by: Pat Hernandez, June 17, 2011 11:06:00 pm
Flying from a foreign country into Bush Airport, you can't help but notice beagles wearing blue vests that identify them as a working canine officer. They work the baggage claim area where international travelers pick up their luggage before going through customs.
Paula Rivera is chief Customs Border Protection officer who heads the Beagle Brigade. She says the dogs and their handlers look for what the Department of Agriculture calls invasive species.
"These particular dogs, the beagles, are trained specifically to look for agriculture products. It could be plant material, vegetables, any kind of food. So they're specifically trained to identify agriculture products."
The beagles are trained to sniff out items that the pest or plant disease are attached to.
Chief Rivera admits their friendly demeanor can be a distraction.
"Travelers that are coming in, mistake that they can reach down and pet them, but we definitely want to remind the travelers that the dogs are actually working while they're there. They have a job to perform, and they are highly effective in order to find what they're looking for."
She adds every day the Beagle Brigade sniffs out bugs that the USDA estimates can cause 140-billion dollars a year in damage across the country.