The battle against terrorism conjures up images of our brave neighbors in the military, patrolling a dessert full of danger, thousands of miles from the placid hills and mountains of home. Long before such terms as bio-terrorism and Homeland Security, protecting those placid hills and farms has fallen to a variety of government agencies, including the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Agri-business is big business in New Hampshire and Vermont, providing millions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs. Although agriculture no longer plays the same role in northern New England as it did just 50 years ago, it is still a significant contributor to our local economy. With Boston’s Logan International Airport the primary port of entry into New England, the task of protecting our country and New England’s agriculture industry, rests in the proven paws of The Beagle Brigade.

Since 1984 a team of beagles and their handlers, trained at the USDA’s National Detector Dog Training Center in Georgia, have been the successful first line of defense against bio-terrorism and protecting our food chain, from the mycobacteria and insects that could cripple it.

These are “agents” without rank. They go by names like Hoover, Sam and Rolo. According to Agriculture Specialist Kevin Dialey, these dogs (who average about six years on the job) have gone through extensive training prior to their arrival in Boston and are fine-tuned on a regular basis. “They are typically shelter rescues and are trained to detect fruits, meat and plants.  Being based in New England, their skills are further honed to products coming into the country, and specifically those that would have a greater impact on New England such as apples, pears & etc.”

The first time Hoover went to the mat, he uncovered 30 mangos and a dressed out pig brought in by a passenger returning from Cape Verde, off the coast of Western Africa. Mad Cow Disease virtually wiped out the meat industry in Britain more than a decade ago, and the country has never recoved as a beef exporter since. Another “agent”, Rolo, recently detected Austrian Sausages disguised as cigars being brought in illegally, while his counterpart, Sam, busted parrot smugglers from Portugal.

While many of these may seem harmless to us, every item confiscated is sent to a government laboratory and analyzed. There, detection of everything from insects like the Mediterranean fruit fly, to foreign bacteria are found on an occasional to regular basis. In fact, The Beagle Brigade averages about seven responses a day at Logan, with even more during the busy summer season.