The U.S. generates more than $1 trillion every year producing, consuming, exporting and importing agricultural products. This makes the country one of the world's agricultural leaders, but it also leaves the borders vulnerable to non-native plants and animal products that can spread disease. Invasive species are a big threat to American agriculture; according to the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. loses about $136 billion in agricultural revenue as a result of these species [source: CBP].
"Prohibited agricultural items can harbor plant pests and foreign animal diseases that could seriously damage America's crops, livestock and the environment – and a large sector of our country's economy," Powell says.
APHIS is the agency responsible for helping to protect the country from foreign animals and plants, which can spread disease, and the agency helps regulate what crosses U.S. borders. "One key tool used to screen passengers and cargo for agricultural contraband is the agriculture detector dog teams," Powell says. An agriculture detector dog, together with a dog handler, make up a "team" that work together to locate agricultural contraband before it can cause any damage within U.S. borders.
While training for the Beagle Brigade begins at the facility in Newnan, it officially ends at the airport when they're tested on the job. The dogs watch and sniff passengers coming through customs, who, according to Brisley, are required to declare any agricultural products like meats, produce, plants, and seeds they may be carrying.
So what happens if a beagle catches a whiff of something potentially illegal and alerts his handler? "If a traveler declares up front they have items, then no action will take place," Brisley says. "Depending on the circumstances, a fine or an arrest could occur."
And just like any other hard-working employees, the beagles need a break after a long day, so rather than stay with their trainers or live with families, they're boarded at nearby facilities close to their workplace.
"We get inquiries a lot from people asking if the dogs can stay with them and then have their trainer pick them up in the morning," Brisley says. "But based on our history and our best practices, we have the canines kenneled overnight at a nearby facility, and that works best for everyone." That's mainly because the dogs need their rest. If they work eight hours on the job detecting prohibited agricultural products and then go home to a family of kids and a backyard garden, they'll never stop working and be wiped out by the next morning when their handler picks them up, Brisley explains.