Puppy Vs. Airline Personnel: How Misinformation Messed Up Our Vacation Plans

On its surface, the facts of David’s story are the very definition of a “first world problem.” His family missed part of their tropical vacation because misinformed American Airlines personnel wouldn’t let their puppy on the plane. They incorrectly believed that St. Maartens, their destination, requires incoming animals to be microchipped. It’s true that no one has to vacation with their pet, but sometimes transporting an animal by air internationally is necessary due to a move or a family emergency. And when that happens, hope that you don’t encounter the American Airlines employees who cost David’s family a lot of money by keeping them off their flight.

We had planned this vacation for 4 months prior and included our 7-pound little Maltese puppy Marley on the trip. When we arrived at the check-in for American Airlines, we presented all of our travel documents that we had researched ahead of time, including all of the required forms and vaccinations to bring along Marley to the St. Maartens airport. Our destination, St. Maartens, requires documentation proving all current vaccinations, including the rabies shot. My wife specifically contacted St. Maarten’s immigration prior to this trip as well as verified all procedures for bringing the pet with American Airlines on the flight.

When we arrived at 6:30am to JFK with my wife, daughter, son (who was on spring break) and Marley (the puppy), we presented all of the documents to the American Airlines representative at the counter. After looking at our documents, she said we needed proof of a microchip inserted under the skin of our 7-pound dog. She said this was a mandatory requirement for St. Maarten’s immigration. She claimed that without the microchip, she would not allow us to board the flight with our dog. When we protested and explained that we had done all of the required research including physically contacting St. Maarten’s immigration ahead of time, she again refused, so we asked if she could call in a supervisor. The supervisor arrived and we again explained that we had done the required research and that no microchip inserted into our pet was required. We even Googled it on our iPhones to show the two women that no microchip was an actual requirement. We then asked if they would contact immigration at St. Maartens, but unfortunately for us the hour was too early and immigration was not open.

At this point we were running up against the deadline to board the flight, as this process took approximately 30 minutes. As a last ditch effort, my wife called JetBlue and asked about this microchip requirement, as they are the other US based airline that flies from JFK into St. Maartens. The representative confirmed that no microchip was necessary and when we put JetBlue on speakerphone for the American Airlines representatives, both told us that JetBlue is a different airline and that they are not mandated to use their information.

With my wife and children in tears, we were faced with the reality we were not boarding this plane. As our final, last-ditch effort, I told the two representatives that this mistake on their part was going to have grave financial impacts on our family.

Because we had prepaid for two hotel rooms for that night on St. Barths for $400 euros each per night, plus we were going to miss the Win-Air connecting flight from St. Maartens to St. Barths later that morning. This flight cost 212 euros per ticket. In addition, we were faced with the unpleasant reality that we had to haul all of our luggage in the rain back to the long term parking lot where we had just parked and drive another 75 miles back to our house (we even had to pay for a full day of long term parking – $18, even though we were only at the airport for 3 hours).

Not only was it my son’s spring break, but also we had chosen to fly out on March 16th because it was our 21st wedding anniversary where we honeymooned in St. Barths. Approximately 3 hours later after driving home with all family members stunned and dejected, we got on the computer and telephone and researched this matter again. By this time, immigration in St. Maartens was open and it was clear that the representatives from American Airlines had made a mistake, as no microchip was required. We called American Airlines again and they confirmed that the two counter representatives were wrong. Unfortunately we had missed the opportunity for travel that day. The lady on the telephone who looked into the matter told me that the only recourse she had was to refund the price of the tickets and provide us with a credit voucher for the price of the tickets, which expires in one year. We have not confirmed receipt of anything from American Airlines. I detailed to this telephone representative that the damages we incurred:

1. An extra 150 miles round trip drive to JFK in the early morning

2. We purchased 4 one-way tickets on Jetblue for $484 each ($1,936) to travel
out the next day which is approximately more than double the cost of our
original American Airlines flight

3. We lost one night’s stay at our hotel in St. Barths (800 euros)

4. Most significantly – we lost one of our 6 days of vacation that was so clearly unnecessary. Our trip was cut short unfairly.

We believe we should be reimbursed fully for our losses financially and that some accommodation should be made for the fact that we lost approximately 18% of our vacation time and that our anniversary was ruined.

