IF YOU are a United States Custom Officers, having a sharp eye and a honed nose is vital. These are the attributes necessary for the speedy detection of concealed contraband like marijuana, cocaine and even illegal aliens.
On the northern border with Canada, the hunt for aliens has become especially urgent of late. Children have been caught bringing them in, tucked discreetly away in suitcases and backpacks. So have elderly grandparents.
These unwelcome immigrants, of course, are not humans but animals. Actually they are stuffed animals, like flamingos, elephants and hippos, with tell- tale red tags on their ears. Yes, it's a Beanie Baby border war.
Few are the mothers or fathers in America (or for that matter in Britain) who have escaped the vortex of Beaniemania. For small children they were the must-have gift of last Christmas and, in this country, at least, such is the demand that supplies still cannot meet the stampeding demand.
For American parents, however, one solution, offers itself. Take a shopping trip to Canada, where the Beanie never really caught on, thus ensuring ample supplies, and where the US dollar is unusually strong.
Now, however, US Customs has been asked by Ty Inc, the maker of the Beanies, to stem the flow of the toys southward. And so an official Beanie-allowance has been instituted. "A consumer is allowed to have one Beanie Baby for personal use every 30 days," said Customs officer Ralph Hackney.
To enforce the rule, the Customs people are forced regularly to go through the packing of children, parents and grandparents in search of the furry creatures. One inspection yielded a haul of 15,000 Beanies.
Crossing the border has thus become hazardous for young Americans. Bob Blanchard, a Customs officer in Maine, said: "We're getting flooded with calls from people who want to know if their 7-year-old daughters can bring their entire collection of Beanies with them into Canada and back out again". They can, but only if they fill out the paperwork.
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