A student is considering legal action after claiming an airline left her with no choice but to flush her beloved hamster down the toilet.
Belen Aldecosea, 21, alleges that she twice checked with Spirit Airlines whether or not she could bring Pebbles with her on a flight home from Maryland to Florida and on both occasions was told there would not be a problem.
When she turned up, however, Pebbles was not allowed on the plane.
Ms Aldecosea said she unsuccessfully tried renting a car to take Pebbles back to her university accommodation, and that any friends who could have come to pick her up were several hours away.
The solution, she claims an airline representative suggested, was to flush it down a toilet at the terminal.
And as she considered it a more humane way of ending her life than letting her free outside, she did it.
“She was scared, I was scared, it was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet,” she told the Miami Herald.
“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. She was so loving. It was like she knew I needed somebody.”
Ms Aldecosa bought Pebbles to help her cope with a cancer scare last year.
The growth she found on her neck proved benign, but it caused her some pain and so she was travelling back to the sunshine state to have it removed.
Spirit Airlines has admitted the members of staff who told her Pebbles would be able to tag along were wrong to do so, but denied that Ms Aldecosa was advised to flush her down the toilet.
“To be clear, at no point did any of our agents suggest this guest (or any other, for that matter) should flush or otherwise injure an animal,” said a spokesman.
Animal rights group PETA has called on criminal charges to be brought against those involved in Pebbles’ “horrific, terrifying death”.
“One phone call could have saved this animal, or some kind person at the airport could have helped,” senior vice president Daphna Nachminovitch told Fox News.
“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.”
The incident happened back in November, but Ms Aldecosa decided to share her story after a similar tale regarding an ’emotional support’ peacock went viral last week.
The bird, named Dexter, was denied entrance to a United Airlines flight from Newark Airport in New Jersey. Dexter survived the dispute with airline staff and was driven to his destination in Los Angeles the following day.
The incident prompted United Airlines to release a list of animals banned from its planes, which included hedgehogs, ferrets, snakes, spiders and “non-household birds”.