My name is Alfonso Garcia Jr. Last year I made the decision to open my own business. With the economic condition we are experiencing, I knew it would be hard work to make it work. But I had to try. The business I opened is a pet store. Not the grandest endeavor, but one that I’m very passionate and proud of. As part of this type of business, I applied for an importation permit… and this is where the process starts getting both frustrating and hopeless. In order to operate as a pet store, we need this importation permit to obtain fish, aquarium plants, and small animals. The following is an account of what we have been put through these almost 6 months. At a time when our government is supposedly strapped for cash, you would think that any and all businesses would be given a helping hand in any way possible to get established in a speedy manner and start contributing as much as they possibly could to our government. This letter is being sent out to any and all media outlets and government officials, in hopes of something being done.
The events thus far…
We turned in our permit on November 12, 2014. My past experience with this process has taught me it would take 2-3 months to be completed. The paper work was turned into Fish & Wildlife’s Invasive Biologist, Dr. William Coles, as all permits go through him. About a month after we turned it in, we were informed by a concerned customer, that our permit had to be first turned into the Dept. of Agriculture’s Veterinary Department, before Fish & Wildlife could continue their process. We at Pet Oasis were never informed, called, emailed of this. Furthermore, when asked by the concerned customer as to why he (Dr. Coles), hadn’t notified us of this step, he simply replied, “it’s not my job…”. The following day, I went down to Fish & Wildlife’s office in Mars Hill, to retrieve my application and turn it into Dr. Bradford at Dept. of Agriculture. As I arrived, I found the doors closed and three workers outside, one of which was Dr. Coles. I stated who I was and what I came for, and he informed me that the office was closed due to mold infestation, and that he didn’t know when he would be able to get my application. So, I asked if instead I could turn into Dr. Bradford my copy as to speed up the process, which he said was a good idea. Another two days later, I was able to turn in my application to Dr. Bradford. It would take me another day to find someone to be able to pay the $200 fee, which was processed within 3 days.
With the Christmas and Carnival holidays creating less workdays, we patiently waited till the Thursday after three kings day, to go investigate about the status of our permit with Dr. Bradford. Luckily she was in her office! She stated that she had reviewed the permit, and as some of the species were out of her knowledge, she forwarded the permit back to Dr. Coles for his assessment. She stated that once he was finished, Dr. Coles would call me in so I could sign the permit, so it could then be forwarded to the Director and Commissioners for their signatures. By this point I felt very confident that the process was moving along properly and smoothly.
Several weeks passed, and no word of the status of our permit had been made known to us. So, once again I tried contacting Dr. Coles, to which I left a message. A week passed, and I called Dr. Coles again, this time to find out he had left on vacation, and wouldn’t be back until March… this was the first week of February when I called… and no one else could answer any questions as only Dr. Coles was in charge of the permits. So anxiously, and frustratingly we awaited his return in March.
March finally here, we once again tried reaching Dr. Coles. Even several customers who knew him tried. It was through these people, and not by Dr. Coles directly, that we found out the permit had been sent to the Director, Roy Pemberton, for his signature of approval. Wow, finally we were almost there! The permit was printed and in the hands of the people involved with the final steps… A day later, we called Dr. Coles, just to verify the information. To which he confirmed that the Commissioner had it and as soon as it was signed he would contact me to go finalize it with my signature. This step was backwards from what we were previously told, but at this point it didn’t matter. It was getting done!
Two weeks passed…. no call… no permit… So once again, I called Dr. Coles to find out the status. I learned from his coworkers that he was not there, and they gave me a contact number where I could reach him. So I called, and found out he was in the Dominican Republic in an archery tournament. I asked about the status of our permit, to which he informed me that he had a letter that he was suppose to forward to me from the Director. This letter was asking for some additional information, before the permit could be signed. This supposed letter was never forwarded to us, because Dr. Coles supposedly “forgot…” and he would get it to us as soon as he was back. I proactively made a list once again of all the animals, plants that were in our store to give to them. A week after, I found out Dr. Coles was back on island. I remind you, he was suppose to inform us so we could receive this so called letter. I drove over to the office, having on hand the paperwork they so desperately needed. To my amazement, Dr. Coles was nowhere to be found. A quick phone call revealed he was in the field and didn’t know when he would be in the office. I quickly informed him that I was leaving the paper work with his co-workers. As I was leaving the building, Dr. Coles was arriving, so I waited for him. I told him who I was and I showed him the papers I had dropped off, as I had made a copy. He stated to me that that was exactly what they needed. We had a conversation for about 20 mins. At the end, I felt a sense of progress…. (mixed with lies). For in that conversation, Dr. Coles revealed that the permit had been drafted, but not printed.
After this, another two weeks would pass. Yet again, I tried gaining info on the status of our permit. With no word from Dr. Coles, I tried getting in contact with Director Pemberton. I left a message, stating who I was and why I was calling and left two contact numbers. The following week, we had a critical family emergency. Needless to say, the permit took back seat. But things seem to have a way to follow you no matter what. While at the Henry E. Rohlsten airport awaiting my flight, our concerned customer, saw me. He informed me that he had gotten a hold of Director Pemberton and had some news for us. Supposedly the permit would not be signed until the Fish & Wildlife’s new policies went into effect on April 9, and that they wanted every permit holder to be held under the same set of rules. This was understandable, but we have been waiting for 5 months up until then… so why should we be penalized any longer? But we had no say or choice, and with other matters at hand, so we waited.
Several weeks passed. I’m finally back on St. Croix again, trying to reorganize and fix things back to some form of normal. Not hearing anything, I decided yet again to call Dr. Coles on Thursday. He stated to me that the Director would be in his office and he would find out for me what was what. I let the weekend pass by, not hearing a peep. So, April 27, 2015, I called yet again! First to Director Pemberton, who didn’t answer. I left yet again another message with all my contact info and why I was calling. I then called Dr. Coles, who informed me he was on St. Thomas driving to the office. He stated that the Director had something on his desk and when he found out he would call me… that was at 11:17 am. As of 4:52 pm, I have not received any call from either men or anyone in the Department.
Now today is April 29th, and again I called these two gentlemen, with none answering their phones. So messages were left yet again. I decided to call the Fish & Wildlife office on St. Thomas, in hopes to find Director Pemberton. Turns out Director Pemberton is on St. Croix, but a quick call to their office revealed no one was answering the main phone.
If all this I am writing down feels like an unbelievable story to you, I assure you it isn’t. It has been our kryptonite. Because of this prolonged and obvious mishandling of the permitting process, my business has suffered very, very much. There are days where it seems easier to simply close the doors and call it quits. It is not fair to us and to our very loyal and patient customers to keep our business down, while others are enjoying the benefits we so desperately are trying to attain. Our amazing customers, who despite all the hardships we have had to endure, have graced us with the honor of their votes to win Best Pet Store in the Daily News Readers Poll for 2015. We always hear the ones in power talking about progress, revitalization, rebuilding… but at the end of the day, it is situations like this that prove the very opposite. There is no accountability, no repercussions, no justice. I’m hoping someone or something changes very soon. This is my home. I was born here, raised here, worked here. It’s all I know, and all I ever needed, up until this point. The ones in power may not care that one more person leaves this island. But answer this, what will you live off when there’s no one left. Thank you for your time,
Alfonso Garcia Jr., St. Croix