A student who flushed her hamster down the toilet when Spirit told her she couldn't fly home with it, is now attempting to sue the airline for causing emotional distress.
Belen Aldecosea claims she "didn't have any other options" but to kill her pet Pebbles rather than miss her flight back to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in November after staff informed her that rodents were not allowed aboard, according to the Daily Mail.
The 21-year-old says she had called the budget airline twice to check she was allowed to bring her "medically certified" emotional support animal - a pet dwarf hamster on the flight home from college in Baltimore, the Miami Herald reports.
She says on both occasions she was assured her furry companion was fine to fly.
But when she arrived at the Baltimore–Washington International Airport on November 21, staff told her she couldn't board with Pebbles.
Aldecosea says she accepted a later flight on Spirit to figure out what to do with her hamster, and claims she contacted six rental car agencies to try and hire a car, but says that every single company was out of cars.
She told the Herald that a Greyhound bus would have taken days to get to South Florida - and she had to get home for a medical appointment.
All her friends were hours away at her then-university Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
While she was panicking, she alleges that a member of Spirit staff suggested she either let Pebbles go free outside or flush her pet down the toilet.
With her flight boarding soon, Aldecosea decided she didn't want to let the hamster go free where it could freeze or possibly starve to death.
So she decided she would flush the living creature down the toilet.
"She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet," Aldecosea said. "I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall."
She is now considering filing a lawsuit against Spirit, blaming them for allegedly pressuring her into killing the animal.
Spirit denies that a staff member ever advised the volleyball star to kill her pet, although they did concede that an employee mistakenly told her, over the phone, that Pebbles would be allowed on the flight.
"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," spokesman Derek Dombrowski said.
The airline have since offered her a voucher for a free flight to certain cities, which Aldecosea declined.
PETA has since condemned the move, calling it both cruel and illegal.
PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch told DailyMail.com: "One phone call could have saved this animal, or some kind person at the airport could have helped.
"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."
So far, it does not appear that the student is facing any charges.
The Transportation Safety Administration, TSA, allows hamsters past security; the cages are sent through the X-ray while the owners hold the animals in their hands as the walk through the metal detectors.
But it's the airlines that decide if the animals are allowed aboard and most carriers, while they will allow more typical emotional support animals such as dogs and cats, won't allow rodents over health and safety concerns.
Aldecosea, a Miami Beach High graduate, insists her doctor approved her hamster as a certified emotional support animal, and had the medical certificate to prove it when she went to the airport.
She's bought the adorable rodent after developing a large but benign growth in her neck last year.
"She was so loving. It was like she knew I needed somebody," said Aldecosea, a six-feet tall volleyball star who helped lead her school, Miami Beach to back-to-back National District Championships and was named Most Valuable Player, before joining Barry University in Florida where she joined the volleyball team.
She later transferred to Maryville College, joining their team as middle/right side, but dropped out after developing the neck cyst and is now a student at Texas State University.
Aldecosea, whose mom Elizabeth Balparda is a fitness instructor, had been flying back to get the lump from her neck removed when she ran into trouble with Spirit.
While guide dogs have been occasional flyers for years, there have recently been a surge of emotional-support animals. Federal regulations allow them, as long as they are not too big or exotic - but airlines can ask for a doctor's note verifying that the passenger needs the animal.
Airlines are convinced that some emotional support animals abuse the rules, especially when most passengers often have to pay $125 or more each way to bring a small pet on board.
According to the US Department of Transportation's policy concerning "unusual service animals," they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and airlines are urged to consider each animal's size, weight, state and foreign country restrictions, and whether or not the animal would pose a direct threat, or cause a disruption on a flight.
Recently, a prominent Brooklyn artist ruffled feathers at Newark Liberty International Airport when she was refused permission to board a United Airlines flight to Los Angeles with Dexter, her emotional support peacock.
The passenger, identified by DailyMail.com as the critically acclaimed Bushwick-based photographer and performance artist Ventiko, reportedly offered to pay for a second seat to accommodate Dexter.
She is said to have argued that she had a right to bring him on board as her emotional support animal.