Tom Gibson, 10, afterward. Megan Vrabel, 10, agreed. "I thought it was horrible that someone would do something like that to a living, breathing animal." Newcombe's Customs colleagues feel just the same way. "Cokey has energized the folks," he says. "They realize, 'Yeah, this is a good fight.' "

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