It’s a good idea to microchip your pet, but generally not a good idea to keep entire families off a plane due to erroneous information. We wish David luck in getting some kind of compensation from the airline, but it probably won’t come close to covering his losses.

Comments

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  1. Cat says:

    “we lost one of our 6 days of vacation that was so clearly unnecessary.”

    So, the vacation, as well as bringing the dog, was unnecessary?

    • El_Fez says:

      Clearly you’d be more sympathetic if they brought a cat!

    • ovalseven says:

      I don’t know about that, but physically contacting immigration was definitely unnecessary.

    • lacubsfan2 says:

      I’l say it again…. Unless you are moving across the country, leave your god damn pets home with a f*($*# dog sitter!

    • Charmander says:

      Doesn’t matter.

      The issue is that the two counter agents refused to board the family due to the agent’s erroneus information. They were in the wrong.

      • Julian says:

        I think they would have been better off calling a representative from American Airlines whilst in the Airport and put THEM on speaker phone. That would have probably cleared it all up and left the two present staff members red faced.

  2. Olivia Neutron-Bomb says:

    American Airlines owes them big time. Having said that, who in the hell brings their pets along on a Caribbean vacation? Pathetic.

    • Cat says:

      I agree with you 100%, but we’ll probably both take some flak for it.

      People, don’t bring your pets on a plane unless you absolutely have to. Doggie or kitteh isn’t going to get anything out of it, and there’s always the chance something awful will happen (reference: DELTA). Fido / Kitteh isn’t going to remember the 6 days in St Barths or appreciate that you spent hundreds of dollars extra taking them there.

      Trust me, I know. I’m a Cat.

      • eturowski says:

        No kidding. Cats, especially, shouldn’t travel on short (probably less than a month) vacations. Traveling is way too stressful for them – they will be fine at home with food, water, a litter box, and a family friend to check on them every few days.

      • Coffee says:

        I understand your opinion, and I share it – I would kennel pets or leave them with friends if I went on a vacation like that. However, if that’s what they want to do, and there is a mechanism for them to do it, they should be able to do so if that’s their prerogative.

      • katarzyna says:

        Agreed, with the exception being a service animal.

      • juggler314 says:

        There’s nothing wrong with bringing small dogs onto a plane. My gf absolutely loves her dog (for the record we aren’t planning on having kids so yes, the pets are the equivalent) – the dog will quietly sit under a seat for 6 hours no problem. You would love to be on a plane filled with dogs like ours – you would not like to be on a plane filled with infants…just saying.

        Also he loves flying and travelling of any sort. I would however not put any animal through the terror/torture of flying as cargo.

        • PercussionQueen7 says:

          First of all: pets aren’t kids. You can try to justify that they’re like a child to you as they are dependent on you, but they’re NOT a child and should not be treated thusly.

          Second: it wouldn’t matter how well behaved your dog is. I like dogs, but I’m severely allergic. I wouldn’t want to be on your flight because I’d be sneezing and snotty the whole time.

        • PercussionQueen7 says:

          First of all: pets aren’t kids. You can try to justify that they’re like a child to you as they are dependent on you, but they’re NOT a child and should not be treated thusly.

          Second: it wouldn’t matter how well behaved your dog is. I like dogs, but I’m severely allergic. I wouldn’t want to be on your flight because I’d be sneezing and snotty the whole time.

    • ckspores says:

      There have been at least 2 dogs on every flight to/from various Caribbean counties my husband and I have taken. These are usually the snobbiest and most obnoxious people ever.

    • Solkanar512 says:

      Who the fuck cares why they wanted to bring their dog? Why is this such an important issue for you?

  3. Coffee says:

    Sure, it may be a first world problem, but most of the stories on this site are. If this letter is a correct retelling (and it’s certainly well-written, so the details are pretty clear), it sounds like the airline employee was pretty grossly negligent in the face of a bunch of information that would suggest that his or her beliefs about the policy were incorrect. I hope the OP gets some sort of compensation.

