A college student has accused Spirit Airlines employees of pressuring her to kill her emotional support hamster before boarding a flight. The young woman alleged that an agent told her to either abandon the animal or flush it down a toilet.
On Feb. 8, 21-year-old Texas State University student Belen Aldecosea disclosed in an interview that she had drowned Pebbles, her pet hamster, after she was told that the rodent could not accompany her on a Spirit Airlines flight. She said that she only resorted to the measure because a Spirit agent had told her that doing so was one of her only options.
In 2017, Aldecosea bought Pebbles as a comfort pet to help her deal with the stress of a cancer scare stemming from an abnormal growth she had developed on her neck. In November 2017, she scheduled a flight from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale, where she would have the growth removed. She said she called Spirit Airlines twice to check if Pebbles could fly with her.
“They gave me the wrong information more than once,” Aldecosea told the Miami Herald, recalling that Spirit agents told her that Pebbles could board the plane.
While the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration approves carry-on hamsters, Spirit prohibits rodents on their flights. Aldecosa was stopped by a Spirit agent at the airport and told that she could not bring Pebbles with her, even though she had a certificate from her doctor for the hamster.
The student agreed to take a later flight so she could take time to assess her options. She was alone in Baltimore, did not know anyone in the city who could take care of Pebbles, and was too young to rent a car. A Greyhound bus would take days to deliver her to deliver her to her impending operation.
Aldecosea alleged that a Spirit agent told her to either free the 4-inch hamster outside of the airport or kill it in a bathroom stall. The student said she panicked and decided that flushing her beloved pet would be the most humane solution.
“She was scared,” Aldecosea said. “I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet. I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall … I didn’t have any other options.”
Spirit spokesperson Derek Dombrowski acknowledged in a statement that an airline representative had previously told Aldecosea that she could bring Pebbles on the flight.
“Our reservation representative, unfortunately, did misinform the guest that a hamster was permitted to fly as an emotional support animal on Spirit Airlines,” Dombrowski said.
The spokesperson denied that any Spirit employee advised the student to kill her pet.
“After researching this incident, 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,” Dombrowski told NBC News in a statement. “It is incredibly disheartening to hear this Guest reportedly decided to end her own pet’s life.”
The airline added that it had offered Aldecosea a voucher after she complained about the incident, but that she had declined.
Aldecosea’s lawyer, Adam Goodman, said they were “going to look into all legal remedies and make a decision.”
Goodman asserted that the airline had pressured his client to make a terrible choice after giving her limited options.
“Spirit told her what to do. She thought she was following the rules,” he said. “Ultimately, the airline didn’t provide what they said they were going to provide for her.”
The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a statement calling for Aldecosea to be brought up on charges and for Spirit to be investigated, USA Today reported.
“One phone call could have saved this animal, or some kind person at the airport could have helped,” said PETA senior vice president Daphna Nachminovitch. “Flushing a living being down a toilet is not only cruel but also illegal, and both the person who killed this animal and Spirit Airlines — if an employee did, in fact, advise the woman to drown the hamster — should be charged. This must have been a horrific, terrifying death.”
Goodman said that Aldecosea was still distraught over the incident but had purchased a new therapy pet to replace Pebbles.
“It’s hard, but you really have to look at the circumstances because this whole thing only makes sense with someone telling her to [flush the animal] … This was a highly stressful situation, and people react in a lot of different ways,” the lawyer said.