A young girl plays with a dwarf hamster like the one flushed down the toilet by its owner after she was refused permission to take it on board her Spirit Airlines flight
Washington (AFP) - First it was Dexter the Peacock. Now it's Pebbles the Hamster.
And while Dexter was merely denied permission to board a United Airlines flight as his owner's "emotional support" animal, Pebbles suffered a more grisly fate.
Her owner, Belen Aldecosea, 21, flushed Pebbles down the toilet after being told she could not take the tiny dwarf hamster on her Spirit Airlines flight.
Aldecosea, of Miami Beach, claimed a representative for Spirit at Baltimore airport suggested the watery grave for Pebbles -- a charge the airline strongly denied.
"She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet," Aldecosea told the Miami Herald, which broke the story this week of the ill-fated "emotional support" animal.
"I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall," the Florida college student told the newspaper.
Spirit acknowledged that the airline had mistakenly told Aldecosea that Pebbles could accompany her on her November 21 flight but denied anyone from the airline suggested disposing of Pebbles in the toilet.
"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," Spirit spokesman Derek Dombrowski said in a statement.
"It is incredibly disheartening to hear this Guest reportedly decided to end her own pet's life," the airline spokesman said.
"Our reservation representative, unfortunately, did misinform the Guest that a hamster was permitted to fly as an emotional support animal on Spirit," he said.
"When the Guest appeared with the hamster at the airport, our agents offered and the Guest accepted an opportunity to take a later flight, so she had time to find other accommodations for the animal," he said.
The news of the demise of Pebbles came a little over a week after Dexter the Peacock was turned away at New Jersey's Newark Airport.
Federal guidelines allow passengers with disabilities to board with a variety of emotional support or service animals, but airlines can deny boarding to some exotic or "unusual" pets.
United Airlines announced last week that it was reining in its regulations on such animals.
"The Department of Transportation's rules regarding emotional support animals are not working as they were intended, and we need to change our approach in order to ensure a safe and pleasant travel experience for all of our customers," the airline said in a statement.