    • StarKillerX says:

      While I don’t disagree that the employee was wrong, I don’t really blame them for following what they are shown on an iPhone, or even what an employee at another airline says, although I would think it might motivate them to look into it further. Along those lines, doesn’t there have to be someone the supervisor themselves could call? I have a hard time believing the the supervisor behind the ticket counter at an airline is the ultimate authority for an airline at a place like JFK.

      • Difdi says:

        It seems to me that if you’re going to violate your own corporate policies in order to present your opinions as fact, you ought to be very sure you’re correct. And not stand firm in the face of overwhelming evidence that you are in fact wrong.

        Because it’s not the airline’s fault that one (or two) employees harmed the OP, it’s those individuals’ fault. The possibility of personally being the target of a lawsuit rarely occurs to petty tyrants, after all.

    • impatientgirl says:

      I agree. When you pay for a service you should be able to expect it. All this “first world problems” crap is getting old. You’re just making yourselves sound jealous. Frankly you not getting the help you want when you purchase something at one of those stores you all love to hate is still a First World Problem seeing as how you’re better off than what 90% of the world? You guys talk about Best Buy and Target and GameStop yet you scoff at this story just because they were going on a tropical vacation and wanted their dog to go too?

      • Charmander says:

        I think anyone who comments that something is a “first world problem” on a Consumerist article should be banned for 6 months. Seriously. It’s very annoying.

  4. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

    Can’t you ask them to show you where it states that they must be microchipped? I am sure they have all the rules available to them, in case there is a problem, so if they looked at them, they could see that it’s not required.

    Also, did they try escalating above the people at the airport? Did they try calling another American Airlines at a different airport that also services St. Maaarten? While they don’t have to accept the mandates of JetBlue, they would have to follow their own airlines rules.

    • Marlin says:

      Yep rule 1, ask them to show where its required. Don’t be a a_s about it just a simple, prove it.
      If not call their corp office then if you have that info.

    • ExtraCelestial says:

      The problem is they were clearly not dealing with logical, rational people. Ever head of the phrase, “you can’t argue with stupid”? When you’re dealing with stupid people in a position of power this phrase goes doubly. In the end you’re the one that needs to get on the plane, pretty much leaving you at their mercy.

  5. xl22k says:

    The chances that you can get American Airlines to pay for your “financial losses” in this case other than the airfare is about the same as the chances I will win PowerBall.

    Take them to small claims court. I’d bet that you could get the $1,100 (approx. 800 Euros) for the hotel but not sure about the difference in JetBlue airfare since they did offer you a voucher, but you were just holding a grudge against them after they admitted error.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      WARNING: Vouchers from American Airlines are currently WORTHLESS since they are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings (filed Nov 29, 2011).

      • NeverLetMeDown says:

        Wrong on multiple fronts. First off, this voucher was issued AFTER the filing, so it’s not even subject to the bankruptcy proceeding. Secondly, it’s a Chapter 11 restructuring filing, not a liquidation, and the odds that a judge decides that vouchers are invalid, given the huge reputational risk that would create for AA and the impact of impairing the recovery of all creditors, is zero.

      • sendbillmoney says:

        Warning: Your warning is WORTHLESS because American Airlines is honoring vouchers. I even got a $500 bump voucher pre-filing and it was honored post-filing.

  6. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

    Also, aren’t there a variety of microchips “formats” out there? Does that mean that St. Maaaarten’s would require a specific chip, unlike vaccines, which have a standard that different makers have to meet. That alone should blow a hole in the argument of the AA employees.

    • Andreth says:

      There are a number of different companies that make microchips, true, and some require specific readers. Most microchips, however, are ISO compliant and can be read by any ISO compliant reader (International Organization for Standardization). Additionally, many countries will allow you to travel with a non-ISO compliant chip if you bring a microchip reader that will work with your chip.

  7. xl22k says:

    The chances that you can get American Airlines to pay for your “financial losses” in this case other than the airfare is about the same as the chances I will win PowerBall.

    Take them to small claims court. I’d bet that you could get the $1,100 (approx. 800 Euros) for the hotel but not sure about the difference in JetBlue airfare since they did offer you a voucher, but you were just holding a grudge against them after they admitted error.

