When the couple went on holiday during the long National Day weekend in August, they decided to take their pet Maltese, Woffles, with them.
It turned out to be a costly decision because they did so without getting authorisation from the Agri- Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).
The couple told The New Paper last evening that they were not aware they needed a licence to take Woffles out of Singapore and back.
Even so, when they were caught by immigration officers, they dug a deeper hole for themselves - first by stealing Woffles back from the quarantine centre, where the dog had been placed, and then by lying to AVA officers that it had run away.
For these offences, Mr Chow Teck Meng, 41, and his wife, Madam Karen Yip, 37, were fined a total of $24,000 on Wednesday.
This is how the Chows ended up in the doghouse.
OFFENCE 1: NO EXPORT LICENCE
The couple left for Malaysia on Aug 7, driving their car through Tuas Checkpoint at about 3pm. Going along for the trip was Woffles, a white male Maltese.
They did not have an export licence, for which they must apply to the AVA.
The dog was not discovered by the immigration authorities during their departure from Singapore.
After staying in Kuala Lumpur for the next two days, they returned to Singapore.
OFFENCE 2: NO IMPORT LICENCE
When the Chows reached the Woodlands Checkpoint at about 10.40pm on Aug 9, an Aetos auxiliary police sergeant spotted Woffles on Madam Yip's lap in the front passenger seat during a routine check.
Mr Chow admitted the dog was theirs but they did not have an import licence, also issued by AVA, for it.
By bringing the dog in from Malaysia without the proper import licence, the Chows had violated the Animals and Birds Act, which carries a fine of up to $10,000 and/or jail of up to one year.
The couple were charged for both offences and were fined $10,000 each.
OFFENCE 3: BUSTING DOG OUT
Woffles was taken to the Changi Animal and Plant Quarantine Centre (CAPQ) on Aug 10 for quarantine.
The centre is inside the Changi Airfreight Centre, a protected area with controlled access.
Mr Chow requested to visit the dog and did so at 4pm the same day.
Unhappy that his dog was housed at CAPQ, he demanded to have it relocated.
When his request was turned down, he was seen leaving the centre later with Woffles.
Two AVA officers chased him to his car, but he ignored them and drove off with Woffles on his lap, leaving behind his identity card which he had earlier handed over at the pass office.
Despite calls to his mobile phone to return with the dog, he refused to comply.
For this offence, Mr Chow was fined $2,000 under the Animals and Birds Act.
OFFENCE 4: LYING TO AVA OFFICER
When an AVA officer went to the couple's bungalow in Farleigh Avenue at 9pm that night to retrieve the dog, they refused to comply.
When police officers were called in an hour later, Madam Yip told them Woffles had run away and the dog that was in the house was a stray they had found.
They refused to hand over the "stray" to be checked. At 1am, they finally relented and handed the dog over.
A scan of its microchip showed that it was the same dog that was taken from CAPQ.
For lying to an AVA officer and impeding him from doing his duty, Madam Yip was fined $2,000.
'Love compelled me to take Woffles away'
To others, Woffles may be just another dog.
But the four-year-old Maltese is so much more to its owners, Madam Karen Yip, 37, and Mr Chow Teck Meng, 41.
Speaking to TNP at their bungalow in Farleigh Avenue, near Serangoon Gardens, last evening, Madam Yip said: "He's like a child to us."
Asked why he had taken the dog from the Changi Animal and Plant Quarantine Centre on Aug 10, Mr Chow said: "It was love that compelled me to take Woffles away."
As the fluffy white Maltese sat docilely on his lap, Mr Chow, who manages a bridal company, said that he had been upset by the conditions his pet was in when he visited the centre that day.
Madam Yip, a company director, said they were unaware they needed a licence from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority to take Woffles out of Singapore.
This was why they did not try to hide the dog when passing through the Tuas Checkpoint on the way to Malaysia and the Woodlands Checkpoint on their return, she added.
"He was sitting on my lap on both occasions and we weren't trying to hide anything.
"We were not aware of the rules," she said.
The couple, who have no children, said they were sad and worried to be separated from Woffles for more than a month when it was in quarantine.
They had got the dog from a breeder when it was just a few weeks old.
As for its name, Madam Yip said with a smile: "He was named after a rabbit in an Enid Blyton book.
"He's like a rabbit because he is white, and he runs and hops like one."
How to apply for pet export & import licences
Before exporting or importing your pet, you need to get a licence from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) within 30 days.
The application can be made online and it takes two working days to process the licence after the application form and all necessary supporting documents are received.
The licence is valid for 30 days from the date of issue. It costs $50.
A surcharge equal to the licence fee will be imposed if the licence is required to be processed within a period shorter than two working days.
If you're importing mixed or cross breed dogs, a coloured photo of the dog showing the face and body clearly must be attached with your online application to help AVA identify that it is not a prohibited breed.
For more information, visit www.ava.gov.sg/AnimalsPetSector/ ImportExportTransOfAnimal RelatedPrd/PetsPersonal/
Strict regulation as rabies endemic in region, says AVA
Singapore has been free of rabies for more than 60 years, so the import of dogs is regulated to prevent it from being introduced here.
Rabies, a viral infection, is transmitted to humans by bites from infected animals and one could die within weeks of contracting it.
A spokesman for the Agri- Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said animals that are illegally imported into Singapore are of an unknown health status. In the case of dogs and cats, the foremost concern is rabies.
"We cannot be complacent as the disease is endemic in the region. As such, AVA strictly regulates the import of animals to safeguard the health and welfare of animals and prevent the introduction of exotic animal diseases," she said.
Apart from vaccinations and tests before an import licence from AVA is issued, the animal, especially a dog or cat from countries that have rabies, is subjected to quarantine to ensure it is free of exotic diseases.
Importing any animals or live birds without an AVA permit is a violation of the Animals and Birds Act, and it carries a maximum penalty of $10,000 and/or jail of up to one year.
The AVA's spokesman said the public also needs to cooperate and not impede, obstruct or interfere with the agency's enforcement operations. Hindering AVA officers in their public duty is an offence.
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