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Rescued beagles now federal agents

Local dogs learn to find contraband

Posted: March 11, 2012 - 1:02am  |  Updated: March 12, 2012 - 9:48am
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Nancy Bobbitt and John Tippett take a pair of beagles for a walk on the baggage claim machine as part of their training as inspection dogs for the Department of Agriculture.   Photo by Michael Holahan
Photo by Michael Holahan
Nancy Bobbitt and John Tippett take a pair of beagles for a walk on the baggage claim machine as part of their training as inspection dogs for the Department of Agriculture.

Twitter @ValerieRowell

Jasper and Finn are two new federal agents who sniff out contraband at international airports.

Both earned their badges after being rescued from area animal shelters by the Columbia County Humane Society.

The pair are young male beagles, who work for U.S. Customs and Border Protection after going through intensive training at the National Detector Dog Training Center in Newnan, Ga.

“They have their federal agent badges,” said Nancy Bobbitt, a humane society volunteer who provided Jasper with a foster home and introduced him to detection training. “They are truly federal agents.”

Bobbitt said she rescued Jasper, who was left at the Columbia County Animal Services shelter by his owner, and Finn, fostered by Deborah Taylor, from an Augusta Animal Services facility.

Bobbitt said many years ago she saw something on television about the Beagle Brigade, a group of beagles trained through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The dogs sniff around airport luggage carousels and passenger luggage in search of contraband foods, including meats and fruits.

“They detect five basic odors – apples, citrus, mangoes, pork and beef products,” said Jenni Anderson, a training specialist at the training center. “Those are the ones most likely to carry pests and disease.”

Anderson said most of the dogs, including some Labrador retrievers trained at the center, work for Customs in international airports and ports.

About 114 teams of a dog and a handler work in ports of entry from Miami to Seattle and along the northern and southern borders.

Those teams intercept thousands of pounds of contraband each year, Anderson said.

“They have a job,” she said. “They have purpose. They get to go to work with a human every day.”

Beagles are small, friendly and non-threatening. But they also are eager to please and have very sensitive noses that can differentiate 50 different scents.

“The thing that makes them good hunting dogs makes them good at what they do at the airports because they keep going,” Bobbitt said. “They just keep going.”

Anderson said the beagles are mostly found in shelters close to the training center or on the Internet. She found Jasper and Finn on www.petfinder.com, where the humane society often lists pets available for adoption.

Bobbitt has suggested several dogs for training over the years.

“She has helped us find a couple of really nice beagles,” Anderson. “She’s been really helpful.”

But Jasper and Finn are the only two to pass all the required medical and temperament tests and graduate from the 10-week training course. They graduated from training in the fall and work at separate international airports in the Northeast.

“They both did really well in class,” Anderson said. “It really does take a special dog to be able to do this job.”

Bobbitt recently took a few more beagles to the Augusta Regional Airport to test their temperaments around a crowd. If they do well, she’ll suggest them for detector dog training.

For Bobbitt, attending Jasper and Finn’s graduation ceremony at the training center was a special event.

“I have no children,” Bobbitt said. “To me, these are my children. Truly, it was like seeing my child graduate from grammar school.”

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