    • xl22k says:

      Anyone else have a problem when using IE9, that when you press Submit, nothing happens (not even that spinning icon that’s the modern day hourglass? Except…it really did post your comment multiple times…

      • SpiffWilkie says:

        No

      • Kestris says:

        No, because A) I read Consumerist via Feed Demon and B) you get a spinning wheel on the actual webpage tab at the top of your screen in IE9, not an hourglass any more..

        • xl22k says:

          Yeah that’s what I mean…the little icon to the left of the title on the tab – on Consumerist I don’t get that, the page just freezes. Sometimes I even have to launch Mozilla just to read the replies to comments too.

      • impatientgirl says:

        Nope but in FF it sometimes takes minutes to post a comment. Dont know if thats C or my firewall.

    • SpiffWilkie says:

      No

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

      Take em to People’s Court. Judge Millian has dogs.

  8. samonela says:

    I have nothing to add at this time aside from: “Cutest Pic Ever!”

  9. SavijMuhdrox says:

    sooooo.. why did the entire family have to suffer? Just send the wife and kids on without you and stay behind to deal with the dog matter.. take a flight out the next day?

    • Anakela says:

      I was wondering since JetBlue also goes there why 1 person + dog didn’t head over to try and get on a JB flight, and everyone else take the original AA flight. One person flying day of standby on JetBlue would have had to have been cheaper than everyone leaving the airport and all four flying jetBlue anyway the following day?

      • Tyanna says:

        I’m guessing b/c by that point they were all frustrated and upset and they weren’t thinking rationally at that point. Plus, 6:30am airport arrival? Damn. I know my brain wouldn’t be fully functional at that point.

    • milkcake says:

      Brilliant! But then they probably didn’t have enough time to setup and think through.

    • jeadly says:

      Yeah, except I woulda sent the college age son home with the dog instead.

  10. ansjc09 says:

    Why didn’t they take the voucher from AA and apply it to tickets the next day? If there was no flight the next day, I understand.
    Also, if you spent 30 minutes discussing the problem and were running out of time to board the plane, you got to the airport way too late, especially flying through a hub like JFK.
    And don’t use long term parking; look for a park and stay hotel, stay overnight (especially if you have an early AM flight) and that could’ve cut out the 75 miles of driving home.

    • Hi_Hello says:

      they probably lost there hotel reservation and anything else they reserved.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Perhaps they knew that since American Airlines is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the voucher is effectively WORTHLESS.

    • StarKillerX says:

      Yeah, when they said ‘At this point we were running up against the deadline to board the flight, as this process took approximately 30 minutes” it made me curious. Your taking an internation flight out of JFK AND bringing a pet and yet you don’t arrive until the last minute?

      While the situation wasn’t the OP’s fault they share the blame for the way it ended with AA since with a little more thought put into their departure they should have not only gotten there early, but checked with AA to see what their regulations were for transporting a dog to St. Maartens (I didn’t see it in the above at least.)

      Sure it shouldn’t be required and everyone should be absolutely perfect at their jobs and know every rule and regulation to the letter, but the truth is shit happens and if you know your creating an unusual situation you should plan an extra buffer in your arrival time just in case.

      Finally, why leave? Even after that flight leaves there are many others heading to Maimi, where AA flights connect for St. Maartens flights, and at least a few to St. Maartens from Miami. Worst case would be send the family off to get breakfast and one person stay behind to fight it out with AA customer service and get put on a later flight.

  11. winstonthorne says:

    JFK is a hole. Newark FTW.

  12. Saskiatas says:

    Yes, this is a first world problem, but it doesn’t change the fact that American Airline employees cost the family a lot of time and money because of their incompetence, and should be held accountable for the entire loss, not just the smaller amount of one flight.

  13. MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

    It’s amazing how often people “know” things that are patently not true, and how fiercely they defend those made-up facts.

    Did I say “amazing”? Sorry, I meant “infuriatingly idiotic”.

    • Coffee says:

      It also seems like the less power you have, the more likely you are going to be a Napoleonic dick about how you use it.

  14. Dallas_shopper says:

    I also have a Maltese who to me is like the furry child I will never have, but I’d board him or have friends/family watch him before I’d take him to the Caribbean with me. Sorry, but I don’t really feel all that sorry for the OP.

