Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tortola, Ho! Part 5b: USVI Customs for Pets

After saying goodbye to the dogs on the 17th of August, I flew from Miami to St. Thomas, where I would meet the dogs the next day. The flight Roscoe and Flash were on was due to arrive around 2:30pm on the 18th. HB and I made sure to get to the airport plenty early in order to have time to figure out where to pick up the dogs. When we inquired at the airline's counter, we were told the dogs would be placed on the baggage carousel, along with all other luggage from the flight.

The flight landed on time, and HB and I waited at the baggage carousel until there were no bags left, but there was no sign of Roscoe or Flash. Finally, I went back to the airline's counter and said our dogs hadn't shown up. The employee looked mildly confused before asking if the dogs had been shipped as cargo (something we had explained the first time) and then telling us we had to go to the airline's cargo counter to collect the dogs.

We agreed to pay a taxi driver an exorbitant sum ($80) in exchange for taking us to the cargo counter (2 min ride), waiting for us while we collected the dogs, and then transporting all four of us to the ferry terminal (10 min ride). We arrived at the cargo counter at about 3:10, and could see the dogs waiting patiently in their crates in the cargo bay. Unfortunately, the woman at the cargo desk informed us, the dogs had to be cleared by USVI department of agriculture before she could release them. Now, this was an issue we had researched before we left the states. I had asked the USDA on the phone and they had assured me that there were no import regulations for taking dogs from the US to the USVI. But I wanted my dogs, so I asked what we had to do.

Well, it seemed that the USVI department of agriculture closed at 3:00pm, so we would have to spend the night in St. Thomas and come back the next day to get the dogs, at which point they would have spent well over 24 hours in their crates without relief. There was a long pause. HB started to get his angry face on. Suddenly, the woman at the cargo counter offered a second option. "OR!" she said, "I have someone here in the office who, for a fee of $30, can stamp the paperwork and I can release the dogs to you now." Both HB and I realized we were being scammed -- that there was no USVI department of agriculture clearance requirement -- but as we were already at risk of missing the last ferry to Tortola, we gladly paid the $30 and hoisted the crates into the back of the waiting taxi and high-tailed it to the ferry terminal.

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