Canada has launched an investigation after some 500 puppies -- 38 of them dead -- were found on board a Ukraine International Airlines plane at the Toronto airport, officials said Saturday.
The surviving French bulldogs, a popular breed in Canada, were suffering from symptoms including dehydration, weakness and vomiting when they were found on the flight from Ukraine which landed at Toronto Pearson Airport on June 13, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in a statement.
The agency "will determine next steps once the investigation is complete," it said.
A dog handler who was picking up another animal from the airport cargo area where the puppies were discovered last Saturday told the CBC of a "horror scene," adding: "It was a nightmare."
UIA offered its "condolences for the tragic loss of animal life on our flight" and said on Facebook that it was working with local authorities.
Puppy sales are "lucrative" in Canada, Scott Weese of the University of Guelph told the CBC.
Most buyers believe the animals are bred in Canada, but the reality is "we have no idea how many dogs come in, where they go, where they come from," he said, adding that there was "potentially some organized crime component."
"You mentioned 500 French bulldogs. If those are going for sale at $3,000 to $4,000 a dog, that's a massive amount of money," he told the broadcaster.