Agriculture, one of America's biggest industries and largest employers, is under constant threat of attack from foreign animal and plant pests and diseases. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Beagle Brigade is one facet of USDA's comprehensive agricultural quarantine and inspection (AQI) program. Beagles are among the healthiest of all dog breeds. They are considered the "Eagle Scouts" of dogs. Loyal, courageous, obedient, and patient, beagles travel well and are equally at home indoors and outdoors. Because of their curiosity, intelligence, high response to food, and superior sense of smell, beagles emerged as the obvious choice to be used for USDA's detective work.
Beagles may have first come to the United States from England in 1880, and America's National Beagle Club was formed in 1887. About 100 years later, around 1984, USDA established its detector dog program at Los Angeles International Airport with one team consisting of a beagle and a canine handler. At first, a variety of dog breeds worked with Customs to develop a detector dog program. Then, after selecting Beagles as the agency's detector dogs, the UDSA worked with the military at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to train Beagle Brigade teams. Around 1987, three regional training centers were opened which were later combined into one national training center located in Orlando, FL.
The Beagle Brigade spans the United States. Currently, there are more than 60 Beagle Brigade teams at 21 international airports. By fiscal year 2002, USDA plans to have 130 dog teams throughout the country, more than doubling current numbers.
USDA has also provided expertise and training to agriculture officials in other countries who want to start their own detector dog programs. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Guatemala, Mexico, and South Korea have all sought the assistance of USDA¹s Beagle Brigade.
The USDA makes about 2 million interceptions of illegal agricultural products every year. Included in that total are more than 295,000 lots of unauthorized meat and animal byproducts that have the potential to carry diseases to American livestock and poultry. Inspectors also find nearly 104,000 plant pests and diseases that could have been dangerous to our agricultural industry. The Beagle Brigade program averages around 75,000 seizures of prohibited agricultural products a year.
Some of the busiest Federal Inspection Service (FIS) areas are at major international airports in large U.S. cities like New York, Miami, Dallas, and Los Angeles, and it is in airports such as these that the Beagle Brigade usually works. In the FIS area, the Beagle Brigade works alongside officers from the U.S. Customs Service (Customs), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Public Health Service, and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). All these Federal agencies have various missions and work together to protect people by enforcing laws and facilitating the entry of passengers and goods.