A woman is considering suing an airline after she claims it left her with no choice but to flush her emotional support hamster down a toilet.
Belen Aldocosea, 21, of Miami Beach was preparing to fly home from Baltimore with her pet hamster, Pebbles, in November 2017, the Miami Herald reports.
Ms Aldcosea claims before she boarded her flight she called her airline, Spirit Airlines, twice to confirm she could bring Pebbles with her. She said they had no issue with her rodent companion coming on board.
The 21-year-old got the hamster in 2017 after she developed a large, painful growth on her neck leading to fears of a cancer diagnosis. The growth turned out to be benign, but lonely and living away from home on campus in Pennsylvania she needed companionship.
So, she bought Pebbles.
"She was so loving. It was like she knew I needed somebody," Ms Aldocosea said.
But when she arrived for her flight, the 21-year-old said the airline wouldn't let Pebbles come with her. 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.
The university student said she agonised for hours, Spirit Airlines booked her on a later flight while she decided what to do, and considered renting a car to drive back to Miami. She needed to return home to deal with a medical issue.
Ms Aldocosea claims someone from Spirit suggested flushing the hamster down the toilet. Spirit Airlines has denied this, but in a panic the woman said she was left with no choice.
She took Pebbles and flushed the animal down the toilet.
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Ms Aldocosea said Pebbles was "scared" and described putting the hamster down the toilet as "horrifying". She said she then sat in a bathroom stall crying for 10 minutes.
The 21-year-old said it was the more humane thing to do for Pebbles - end her life straight away rather than let her run free outside to get eaten or run over by a car.
It comes weeks after the story of an emotional support peacock being denied clearance for a Delta Airlines flight went viral.
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".
Derek Dombrowski, a spokesman for the airline, said "at no point" did any agents or anyone else suggest Ms Aldocosea should flush her hamster down a toilet.
However, he did confirm Ms Aldocosea had been given the green light to take the hamster on board initially. Mr Dombrowski said "unfortunately" a reservation representative gave her the wrong information.
PETA senior vice president Daphna Nachminovitch told Fox News "one phone call" could have saved Pebbles.
"Flushing a living being down the 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," she said.
"This must have been a horrific, terrifying death."