Yvonne Petty remembers how pitiful Murray looked when her volunteer group, Alcovy Pet Rescue, found the beagle in a kill shelter in north Georgia. He’d been picked up as a stray after someone cut part of his right ear and part of his tail off. Then three years old, he was also very skinny.
“He was in such bad shape, but he was friendly and outgoing and you could tell he had that drive to hunt,” Petty tells PEOPLE
That drive to hunt made Murray perfect to join the Beagle Brigade – a team of 115 beagles that work with Homeland Security across the U.S. screening passengers and luggage to sniff out illegal cargo — like meat and produce that have been smuggled into the country. Almost all of the dogs in the Beagle Brigade are rescues, just like Murray.
Aaron Beaumont works at the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Detector Dog Training Center and is in charge of training all the dogs. He remembers when Murray first came in and says, “Even though he’d clearly been mistreated, Murray still trusted people and was bright and just loved being around people.”
“He’s a superstar now,” says his handler Amabele Gella, an Agriculture Specialist and K-9 Enforcement Officer with Homeland Security.
The two work together daily at the baggage claim area at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and have been responsible for sniffing out some of the airport’s biggest finds – smuggled fruit and meat that carry potentially devastating diseases and plants that can carry dangerous pests.
“It’s big game of hide-and-seek for him,” Gella tells PEOPLE. “It’s fun – he’s so full of energy – he never wants to stop finding stuff – all day long he’s sniffing bags and he gets treats in return. He makes my job look easy.”
Petty couldn’t be prouder of the dog that once sat on death row. “He does such a fabulous job. He’s saved this country millions of dollars in seizures of illegal plants and food. We’re extremely proud of him.”
His trainer is thrilled too. Beaumont says, “It’s an amazing story. It’s kind of like the ultimate pauper and prince story. We take these dogs out of shelters and give them a second chance, one they really love.”
The dogs work until they turn nine. That’s when they’re officially retired and most often go to live with their handlers as household pets. Murray is only five so Gella says the two have a lot more work to do protecting the country. “He loves his job and makes me love my job even more. We find stuff every day, all day long and he just makes it fun.”
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