Meet The Beagle Brigade

Ever wondered why beagles are the go-to breed for luggage security?

The airline industry has been bouncing back from the darkest days of covid, and passengers have been confronted with the fact that everything that made flying such a hassle has only gotten worse since the pandemic, from flight delays to lost luggage to your fellow passengers seeming to have no idea how to act in public.

But there’s been some upsides, alongside the whole “more or less being able to safely travel again,” thing. 

Passengers have been able to reacquaint themselves with what U.S. Customs and Border Protection team terms the Beagle Brigade, which are the cute little pups that help keep our ecosystem safe.

Recently the Beagle Brigade has been getting some media attention, and understandably so, as they’re quite adorable. But they also keep America’s agricultural system safe from harmful pests and infections.

This Is the Beagle Brigade

German shepherds and Labradors are two of the most popular breeds for the work undertaken by the Transportation Security Administration, for traits including their intense loyalty and ability to sniff out bombs.

But the airline industry doesn’t just have to guard against people bringing obviously harmful contraband like weapons onto a plane. They also need to make sure that international passengers don’t bring produce and meat from their point of origin, as the produce might carry harmful pests, and the meat and other animal products might have diseases, all of which could have harmful effects on the greater ecosystem. In California, a breakout of a Mediterranean fruit fly in the 1980s cost the state and federal governments approximately $100 million.

As reported by The Points Guy, the Department of Agriculture first established its Detector Dog program at Los Angeles International Airport in 1984, with a single beagle. Now, there are more than 180 “agricultural canine” teams across the country.

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Reasons for Using Beagles for Luggage Security

Beagles have become the go-to breed for sniffing out contraband food in the luggage pickup area for a number of reasons. 

The primary reason is that, they have an incredible sense of smell, and reportedly can sniff out meat even if it’s in an air-tight container, buried deeply in a passenger’s luggage, and in some cases beagles have even been able to detect powdered chicken bouillon in a bag. In all, “more than 96,450 items detected by the dogs across U.S. entry points this year.”

But beagles are also a popular breed for this position because they’re smaller, cuter and less intimidating to some already stressed customers, who might not take kindly to a large German shepherd sniffing at their suitcase right when they get off their plane. (Though Labradors are often used to sniff out larger spaces such as docks and cargo bays.) 

The dogs are typically trained for 13 weeks at a center in Atlanta, where they learn to identify the smells of apple, citrus, mango, pork and beef.

As reported by the New York Times, typically a blue-vested member of the Beagle Brigade will approach a passengers suitcase, sniff it further and sit down, which signals to their human handler that it’s their turn to ask the passenger if there’s banned food in their luggage, and the doggie gets a treat for their service.

Customers who try to smuggle contraband could face penalties of up to $1,000 for a first time offense, and risk losing their Global Entry and Trusted Traveler Program status.

The Agriculture Department is currently on guard for the detection of African swine fever, which is not present in the United States but is highly contagious and can be smuggled in via pork sausages and cured meats from abroad. The department is also on the lookout for the dangerous Medfly, a dangerous fruit fly often found in tropical vegetables and mangos.

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