Beagle Brigade

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Diseases, insects and animals all can threaten agriculture. Often the threat of attack comes from foreign organisms. The United States Department of Agriculture has many ways to protect American agriculture. One such method is the Beagle Brigade.

The Beagle Brigade is a group of non-aggressive dogs and their human partners. The dogs work with U-S-D-A inspectors and X-ray equipment to prevent the entry of banned agricultural products into the United States. They search travelers' belongings for banned fruits, plants and meat that could carry harmful organisms.

All dogs have noses that are well built for smelling. Their noses are designed to receive and trap smells.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service chose beagles for use at airports for several reasons. Beagles are intelligent and active dogs. They are loyal and obey orders. American officials have found that most beagles will remain calm in crowded, noisy areas. They also are gentle with people. And they have an excellent sense of smell.

Experts say beagles can identify smells so weak that even modern scientific technology could not measure them. Beagles also have an excellent ability to identify differences among smells. The part of a dog's brain that receives messages from the nerves of the nose is highly developed. This area can store information the way a computer does.

The Agriculture Department established its program with dogs in Nineteen-Eighty-Four. At first, different kinds of dogs were used. Then officials worked with the armed forces in Texas to train Beagle Brigade teams. In Nineteen-Eighty-Seven, the Department opened three training centers and began training its own teams.

Now the Beagle Brigade has more than fifty teams at twenty-one international airports. More teams are being added. Plans are being made to deploy teams along the American border with Mexico. Plans also call for the use of dogs at some mail centers.

U-S-D-A officials also have provided help to agriculture officials in other countries who want to start their own dog programs. Officials in Australia, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand and South Korea have asked for help.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.