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AKC Canine Partners

Canine Partners Spotlight Fall 2018

Rescue Pup Uses Her Nose to Keep America Safe 

Beagle-mix Millie was seeking a new home through a rescue group when the US Customs and Border Patrol found the energetic pup and put her to work with its Beagle Brigade. Now Millie is employed at the Miami (FL) International Airport, stopping contraband from entering the country. Read on to learn more about Millie and her handler, Kathleen. 

One small apple tucked in a suitcase on an international flight could cause big problems once it arrives in the United States.

Prohibited fruit and vegetables can introduce insects and disease to American crops. Finding a piece of fruit would take humans hours of searching, holding up flights and passengers.

But a 15-pound rescue pup can sniff out such contraband within minutes.

Millie is a Beagle-Pug mix who belongs to the US Custom and Border Patrol’s Beagle Brigade at the Miami International Airport. The eight dogs put their amazing noses to work daily, preventing banned fruit, vegetables and meat from entering the country before they do harm.

“Millie is a high-energy dog and that’s perfect because she is always ready to work,” said her handler Kathleen Amezquita, US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) K-9 Agriculture Specialist. “She is also stubborn; she won’t give up until she finds any odor she is trained to detect.”

Although she has only been on the job since November 2017, Millie’s diligence has paid off with many successful finds.

A large pot of clay arriving in Miami from Cuba seemed unusual but harmless until Millie alerted. Some digging revealed animal heads of goats, chickens and turtles, most likely sent for a religious ceremony, Amezquita said.

“In the short time that she has been active, she has demonstrated what a good K-9 officer she is. She is in work mode the minute I take her out to get acclimated.”

Amezquita does not know much about Millie’s background, but believes she ended up on the street or in a shelter until she was saved by Beagles and Buddies Rescue in Apple Valley, California.

A CBP Supervisor, stationed at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), was searching for Beagle Brigade prospects at the rescue and thought Millie had the right stuff.

Millie entered the CBP National Detection Dog Training Center in Newnan, Georgia, where she became the first “Puggle” in the program. The Beagle Brigade prospects train for six weeks on responding to the target odors and ignoring other items that are allowed in the country, including candy, cheese, bread and fish.

At the end of the six weeks, if successful, the dogs are paired with handlers, who travel to the center, and the teams spend 10 weeks learning to work together.

“While they are in school they are trained with what we call basic odors: apple, citrus, mango and beef,” Amezquita said. “After they get assigned to their port, they start learning new odors like soursop, bark, passion fruit, yam, sweet potato, scallions, peppers, avocados and more.”

In 1984, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) established the Beagle Brigade at LAX. Beagles and Beagle mixes were selected because of their keen noses, non-threatening size, high food drive, and gentle natures with the public.

In 2003, USDA transferred agricultural inspectors to the US Customs and Border Patrol. Today, more than 110 CBP agriculture canine teams provide screening at border crossings, preclearance locations, air passenger terminals, cruise terminals, cargo warehouses, and mail facilities that process international passengers and commodities.

“We are responsible for preventing the entrance of prohibited fruits, vegetables, plant material and meat that can introduce insects and diseases into the United States,” Amezquita said. “This would have a negative impact on America’s agriculture.  It could cost the U.S. billions of dollars in eradication, crop yield, animal effects and economic trade.”

Millie gets paid every time she makes a find on the job or in training with food, usually chicken jerky, salmon treats or sausage.

“Millie loves to eat whatever you give her; she has no favorites,” she said.

Millie is Amezquita’s second canine partner, and she said she knew the little dog was special as soon as she met her.

“She is super smart. She is friendly but not too friendly, meaning when she is in work mode she won’t get distracted by passengers trying to pet her,” she said.

Best of all, Millie is always ready to go.

“Even when she is off duty, she likes to use her bed as a trampoline and jump a lot. She is always jumping or running like a ‘crazy puppy’ and, in fact, that’s her nickname.”