Airlines that accept emotional support animals on flights usually have explicit instructions on which ones are OK and which aren't, but a miscommunication about Spirit Airlines' policy led to hubbub over a hamster. Belen Aldecosea, a 21-year-old college student who was heading home to Florida for surgery on her neck, says even though she was told over the phone that hamsters were permitted as emotional support animals, a Spirit employee told her otherwise when she showed up with Pebbles at Baltimore's airport for her flight in November—and then, says Aldecosea, suggested she flush it down the toilet. Aldecosea did, and now PETA says both she and the Spirit rep who allegedly told her to flush the rodent should be held accountable. "Flushing a living being down a toilet is not only cruel but also illegal," a PETA VP tells USA Today. "This must have been a horrific, terrifying death."
Aldecosea had Pebbles because she had felt alone in Philadelphia, where she was living, and was distressed over the growth on her neck. Her attorney, Adam Goodman, says Aldecosea was just a frightened "kid" who gave in to the adults around her in a "highly stressful situation." Spirit concedes it initially gave her the wrong info over the phone about its policy—which doesn't permit "snakes, other reptiles, rodents, ferrets, and spiders"—but denies an employee advised her to start flushing. A bit of good news for Aldecosea, per Goodman: She's got a new replacement rodent to soothe her. (This woman's emotional support peacock was rejected from a United flight, even after she offered to buy a ticket for it.)