Everyone knows Kojak," says David Rothman as the 20-pound beagle drags him through the crowds at Los Angeles International Airport's Bradley International Terminal. "He's got a reputation."
Kojak, a member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beagle Brigade, spends his days sniffing baggage. He isn't a police dog, however, and his job is not to discover illegal drugs. Decked out in a bright green jacket lettered with "Protecting American Agriculture," Kojak is trained to detect illegally imported food and plants that might carry with them next year's equivalent of the notorious Medfly. When he smells something suspicious in a bag, he sits down next to it, wags his tail and is rewarded with a piece of beef jerky. It's a trick that has made Kojak one of the USDA's most effective public-relations reps.
"He's so cute, the travelers seem disappointed if he doesn't stop at their baggage," says Rothman, who has been Kojak's handler for two years. "The stewardesses say hello and want to play with him, and the customs people all know him."
Beagles are usually calm, friendly dogs, Rothman says, which makes them ideal for the job--that and their extraordinary sense of smell. But when Kojak, 5, is on duty, no amount of affection or attention can sway him from the task at hand. He's been sniffing his way through crowds of incoming tourists for three years.