TUCSON, AZ — Drug smugglers are using bold and daring tactics to smuggle millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs into America, and in many cases, right through U.S. ports of entry.
Many get away with it, but diligent border patrol agents are catching millions of dollars worth of drugs right before they make into America's neighborhoods.
These border patrol agents say they couldn't do it with their partners, canines with a "nose for narcotics."
Looking through Customs and Border Patrol press releases it is astounding to note how many drug smugglers are being busted by agents almost every single day; also astounding to see how far these drug smugglers are willing to go to get their stash into the country.
"We've found drugs anywhere from quarter panels to car seat cushions, to engine manifolds, radiators, heating coils, tires spare tires. If there's a void somewhere in a vehicle the criminals will exploit it and hide their product," said Casey Haley, a Supervisory Border Patrol agent who patrols the Sonoran desert and border communities in Southern Arizona with his canine partner, Knolls.
Haley said these were drugs that would end up in neighborhoods across America, feeding the addiction crisis.
In Arizona, 150 canine teams worked round the clock to minimize the drug supply coming in. Every agent will tell you; trained dogs are crucial to this mission.
"They're able to smell the things we cannot see," said Haley.
Knolls alone is credited for helping sniff out more than 275 Million dollars worth of drugs in the six years he has been working for Customs and Border Patrol. His handler, Agent Haley said Knolls was good.
"He's helped seize fentanyl, heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine," said Haley.
From Yuma to Tucson, December 2018 had been a very busy month for border patrol agents.
Numbers we found by digging through press releases and public documents posted on the Department of Homeland Security website indicated of the 22 drug busts near the Arizona-Mexico border in December alone, agents seized more than 4 Million dollars worth of drugs from smugglers. Most of it was meth and heroin.
Public documents also indicated that behind every drug bust, was an agent and his or her canine partner.
"If we can stop as much as we can here at the border it means less product at the center of the country," said Haley.
While drug busts were a big victory, the canine teams were also helping save lives, by finding illegal immigrants lost in the harsh Sonoran desert.
These illegal immigrants often had no food, no water, and no idea where they were going.
"They've been told one thing, it's a quick day's walk or less, but it turns into multiple days that they were not prepared for," said Agent Paul Du Bois, Special Operations supervisory with Customs and Border Patrol.
The dangerous work environment came with risks for both the dogs and their partner. The dogs often suffered from exhaustion or had rocks or cactus thorns stuck on their paws. All agents are specially trained to monitor the dog's health while they are out in the field. The dog is also given a period of rest after every assignment.
The biggest risk facing agents and the dogs were the desperate smugglers, typically hired by drug cartels, and paid big bucks to transport drugs into the United States.
"It's a constant cat and mouse game of who's better that particular day," said Haley.
A game of cat and mouse, that was interrupted in this case by a dog.
"We depend on each other to keep each other safe and accomplish the mission," said Haley.
Border patrol dogs work all over the country, not just along the fence but at airports and seaports as well.
You can read more about the border patrol canine program here.