Moving to islesWhen Air Force Master Sgt. Bert Thornburg made plans to return to the islands three years ago, it almost meant leaving behind Brandy, the family's then nearly 7-year-old golden retriever.
costly for military
Officials are trying to ease state
pet quarantine fees
for military personnel
By Gregg K. Kakesako
Thornburg, a 1980 Pearl City High School graduate, said leaving Brandy in Texas would have really upset his children. The family had already decided to give away the family's other pet.
"We had already decided that we couldn't afford to bring two pets here," said Thornburg, "and I had given away our cat, which devastated my youngest daughter.
"I came home from work one day and the kids had held this meeting and told me, 'Dad, we don't want to give up Brandy. We're willing to do whatever it takes.'
"At that point, I said we would make it happen."
As it turned out, Thornburg spent $850 to quarantine Brandy for four months at the Halawa station and another $450 in plane fare to fly her in from Houston.
"That was all the money ($850) the military allocated to pay for moving expenses," said Thornburg, a 19-year veteran.
For Navy Chief Petty Officer Bill Titterington, when he decided to move his family here from Austin, he was faced with bills of at least $3,000 to quarantine two pets.
"When you are moving, money is really tight," Titterington said. And so he was forced to give away Rocky, his 7 1/2-month old Rottweiler, to a friend.
"My daughter was so depressed that she cried a lot," said Titterington, a 16-year Navy veteran.
Since then, the military has worked with state officials to ease the financial burden in this area, which it describes as a crucial quality-of-life issue. Last year, it was estimated that 1,645 military pet owners relocate to Hawaii annually -- about 35 percent of the 4,700 pet owners who move here annually.
Hawaii's U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie was able to move legislation through Congress authorizing partial payment -- $275 -- to military personnel who have to quarantine their pets. Abercrombie noted that "quarantine has kept Hawaii rabies-free. At the same time, these costs are a real burden on military families, particularly those in the junior enlisted ranks."
Working closely with state and business officials, military leaders also got state lawmakers to appropriate $500,000 to fund a one-year, tiered payment schedule for junior officers and enlisted personnel.
They had hoped that a similar tiered payment schedule would be renewed this year, but Gov. Ben Cayetano vetoed the bill. The governor said the bill was discriminatory because it favored active-duty military personnel of certain grades and did not give similar benefits to civilians. The bill would have provided a flat discount to civilians while providing a sliding scale to military personnel.
Adm. Dennis Blair, Pacific Forces commander, said he was surprised by Cayetano's action.
"All of us, the congressional delegation, the governor, and the Legislature had worked successfully last year to reduce the impact of the state's pet quarantine fees on our junior military people and state residents alike," Blair said. "It was a win-win concept. I've discussed with the governor our disappointment in the veto and the need for us to continue working together to get this program back on track."
Currently, all pet owners have to pay $655 for a minimum 30-day stay at the Department of Agriculture's Halawa quarantine station. For those who are unable to meet specific pre-quarantine qualifications, the cost is $1,080 for the mandatory 120-day stay.
Military quarantine reimbursement>> Federal level (effective Dec. 4):
* $275 per pet
>> State level ($500,000 appropriation) retroactive from July 1, 2000 to June 30:
* $220 for enlisted military members up to the rank of E6 (technical sergeant, staff sergeant, petty officer 1st class)
* $120 for senior enlisted from rank of E7 (master sergeant, chief petty officer, sergeant 1st class) to O3 (captain, Navy lieutenant).
>> Vetoed proposal:
* $175 for enlisted members to the rank of E6
* $45 for enlisted members E7 to O3.
Under Abercrombie's legislation, junior military members can get a $275 reimbursement for each pet. In addition, under last year's state appropriation, enlisted military members through the rank of staff sergeant could seek another $220 from the state. For higher-ranking enlisted military members, the state offered a $120 reimbursement. For junior officers from lieutenant to captain, the state reimbursement was also $120. That plan, however, ended last month.
Also, unlike the federal program, which was a flat fee covering all pets in quarantine, the state's amount applied the reimbursement for each pet in quarantine.
Abercrombie said he will push for full reimbursement.
"Quarantine plays an important role in protecting the health of Hawaii's people and our livestock industry," he said. "At the same time, we have to recognize the burden it puts on financially pressed military families. This is especially true for those in the junior enlisted grades. Quarantine fees are part of their relocation expenses, so it's only fair that the Pentagon pay for the cost. If the DoD can pay to ship their cars, it can certainly pay for quarantining their family pets."
Letitia Uyehara, state deputy agriculture director, said the reduction was only supposed to be a stopgap measure for a year and was granted to give the military time to get the federal government to approve full reimbursement.
"That has always been our position," Uyehara said. "We have consistently told them that we didn't support another break in fees."
The state's tight fiscal situation and the need to keep the quarantine fund self-sufficient have been factors governing this sensitive issue, she added. Unlike last year, when lawmakers were willing to use money from the state general fund to make up for the loss in quarantine revenue from the military, no such appropriation was made. Instead, the Legislature decided to forgo $270,000 -- the estimated cost of the proposed tiered quarantine fees -- in start-up funds loaned to the fund to set up the quarantine program, Uyehara added.
Col. Wayne Newman, U.S. Pacific Command's director of personnel, manpower and administration, pointed out that the tiered proposal advanced by the military was based on the fact that only one-third of the pets in quarantine each year are from military personnel.
"It was also based on the service member's ability to pay, with relief going to the most junior enlisted people and officers," Newman added.
Newman said that moving involves a lot expenses, such as shipping a second car and other out-of-pocket expenses, that the government does not reimburse.
As for Bill Titterington, a submariner at Pearl Harbor, he bought his 11-year-old daughter another dog after she arrived here in January and named him Hilo.
"But she still calls Austin once a month just to check on Rocky."