Assam Police on Thursday rescued 75 stray dogs that were to be sold for meat in Nagaland from Samaguri town, ANI reported. Four men, who were shipping them in a pick-up van, were arrested by Samaguri police. The accused were identified as Lucas Sangma, Sanil Sangma, Raju Sangma and Parwin Sangma – all belonging to Assam.

The vehicle was intercepted at around 9 pm on Thursday night during a routine checking, Rajib Barman, in charge of Samaguri police station, told The Indian Express. “On further inquiry, four men travelling in the vehicle admitted that they were transporting the dogs to Dimapur where they would hand them over to a wholesale dealer,” he said.

The dogs had been drugged and their mouths were either taped or stitched to stop them from barking, Barman said according to Hindustan Times. Samaiguri police had handed over the dogs to animal rights group, People For Animals, who has sent them to a shelter in Guwahati.

However, 23 of the dogs died later because of starvation and asphyxiation. “Many of the dogs had belts around their neck, indicating that they were not stray dogs but were pets with different families,” PFA head in Guwahati, Sangeeta Goswami, said. She suspected that there was a racket going on across Assam that paid for dogs to be collected and dispatched to Nagaland, reported The Indian Express.

A kilo of dog meat is sold between Rs 400 and Rs 500 in Nagaland, where dog meat is a delicacy. The Nagaland government has been mulling over imposing a ban on dog meat. In March last year, the government had issued a directive to state’s urban local bodies to stop capture of dogs for the purpose of slaughter and meat.