His name was Dudley, and he looked like an unassuming beagle, until he stopped dead in his tracks and focused all of his olfactory attention on our rolling backpack. We were in Dallas, Texas on a flight layover returning from Mexico. Dudley was a drug detection dog, and his stance told everyone nearby that the front pocket of our backpack smelled very interesting. We were a family of six dad, mom and four kids weary and a little disheveled from a day of traveling, but hardly resembling your typical drug-smuggling cartel. Dudley disagreed. The kids thought the dog was cute, and the situation funny. So did I, at first. But when Dudley's handler tried to move forward, Dudley wouldn't budge. He was cemented to the ground in front of our backpack, his snout pointed confidently toward our carry-on. "What's in there?" the handler inquired. We all believed the pocket was empty. "Nothing," we replied with as much innocence as we could muster. "Open it," Mr. Handler ordered. My husband loosened the flap, put his hand in and pulled out a cookie a leftover from a snack served on the plane. "I was saving that!" our youngest son said. Dudley was obviously interested in the cookie. His handler was obviously disappointed in Dudley's performance, "You're supposed to ignore cookies, Dudley," he scolded. "Anything else in the bag?" he asked. "No!" we all shook our heads. The handler smiled. Surely he could tell we weren't drug smugglers. Then he asked for our customs declaration form, the document telling what items we'd purchased in Mexico to bring back to the United States. I pulled out the paper where I'd listed our trip souvenirs: vanilla, glow-in-the-dark scorpion necklaces, T-shirts and chocolate. No drugs, not even a bottle of tequila. He must have seen we are a wholesome bunch. He took the form, and with a yellow marker wrote, "AK9" in large letters over my list. The message seemed cryptic, but I figured K9 was code for canine a fancy word for dog. His notation had something to do with the fact that we'd caught Dudley's attention definitely not a good thing. Our Dudley delay allowed the rest of the passengers from our plane to get ahead of us in line. Travelers from about 20 other airplanes joined them. Rows of people streamed back and forth, filling an enormous space. Dozens of check-through stations sat at the opposite end of the room. But like the supermarket on a busy Saturday, only two were open. We were last in line. We waited. "How long is infinity?" our son asked. "I think this is it," my husband answered. We inched our way forward with the rest of the crowd, and at last found ourselves face to face with a customs official. He asked for our paperwork, and I had a sudden and inexplicable fear we'd been caught red-handed, even though we hadn't done anything wrong. As I passed him the form with the big AK9 written on it, I knew he could read the guilt on my face. "Are you bringing any animals, food or produce into the country?" he asked. I stared at him with wide eyes. My tongue froze and I knew we'd be arrested in no time. "No, none of that stuff," my husband interjected, pushing me along.
We weren't done yet. Most people were free to go after talking with the customs official, but they didn't have AK9 written on their form. We got to go into a special room with lots of x-ray machines and drug detection devices. Once again, their interest centered on our backpack. We told them Dudley had sniffed out our cookie. "Dudley doesn't detect cookies," they said. "He finds illegal substances." I didn't agree, but wasn't about to argue with people who could keep me from entering my own country. Then they asked about fruit. It seems bringing fruit back from Mexico is illegal. My ever-astute husband saw a crack in the customs gates and made his way toward it. "We might have used the backpack to carry bananas to the beach," he offered. I didn't remember ever using the pack to haul bananas, and gave him a puzzled look. He shot back with a "Be quiet and I'll get us out of here" stare. The banana theory worked. Dudley wouldn't eat a cookie, but he'd been trained to hone in on bananas. We were cleared and free to board the plane for home. The whole customs debacle caused such a delay that we didn't have time to grab something to eat in the airport. Luckily, they were serving snacks on the plane. The menu? Sandwich and a cookie. Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication." She's collecting fans on Facebook. Please check it out. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit her website at marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/.