Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sniffing out the Bad Stuff with the Beagle Brigade Dogs' Keen Noses Detect Potentially Pest-Laden Food and Plants at Airports

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sniffing out the Bad Stuff with the Beagle Brigade Dogs' Keen Noses Detect Potentially Pest-Laden Food and Plants at Airports

Article excerpt

SOME of America's most efficient federal agents are being recruited from the pound.

Since the Department of Agriculture created the Beagle Brigade in 1986, scores of dogs have been trained to sniff out potential pests and defend the United States against imported plagues.

"We needed an animal that was non-threatening, had a good nose, and liked to work," says Hal Fingerman, one of three regional directors of the program. Beagles fit the bill perfectly.

They are probably the cutest and least threatening of federal employees. All recruits are found at animal shelters or donated by individuals. "We have yet to pay for a dog," says trainer Brent Heldt.

Only 1 out of 15 dogs makes it through the extensive training course here at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. But "We find a home for every dog we take in," Mr. Heldt says.

Those that prove to be up to the job begin working in the baggage areas of busy airports, sniffing out prohibited food crossing the American border.

About 50 dogs and handlers now work in 18 international airports throughout the US. Each beagle wears a green jacket with the words "Agriculture's Beagle Brigade" on one side and "Protecting American Agriculture" on the other.

Many people mistake the beagles for the drug-sniffing dogs that have been working in US airports for more than 30 years. "We don't look for narcotics," Heldt explains.

Instead, these dogs are using their noses to protect the US from prohibited fruit, meat, and plants that could carry dangerous pests and diseases into the country. The recent Medfly infestation in California may have started from larvae in a single piece of contraband fruit. State and federal authorities are spending millions to eradicate the pest.

"This is the first line of defense for US agriculture," Heldt says. "We're here to protect US customs. The dogs are a tool to help us do the job."

While passengers wait for their bags and line up to go through Customs, the leashed beagles roam around, sniffing luggage and carry-on items. …

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