CO-Horts Blog

Sunday, October 29, 2017

U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Keeping Us Safe

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

You're probably thinking how does Customs and Border Protection have anything to do with horticulture and why am I blogging about it? But let me tell you--it has A LOT to do with keeping agriculture (and horticulture) safe with the millions of international passengers that fly every year and all of the shipments our ports receive with merchandise.
Agricultural Specialist with Custom and Border Protection in Laredo, Texas (
Last week I had the absolute pleasure to hear JoAnn Winks, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agent speak at the Larimer County Extension Office. Officer Winks is one of the 60,000 employees that make up one of the largest law enforcement agencies worldwide. Her role is to help safeguard America's borders and ports, specifically at Denver International Airport. With the help of her trusty beagle, Bryce, she searches passenger luggage for items that cannot come into the United States--certain meat and animal products, soil and plants, fresh fruit and vegetables, etc. Having these products enter the United States can mean new animal and plant diseases for our landscapes, crops and livestock. Remember how emerald ash borer came to the U.S.? Through Detroit in packing material.

From the CBP website, "The men and women of CBP are responsible for enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws and regulations. On a typical day, CBP welcomes nearly one million visitors, screens more than 67,000 cargo containers, arrests more than 1,100 individuals, and seizes nearly 6 tons of illicit drugs. Annually, CBP facilitates an average of more than $3 trillion in legitimate trade while enforcing U.S. trade laws."
Chimex pork bologna from Mexico is often smuggled into the United States (in many ways) (
Every day, Officer Winks estimates that she seizes 50-60 items from passengers entering the United States via Denver. It should be noted that these are illegal entries--many products can legally enter the country with proper licensing and certification.

Luggage search at an airport (
The Beagle Brigade is incredibly helpful in helping keep America safe--Winks says Bryce is 96% accurate in finding illicit products--and these sniffing hounds work in all the major ports of the United States. The beagles receive extensive training (just two weeks, believe it or not!) and are rewarded, over and over and over again, with treats. The beagles used are all rescue dogs and retire at the age of nine, when they become adopted by loving families. As a side note, Winks adopted her working beagle following retirement and she said it was a bit of an adjustment when he came home--he kept sniffing the (legal) apples and oranges on her kitchen counter!
Murray the beagle (
For nearly two hours, Officer Winks kept us engaged (and laughing) with tales of what she and co-workers have found trying to cross into the United States--sought-after Mexican bologna (Mexico has a swine disease that is not found in the United States), an entire pig's head (and feet), soil samples, shredded pork stuffed in tea bags, "pork paper" and more. Her lessons for us at the end of the day: Always declare what you bring back to the United States. Many products are legal, but you do not want that beagle to sit by your luggage. 
Gadget, part of the CBP Beagle Brigade (photo from
With Officer Winks and the thousands of others at the various ports in the United States, we can be grateful for the work she's doing, along with Bryce. Just think--these small hounds might prevent the next big insect or disease from entering the United States. Thank you CBP and the Beagle Brigade!


  1. Wonderful summary of a truly engaging talk.

  2. Wish I would have been there, but thank you for the information. It must have been fascinating !

  3. Another reason I can tell my beagle tonight for why she is the best dog! This was fascinating. I bet the beagles can smell that balogna before its off the plane! I love your blog.

  4. I actually got caught by the Beagle one year on a return trip from Germany. My host there had given me two oranges from her tree as a snack for the trip home. They were forgotten in my backpack until customs at DIA. Good lesson for me. I always think about what is in my bags coming into DIA.

  5. No where did you mention you are a proud beagle owner, of actually two rescue beagles. Hazel and Maple are delightful and very much loved in the O'Connor household. Yes, they sniff all the time.
    Mom Stoven

  6. Great article! I could have listened to her stories all day. I wish that TSA would use beagles...wonder why I've never seen one working those passenger security lines?

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