THEY may look cute and helpless, but these puppies could turn into the devil dogs that can be as dangerous as a gun or knife.
Pit bull terriers are trained by criminals to terrorise neighbourhoods, inflict horrific injuries on their rivals and intimidate all who meet them.
These four-week- old puppies were among 20 pit bulls seized yesterday as police launched one of the biggest operations of its kind.
Specialist officers wearing protective padded gear smashed down the doors of several suspected gang members in early morning raids on 12 addresses in South London.
Some of the older dogs were dragged snarling from their homes by officers from the Metropolitan Police's Status Dog Unit.
The unit was set up in March following a surge in complaints from members of the public about 'assault animals' being paraded as trophies by lawless thugs. Since March, there have been 273 dangerous dogs seized across London, with pit bull terriers making up the majority.
Pit bulls were banned under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, but they have not disappeared.
Known as weapon dogs by the police, they are a must-have for gangsters and young street thugs.
They are brutalised by their irresponsible owners and some are put on treadmills to bulk up their muscles and hanged from the branches of trees by their teeth to strengthen their bite.
Many will be used in muggings and other robberies or train o take part in illegal dog fights. Others are let loose in parks where they are encouraged to attack other dogs and their owners, so that their masters can show who runs the neighbourhood.
The number of victims needing hospital treatment after attacks by dangerous dogs has increased from 4,328 in 1999 to 5,943 last year.
There have been several cases of children being killed by the dogs.
London magistrates are being given lessons on how to tell the difference between illegal pit bulls and legal Staffordshire bull terriers.
London Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse said: 'Weapon dogs are not fluffy pets. They are kept to intimidate and cause injury or death, no different from a knife or a gun.'
The animals seized yesterday will be examined by the Status Dog Unit before a court hearing to decide their fate. Many will be put down because they cannot be rehabilitated.
But if the puppies are deemed in court not to be dangerous they could be returned to their owners as long as the owners agree to conditions.
These include having the animals neutered, and keeping them muzzled and on a lead.