    • lettucefactory says:

      Yeah. AA was clearly in the wrong here…but what was the OP thinking? Dogs don’t like to travel. And what were they going to do with the pup all day once they arrived? It’s not like you can take him parasailing or out to dinner, and it would have been awful to leave him alone in the hotel room.

    • MMD says:

      So what AA did is ok?

  15. Hi_Hello says:

    i would take AA, the workers, everyone I can to small claim court. Those workers seems like ….a-holes.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      American Airlines is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since Nov 29, 2011. You can’t sue them right now. And it is likely all debts prior to the discharge date can be dishcarged by the Bankruptcy Court. Chargeback is the only legally effective option, and you have to push back hard on that.

      • unpolloloco says:

        But this is after entering chapter 11. Wouldn’t that mean that they should be fine to sue?

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Actually, they could be disruptive and file a motion to the bankruptcy court to enter the proceedings as creditors, and demand a re-run of all creditor meetings. I’ve seen that done before and it dragged out the bankruptcy for almost a year (there were several such creditors).

  16. Nessiah says:

    Is it too late to put in American Airlines for WCIA?

    • Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

      True, you never know who might be bankrupt before next year’s WCIA…

  17. milkcake says:

    Well, ALL that research didn’t include calling the airline? Not saying it’s the OP’s fault. But, seems like it would have been easy to call the airline for confirmation. Also, should have gone with Jetblue! I just choose Jetblue for most flights for easy boarding and such. Don’t have to deal with first class and all that.

    • xl22k says:

      The airline admitted they were wrong. Unless they spoke with the specific person that was going to be working at the counter that morning, it wouldn’t have made a difference.

    • corkdork says:

      OP blaming fail. 2nd half of the 4th sentence in the letter: “…as well as verified all procedures for bringing the pet with American Airlines on the flight.”

  18. benbell says:

    I probably would have been thrown out of the airport due to pure anger and the number of explicatives I would have called these agents. One can argue whether or not they should or should have not brought the dog with them but the fact of the matter is:

    AA allows dogs on their planes
    St. Maarten allows dogs without a microchip
    Family did all the research and had proper documentation
    They were refused boarding due to negligence of the agent in the face of overwhelming evidence otherwise.

    Small claims would knock this out of the park.

  19. mandarynn says:

    As someone who has a 6 pound dog and been to St. Martin about five or six times, I would NEVER bring a dog there.

  20. The_Fuzz_53 says:

    You can tell this guy is a pompous ass from this sentence, “we Googled it on our iPhones.”

    It’s really necessary to tell us what phone you used? I’m sure everybody would have noticed if it said, “we Googled it on our BlackBerry Bold 9930’s.”

    • Hi_Hello says:

      could just be out of habit. I say iphone all the time…. dunno why… it hink they are in my head. even when my friend has a my touch or blackberry or whatever.

      whenever we are lost, I ask someone to pul out their iphone and get us out.

    • nbs2 says:

      At this point, iPhone has become its own brand (in addition to the slow genericization point out in the previous reply). It would be the same as saying, “We Googled it on our Blackberry.” Do you find that unreasonable? Our do you demand that they refrain from brand insertion and limit their answer to, “We conducted an internet search on our data capable cellular telephones.”

    • MMD says:

      You can tell that your hate for Apple is irrational because you’ve picked up that tiny detail and ranted about it, even though it has no relevance to the story at hand.

    • eeelaine says:

      So…”google” gets a pass as a verb, but using “iphone” to describe a device is OMG TERRIBLE HOW DARE YOU?

      Fun times! :)

      • Eyeheartpie says:

        Yes, googling is a verb and is commonly used in place of the phrase “searched for it on the web”. iPhones are not the only phones.

  21. nybiker says:

    Contact Christopher Elliott at http://www.elliott.org/.
    He might get the OP some reimbursement out of all this.

  22. anime_runs_my_life says:

    Everything I want to say is sounding snarky, but really, unless there is a legitimate need to take a pet with you, leave them with someone who can care for them when you’re taking a trip like this.

  23. eezy-peezy says:

    All this could have been avoided if you had boarded the dog instead of taking him with you. I had a dog all through growing up and we never took any of them on vacation unless it was to our cabin on a lake.

    Is having the dog with you REALLY vital to your enjoyment of the vacation?

