The Beagle Brigade
Protecting American Agriculture
First it was Mad Cow Disease and this year, concern over the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease has caused increased attention to plants and animals brought into the U.S. from other countries. While the story may be "hot" right now, for a group of dedicated inspection agents with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) division of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, checking for prohibited material is business as usual.
The Beagle Brigade, as it is known, is made up of a group of nonaggressive detector dogs and their human partners. As of April 6, 2001, there are 65 teams patrolling 21 international airports and borders. According to Meghan Thomas, a public affairs specialist with APHIS, this number will be increased to 134 working teams by September 2002. Because of the recent rise of diseases threatening U.S. agriculture and livestock, increased attention is being paid to role played by the Beagle Brigade in sniffing out danger before it can come into the country.
Each handler/Beagle team walks the baggage line and when the dog catches the scent of prohibited fruits, plants or meat, they sit to signal their human partner. Some even put a paw on the piece of luggage in question, Thomas said. On average, APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) officers make about 2 million interceptions of illegal agricultural products every year. Included in that total are more than 275,000 lots of unauthorized meat and animal byproducts that have the potential to carry diseases to American livestock and poultry, according to USDA information.
Beagle Brigade member dogs come from breeders and shelters and are trained first to identify basic scents such as beef and citrus. As they advance, some Beagles Brigade dogs learn to distinguish close to 50 different odors. Following just six months to one year of training, Beagles in the program are sniffing out banned items at an 80 percent success rate. This rises to around 90 percent after two years on the job.
While at work, Beagle Brigade dogs can be recognized by their green jackets, which read "Agriculture's Beagle Brigade" on one side and "Protecting American Agriculture" on the other. Along with detecting illegal items, the Beagle Brigade also serve a public relations role, participating in educational programs and media stories. The Beagle Brigade probably is the most well-known of the Service's canine officers, however, APHIS has additional detection programs using other breeds of dogs as well.
For more information on the Beagle Brigade including their training program, and on the other APHIS detector dog programs, go to the Service's web site, www.aphis.usda.gov and click on the Travel section. This section also includes helpful tips on traveling with your pet - including pet birds.
Steve Dale reports on the concerns of pet owners because of the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak. See the Pet World Archives for this story titled "Hoof and Mouth Could Threaten Pet Pigs."