Questions have been raised by dog owners as to how businessman Andrew Sabga’s daughter was able to obtain an exemption for her golden retriever to enter Trinidad when scores of applications for other animals remain unattended.
The Trinidad and Tobago Kennel Club also wrote National Security Minister Stuart Young this week requesting his intervention to ensure dogs are allowed to enter the country.
In a telephone interview with the Express on Thursday, Sabga, the group deputy chairman of the ANSA McAL Group of Companies and the chairman of the executive committee for the parent board and ANSA McAL Barbados, maintained there was no bias or favours.
He added he went through months of persistently hounding public servants to provide the required licence and exemption for the medical service dog which his daughter is dependent on because of a medical condition.
He eventually succeeded and in the end chartered a plane for his daughter and her medical dog to fly to Trinidad on December 5, 2020.
Sabga’s persistence not only paid off for his daughter but now paves the way for animals to come into Trinidad as a policy has now been developed to treat with the importation of animals during the Covid-19 pandemic.
On November 23, 2020, the Express contacted Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat and enquired on the status of animal importation. He said then that he had received no permission to resume the processing of the import permit applications.
Sabga obtained the exemption for the golden retriever on December 3, and both his daughter and her dog returned on December 5.
The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) was also able to bring in two dogs from Florida, USA, on December 4 from the Police K-9 Consultants in Florida.
Sabga described the process as long and stressful, but he believes the exemption was granted because the dog is a medical service dog and not a pet or emotional support dog.
Significant back and forth
Sabga said his daughter graduated from school in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, in April and after the dog got its required shots and passport, he started the process to obtain the exemptions.
“It was long; it took me six months, and of that, I would say very active pursuit for three and a half months of daily conversations with different public servants at different levels. It was exhaustive, emotionally racking and, to some extent, quite painful at times,” he said.
Sabga said he began in June by applying through the National Security Ministry’s website and also emailing the Agriculture Ministry.
He said he got an acknowledgement of receipt two weeks later, “and then I heard nothing for several months”.
He rewrote through the National Security Ministry’s website again in September.
Sabga said he also did a lot of calling and spoke to the Chief Veterinary Officer and the deputy veterinary officer, as well as the permanent secretary in the National Security Ministry.
He said he supplied all the medical certifications, the doctor’s letters on his daughter’s condition, certification for the dog, etc.
Sabga said in November he received an exemption for his daughter, but not the dog.
He said he needed to get the exemption for the dog from the National Security Ministry and then an import licence for the animal from the Agriculture Ministry.
He said there was significant back and forth between both ministries and he himself intervened to ensure there was action.
“Food production (Agriculture) basically said their hands were tied, (it was) the responsibility of National Security to give the exemptions, and National Security said they don’t give import licences. So it was back and forth between the two, with each pointing fingers at the other. That in itself was a trying exercise,” he said.
Sabga said he hired a consultant to assist in the process with his application.
“What helped me, I didn’t wait for the individuals between the different ministries to talk to one another; to some extent, they kind of sit and wait for the other to act, and weeks and months can pass before that happens because nobody is prioritising your request verses another request,” he said.
He said when one ministry sent an e-mail or wrote to the other ministry, he kept behind them until there was some response.
“Be persistent in your pursuit of your exemption. Honestly, my experience is not one of bias, I think it’s an overwhelming request to the powers that be; I dealt with just about every public servant you can get access to. I constantly was either e-mailing or writing and calling ministries and taking to various public servants.
“At some point in time, I got the impression the people might have thought I was a little bit of a thorn in their side, but I did what I had to do to secure my daughter’s dog’s exemption,” he said.
Sabga said the big challenge for individuals is there was no protocol in place to import dogs during the pandemic, but now there is.
He said the ministries agreed to give the exemption under particular terms—the dog must be quarantined separately.
Barrage of tests
He said the Agriculture Ministry wrote to almost every vet in the country making a request for vets who were interested in quarantining dogs, and that got zero replies because the requirements they had set out were quite onerous.
He said a vet he knows for years assisted and organised a room to quarantine his daughter’s dog.
This vet, he said, had to go through certification from the Agriculture Ministry.
“The dog had to take temperature checks twice a day or three times a day, and it had to be handled by a vet with hazmat suits and a whole host of stuff,” he said.
Asked if the dog accompanied his daughter on the flight, he said the ministry said the dog had to come via cargo, so he opted to charter a plane as his daughter needed the dog by her side for medical reasons.
He said the process was stressful as multiple airline tickets were booked and cancelled previously while waiting on the exemption for the dog.
Sabga said once the import licence was obtained, the dog had to be checked and inoculated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-authorised vet in the US.
“The dog would have to go through a barrage of tests and inoculation, depending on the requirement and the dog,” he said.
Sabga said he understands many people are facing hurdles in getting their animals in and he urged them to be persistent.
He said his daughter’s case was different as it’s a medical dog.
“He is with my daughter almost 24/7, actually lives with her, he was allowed to go to school with her…it’s amazing in Trinidad she would not be allowed to go anywhere with your dog, like a restaurant or supermarket, but in the US, the dog was allowed to go everywhere with her,” he said.
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