Woman flushes emotional support hamster down the toilet at suggestion of airlines

Belen Aldecosea was just trying to return home to Florida with her pet hamster to deal with a medical issue but she says conflicting information from Spirit Airlines led her to flush the emotional support animal down an airport toilet

Belen Aldecosea, 21, told the Miami Herald she called Spirit twice to check her dwarf hamster, Pebbles, was allowed on a flight from Baltimore, where she attends university, to her home in South Florida.

A spokesman for the airline vehemently denied she was instructed to flush the pet down the toilet, but acknowledged the airline mistakenly told her that Pebbles was allowed on the plane in the first place.

"I didn't have any other options", she said, arguing that flushing Pebbles down the toilet was more humane than letting her run around in the cold to get hit by a vehicle.

Aldecosea said that when the flight was about to start boarding, a member of Spirit's staff said she should either let Pebbles go free or flush her down the toilet. According to the 21-year-old from Miami, an airline employee suggested she flush Pebbles, or set her free.

The incident occurred in November, but Aldecosea didn't share her story until after United Airlines refused to let a passenger bring her "emotional support" peacock on board in a similar scenario.

In an interview with the Miami Herald Ms Aldecosea said she made the decision to flush her pet after hours of indecision and unsuccessful attempts to rent a auto.

Aldecosea is now considering filing a lawsuit, after she considered the company's response to the incident to be inadequate. "It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet", the student said.

But it's the airlines that decide if the animals are allowed aboard and most carriers, while they will allow more typical emotional support animals such as dogs and cats, won't allow rodents over health and safety concerns.

Aldecosea, who acquired the animal after a cancer scare says she had a doctor's note certifying Pebbles' status as such. However, Spirit denies that a rep suggested she flush Pebbles down a toilet.

Why the sudden act of animal cruelty towards an animal she specifically brought to the airport for its emotional significance? "I sat in a stall for about 15 minutes and just cried and cried". According to a United spokesman, the airline had seen a 75% increase in travellers bringing such animals onto flights over the previous year, with a "significant increase in on-board incidents" involving biting, urination and allergic reactions.

With her family in Florida and friends hours away, Aldecosea said, she had few options.

But the woman's lawyer, Adam Goodman, said this case is different though as the hamster was "harmless" as opposed to a "giant peacock that could pose a danger to other passengers". Nevertheless, when she attempted to check in, Spirit insisted that Pebbles could not board with her. No problem, the airline told her. Aldecosea reportedly got the support hamster after she developed benign, but painful golf-ball size growth in her neck, according to the Miami Herald. She said she was also told the hamster, sitting in a cage which fit regulations for carry-on luggage, could not go in a cargo hold either.

"Hamsters are welcome in our checkpoint", the agency said in a statement.

"Another major United States airline, Delta, said that the animals passengers requested to bring on board for mental health support include "'comfort turkeys', possums and snakes".

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