    • BennieHannah says:

      I have three dogs, and when I travel without them my time away is very stressful because they are rescues and very attached to me. I cannot completely RELAX when I know they are probably stressed about my absence. Obviously, I don’t travel much, and when I do, they are never boarded (one has atypical Addison’s and cannot handle the stress of boarding, and the other two have a past history of abuse and are suspicious of strangers.)

      While flying with my pets isn’t an option because of their sizes, it isn’t unthinkable to me that a family with a dog that is very much a part of the family would want their pet to come along so that they are free of the worry about its care.

  24. dush says:

    “We called American Airlines again and they confirmed that the two counter representatives were wrong.”

    Not sure why this wasn’t possible at the airport.

  25. maxamus2 says:

    What’s worse than people that bring their bratty kids on a plane? People that feel they need to bring their pets on vacation with them.

  26. GrandizerGo says:

    Hence the need for proper punctuation.

  27. mcgyver210 says:

    Airlines today don’t care about service IMO from all the horror stories. They wouldn’t make mistakes like this so often if they actually had to pay true damages.

  28. Cycledoc says:

    What a strange collection of comments.

  29. MrEvil says:

    Really a dick move on part of the airline people.

    Regarding traveling with dogs: My dad takes his Shih Tzu everywhere with him. When my dad drives to Austin to visit, his dog is tagging along. That little turdball doesn’t care where he is so long as he goes where my dad goes (and gets to ride on the armrest of the pickup). Can’t say I blame my dad though. Both my sister and I are grown up and live 500 miles away.

  30. Andreth says:

    Everything else aside, I just want to say god bless these people for doing their research. I’m sorry they had difficulties, but hearing that they made the effort makes me SO happy.

    One of my duties at the clinic I work at is to oversee international health certificates. Every country is different and they change often. I hate it when I get those calls from people telling me they’re moving to Austrailia or Japan next month and want to know how to take their cat. I hate having to tell them that it’s a 6-18 month process depending on the animal’s history.

    Anytime you have to travel with an animal, for whatever reason, start your research on requirements as soon as possible!

  31. profmonster says:

    The decision to take the dog might just have been a financial one – it’s expensive to board. If he’s small and well-behaved, I can see why they might decide to take him along.

  32. lvixen says:

    I would have suggested that the kids and mom fly ahead. All the luggage could have gone with them. Only Dad and the pup could have gone a day later. Not ideal of course but only 1 person would have suffered a bit. They wouldn’t have lost the cost of both rooms and have to pay double on so many tickets. I would still hit the airline up for any costs their error made but the whole group didn’t have to miss the day.

  33. makoto says:

    American Airlines has no scanner to scan to ensure that a pet is microchipped anyway, so I’m confused how this even came about…

    All unfortunate events aside, you really should microchip your pets…. It’s not over-rated. If you are a responsible pet owner, you’re keeping your pet for life and that means you want to ensure your pet is returned to you should anything happens or that you are notified should anything happens.

  34. somegraphx says:

    It actually might have originally made financial sense to take their dog. We boarded our dog for our week vacation and it cost of several hundred dollars. He’s a very easy going dog and not at all bothered by it. However, I have a friend with nervous little dogs who NEVER would have been able to be boarded. Getting someone to dog sit them would have cost her almost 600.00 for a week. Maybe they figured that paying a small fee for the dog to fly was less expensive than boarding him.

    What bothers me on this board is how quickly you blame the OP just because you don’t like WHY he is doing something. SO WHAT if they wanted to vaca with their dog! SO WHAT if they wanted to take their dog on the plane! They did the research, got the documentation, followed the rules, and did everything correctly. Why should they be penalized ANY amount because the airline messed up?

    They can’t get the day back, but they should certainly be reimbursed IN CASH for any travel expenses. Giving a voucher to fly on a plane that messed up your last vacation is just asking for more problems! In fact, that’s when you SHOULD blame the OP: “This Company screwed up and all I got was this lousy voucher/credit. Then when I went to use it, they screwed up again!”

    Wow, what a surprise.

  35. ecuador says:

    So I guess the solution is to fly JetBlue next time?

  36. dwfmba says:

    Or you should have your dog microchipped anyway…