CHICAGO (TND) — Inside Terminal 5 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, thousands of passengers arrive on flights from around the world.
Once people clear customs, they’re greeted by a 6-year-old, fast-moving beagle named Bettie.
“Bettie Boop!” exclaims Customs and Border Protection (CBP) specialist Jessica Anderson, as she begins to laugh.
THE BEAGLE BRIGADE
Anderson and Bettie are a top team in CBP’s one-breed canine program dubbed the “Beagle Brigade.”
“The Beagle Brigade started back in the 80s,” Anderson said.
The beagle brigade?
“That's what they originally called it," she said.
The title stuck and continues to this day.
One-hundred seventeen beagles make up the brigade, assigned to airports across the country, guarding against invasive species, pests and pathogens carried by passengers in food and plants they bring with them from overseas.
Spotlight on America asked Anderson, “how important are beagles to what we're doing to protect America?”
“I think they're incredibly important!” she replied.
Bettie is one of America’s best beagles, chalking up 2,872 seizures of food, plants, and other agricultural items in just eight months, from October 2022 to May 2023. Her seizure rate that places her in second place among beagles across the country.
BEAGLES RULE THE AISLES
At the International Mail Facility near O’Hare, where freight from around the world arrives, dogs like a Labrador named CiCi command the conveyer belts, sniffing out food inside cardboard boxes and other containers.
But, inside international terminals, where dogs are in close proximity to people, beagles like Bettie rule.
In the 80s, the beagles were originally picked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to patrol amongst people because of their friendly looks.
Cute, cuddly and welcoming,” Anderson said.
The furry, friendly faces of beagles like Bettie disguise a serious mission: Protecting America from pests and pathogens that could wipe out crops and animals across the country.
Today, Bettie and the brigade are focused on two serious threats to America: avian influenza, which has already killed 43 million hens worldwide, causing egg prices to skyrocket in January, and; African swine fever, which wiped out near a quarter of the world’s pig population.
To protect against avian influenza, anything connected to chickens and other birds that has not been approved by CPB is being confiscated. The haul includes chicken meat and more exotic items, like birds’ nests, used to make birds nest soup, a Chinese delicacy that’s full of bird saliva.
Protecting against African swine fever means preventing passengers from bringing any pork products with them, whether it’s a sandwich or sausage they packed away.
One day at O’Hare, Bettie sniffed out several sausages, including a link packed inside a suitcase of a teacher who had just arrived.
” Could you get that sausage out for me, please?” Anderson asked the teacher calmly. She let her know that it isn’t allowed.
And as Bettie patrolled the aisles, she signaled sausage inside a duty-free bag. The woman who had it in her cart explained she bought it at a foreign airport to bring back to the U.S.
“Yeah,” Specialist Anderson said, explaining, “It's not permitted.”
While the beagles are trained to sniff out pork, other meats and fruits, they constantly find more exotic food, like black chunks of cow skin that were seized from another passenger.
Also confiscated, an entire leg of a wild animal with the hoof still attached.
And CBP officers still don’t know what animal produced another cut of meat they seized.
“Whenever we see bones like that, that's a good indicator that it's not allowed,” Anderson said.
According to CBP, in just nine months from October 2022 to June 2023, 118,308 international passengers faced agricultural inspections caused by the noses of K9s, with 98,253 plants, 39,086 animal products and 9,166 miscellaneous products seized.
And playing a major role in the successful seizures are a brigade of beagles like Bettie, who has the heart of her partner.
“Oh! I love her.” Anderson said, as she handed Bettie another treat for a job well done.