By TIM ALEXANDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Grape, guava and curry leaves are among the 75 to 85 unique scent triggers learned by trained U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) dogs charged with defending ports of entry (POE) against the importation of illegal agricultural products. The brunt of the defense against such products, which can carry foreign plant and animal diseases into the U.S., is trusted to beagles.
Two members of the CBP Beagle Brigade — Oscar and Sol, who are actually mixed beagles — charmed and educated Illinois State Fairgoers in the Illinois Department of Agriculture Tent during a showcase of their talents by CBP specialists on Tuesday, August 15. CBP specialist Sari Hall said that beagles are capable of detecting a wider variety of food scents than other breeds, and they don’t discriminate on which flavors appeal to them.
“Oscar, in particular, will eat any treat you put in front of him. He has no preference, but he gets regular dog treats,” said Hall. “We do not feed them anything they might be (asked to detect).”
Oscar and Sol, along with around 180 CBP current CBP canine agricultural product dogs, were initially trained by the USDA through their 10-13 week CBP Agriculture Specialist Canine Training, funded through USDA’s Agriculture Quarantine Inspection Program. After that, the canines were released to US CBP for further training and deployment to POE across the nation. Oscar and Sol, along with specialist Hall, are employed by the U.S. CBP of Chicago.
Hall told Farm World that the types of agricultural products people try to smuggle in or out of POE vary with regions. “In Chicago we will see flights from Ethiopia and Indonesia and all over the world. From Mexico we are getting a lot of pork which is actually the only meat that is not allowed from Mexico because of the disease risk,” she said. “Pork, cow skin from Africa and lots of different plants that people have in their gardens at home that they are bringing for friends” are among the most common items.
Initial USDA training of Oscar and Sol included detection of apple, citrus, mango, pork and beef products. According to the USDA, when it comes to finding prohibited fruit, vegetables, plants, and meat products from high-risk countries, beagles can scan a piece of luggage for smuggled or forgotten fruits in mere seconds.
“We’re trying to prevent plant diseases, animal diseases, foreign pathogens and invasive species from coming in. Anything our agriculture is not equipped to handle,” Hall said.
Hall noted that though CBP agents such as herself form personal bonds with their canine partners, federal regulations prohibit agents from taking their partners home with them at night. “The bond that we have with these working animals is like nothing you can imagine because we are working with them day in and day out. They are our little co-workers,” Hall said. “They have learned how to trust us and listen to us, and they love us. The bond is very important to us.”
Around 65 ports of entry in the U.S currently employ CBP ag dogs, according to Hall. Illegal agricultural products prevented from entering the U.S. cannot be simply thrown away, she explained. All food products must be boiled at a temperature of several hundred degrees for as long as three hours to destroy any harmful organisms before they can be disposed of on U.S. soils.
Chicago POE lead the nation in terms of seizures of illegal contraband and employ four of the top ten canine ag product sniffers in the nation, Hall said.
Following the demonstration, IDOA Tent attendees were invited to come up to the stage and interact individually with the canine CBP agents. Hall’s final advice to attendees: “Make sure to declare your (ag and food) products.”