Monday, January 16, 2012

In Which a Sniffer Dog Suspects Us

Dear anxious readers, concerned for my well-being,

As I am sure you all are ...

On our trip across the US, Mr H and I passed through a few state border checkpoints.  A year ago when we were driving down the California coast for a Thanksgiving vacation, we had to stop at the checkpoint because we had three avocados in our car.  The guard said we could not bring them through "because of the peel," so I asked if I could peel them.  (Organic avocados are expensive!)  She said yes; it started to hail and rain.

Mr H and I stood in the hailing rain and peeled the avocados and put them in a ziplock bag, and I walked gooey-handed into the office to report that I had completed my task and could I wash my hands?  Nobody knew what I was talking about and the original guard was not to be seen, but they handed me a paper towel and I dried my hands, concluding that I could have not peeled them at all and nobody would have cared less.

On this most recent trip, however, the search got a little more in depth.  We'd passed through checkpoints with sniffer dogs before (dogs trained to sniff out drugs), but at this particular one the dog started barking at our vehicle.

The guard said, "Sir, the dog has been alerted to your vehicle, so I'm going to need to ask you to pull over to the side here so we can search the car."

They were very polite and friendly, inquiring about guns and knives (we had neither), our point of origin, our purpose and destination.

"I know you're in the military and you're a citizen and all," a guard said to Mr H, "but Washington is a pretty free-spirited state ...?"

"No," Mr H responded, "I do not smoke weed."

The guard looked at me and I laughed.  "No," I said, "and I'm pregnant on top of that!"

The guard shrugged.  "You'd be surprised what we see come through here!" he said.

Meanwhile, three other guards were systematically emptying the vehicle, carefully stacking things on the pavement.  I was surprised at how respectful they were of our possessions.  The dog lunged into the car, sniffing around in a business-like manner.  He turned his attention to the trunk, and when they pulled out a bucket of Mr H's scuba-diving equipment, he got very interested and ignored everything else.

"Sorry about the interruption!" the guards apologized, and began returning everything to the car with Mr H's help.  I picked up a bag and they hurried to stop me.  "No, no!" one of them said, "you shouldn't lift anything heavy!  Just sit in the car and relax!"

This isn't, I imagine, altogether unusual; a recent study showed that as much as 80% of the time, the sniffer (or "detection") dogs can be incorrect in their alerts.  Mr H and I wondered if it was because so many interesting smells from the ocean were all over his equipment - who even knew what was in the water off the California coast!  I found that the eager dog had chewed through my trash bag, rendering it fairly useless, but there was no other damage done and it only took fifteen minutes out of our time.  And no, I did not consider it a wild violation of my privacy. 

Sniffed but not miffed,

Mrs H



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