A college student from Florida claims she was forced to flush her emotional support hamster down the toilet after a Spirit Airlines employee allegedly suggested it was one of the only ways she would be allowed to board a flight home.
Spirit Airlines hit back hard against Belen Aldecosea’s claim that she had no choice but to kill her “emotional support animal” Pebbles in order to get home to her family in Florida. In a statement the airline said, “we can say confidently that at no point did any of our agents suggest this Guest (or any other for that matter) should flush or otherwise injure an animal. It is incredibly disheartening to hear this Guest reportedly decided to end her own pet’s life.”
Aldecosea’s lawyer, Adam Goodman, tells TIME that Aldecosea called Spirit Airlines to confirm she could bring her dwarf hamster Pebbles with her on her flight. After arriving at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Nov. 21, everything seemed to be going as planned until a Spirit Airlines employee approached her saying the animal was not allowed, Goodman says.
The employee allegedly suggested Aldecosea, who was studying at Wilson College 100 miles away, set the hamster free outside or flush it down the toilet, according to the Florida-based attorney.
Aldecosea eventually flushed Pebbles down the toilet after she was unable to find someone to take the hamster or rent a car to drive instead of flying, the attorney says.
Spirit admits an employee initially incorrectly told her the hamster would be allowed to fly with her. However, the airline says it arranged for Aldecosea to board a flight nine hours later so that she could find accommodation for Pebbles.
Spirit’s support animal guidelines say that the airline does not accept rodents.
Goodman tells TIME that he and Aldecosea are planning to sit down and “discuss the legal remedies available,” including a possible lawsuit. Aldecosea reportedly got the support hamster after she developed benign, but painful golf-ball size growth in her neck, according to the Miami Herald.
The news follows airlines like Delta and United cracking down on support animal and a customer who was denied entry onto a flight because of their support peacock. Goodman maintains his client’s situation is different because the hamster is much smaller and less likely to cause problems.