Ambassadors and Unbiased Agents
Of course, an awkward aspect of patrolling for potential threats is that—unlike those smuggling explosives or illegal drugs—passengers with agricultural goods often don’t realize they are doing anything wrong.
“[Passengers usually] aren’t bringing in stuff maliciously,” says Kennedy. “They are doing it so they can go out in their backyard and pick fresh lemons. Or it’s a special kind of meat their grandmother likes. It’s hard to explain why we are taking away their products. It’s only a possibility that the meat contains a virus. It’s only a possibility that the mango has insects.”
Working with Beagles not only allows inspectors to clear passengers faster and with more accuracy, but it also keeps the process objective and free from profiling. “Let’s face it, I put everything on Lily,” says Kennedy. When people become angry about being searched, she explains, “I’m sorry, m’am or sir, I’m only doing what my dog is telling me to do.”
In fact, the Beagles’ secondary role as goodwill ambassadors was one reason they were chosen to work among travelers. In addition to the high food drive that makes them so trainable, and a hound’s predilection to follow their noses, Beagles are not the least bit intimidating.
“They’re small, cute. People want to touch them,” says Kennedy. “Most people think I’m walking my dog. They don’t notice my badge or uniform. They don’t even notice [Lily’s] uniform, which she wears to emphasize that she is a working dog.” Kennedy appreciates being able to work without adding stress to the terminal, which is hectic enough when hundreds of people are getting their bags among jostling baggage carts and whirring luggage carousels.
When Lily subtly sits by a traveler, Kennedy asks if they are carrying any fruit, meat, vegetables or plants—or if they have eaten anything during the flight that may have left a residual odor. Even if they deny having anything on them, Kennedy has learned to trust Lily.
“Show me,” Kennedy instructs Lily, and show her Lily does: quickly, but gently, striking the exact location of the smell with her paw. When a prohibited item is uncovered, Lily receives a food reward, while the passenger usually gets a warning and the item is taken away.
“I choose carefully who I fine,” Kennedy says, citing the time her former canine partner Casey found six plants sewn into the lining of a passenger’s jacket. “I [had] no hesitation fining someone who obviously knew that bringing in plants and soil was not allowed.”
Sometimes the scope of the intentional smuggling surprises even veteran CBP inspectors. In June 2004, Silverio stopped a passenger from Cuba when Q-T sat at the base of the woman’s motorized wheelchair.
“So I got down on the floor and looked, and I saw some things strapped underneath it,” recalls Silverio. “I questioned the woman, and she acted like she had no idea. I reached under and pulled out a black cloth bag. Inside, there were four plastic tubes, and I peeked in them and saw live birds. There ended up being five of those cloth bags, with a total of 39 birds,” he recalls. “I’d say half were already dead, and more died shortly after that from the stress of the travel.”
Under US law, imported birds must be placed in quarantine upon arrival as a safeguard against the numerous diseases they can carry. “Of course, right now, there is a lot of talk about the bird flu,” says Silverio. “There is also a lot of concern about diseases that would be harmful to the poultry industry, like Newcastle disease.”
An Education in Discrimination
Interestingly enough, the Beagle Brigade is not trained to ferret out wildlife. However, animal scents can cause the dogs’ natural hunting instincts to kick in, says Kennedy, and the dogs respond by alerting officers to the unusual contraband. The officers reward their Beagles—even though they are acting outside their training—because live animals can host so many diseases.
“We also have the [gratitude] of Fish and Wildlife inspectors [for] the endangered live species that have been saved by our Beagles’ curious noses,” says Kennedy, whose Beagle partners have discovered live pigeons, parrots and even endangered Egyptian turtles that were eventually returned safely to their native country