Are Emotional Support Animals Getting Out of Hand? Spirit Thinks So – A Hamster Gets Flushed!

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Are Emotional Support Animals Getting Out of Hand?

Are Emotional Support Animals Getting Out of Hand?

Not a week goes by without some weird emotional support animal story. Years ago someone boarded with a Pig as a support animal.  A week or so ago someone tried to get a Peacock on the plane as a support animal, and United said no.  This week hamster was flushed when Spirit Airlines refused to let the passenger board with it according to this Fox News report.

The Latest Incident

A 21 year old girl, Belen Aldecosea, claims that she had received prior confirmation from Spirit airlines that she could fly with her pet pebbles, a dwarf hamster.  Spirit Airlines ended up denying her from boarding the plane at the gate.  They claimed it was not a proper support animal and that she couldn’t board as long as she had it.

Belen claims that a Spirit Airlines agent told her to release it or flush it if she wanted to make the flight.  Belen missed the flight and tried to rent a car instead but couldn’t because of her age.  She said that her family was already out of town and she had no friends in the area to take the animal.  So that led her to flushing the animal so she could board a later flight.

She is now contemplating suing the airline since Pebbles was a doctor prescribed support animal and she claims they forced her to make a heinous decision.


Are Emotional Support Animals Getting Out of Hand?

My Take

First off, flushing an animal is never the way to go.  But, I am not going to pretend that 21 year olds, myself at that age included, are the best problem solvers.  If they did clear the animal before the flight then Spirit should have held up their end of the bargain.  It just goes to show that you should always get documentation for things like this when you can.  Having said that it still comes down to the flight crew and the gate agent.  Even with a written confirmation you may run into trouble.

Now onto the topic of support animals. This has gotten entirely out of control and I believe that a majority of people claim their animals as support animals so they don’t have to pay for them to fly.  It also ensures they fly in the passenger area instead of in the cargo hold.  These people are abusing the airline’s policy.

There is no law that airlines have to allow emotional support animals.  The airline can decide how they handle each case.  I imagine that this policy is coming to an end shortly and United even updated their terms on support animals after the Peacock incident.

Airlines do allow service animals on planes but people have even figured out a workaround for that.  You can get your pet licensed as a service animal online for a few bucks.


There is a saying that abuse brings control.  And that is what is happening here.  While Spirit probably overstepped some they are within their rights to refuse boarding. I honestly doubt anyone would have cared about the tiny hamster.

The emotional support animal craze has gone on for too long as a way to transport pets for free.  I think the airlines are going to over correct and stories like these will continue until people realize they can’t use the loophole anymore.

My fear is the next abuse that will happen is in the service animal realm.  Only time will tell.


What do you think about emotional support animals?  Let me know in the comments.


Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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  1. False. You can break the law and face charges for faking a service animal, but you can not register a service animal online. A real legal service animal must be with someone who has an actual disability that the animal is trained in tasks to mitigate. They are also highly obedience trained. Many places require a public access test before they can be considered full service animals. So yes, scam sites exist that give fakers who want to take their pets with them vests and “certification”, but you can print something off your computer you made in word and it’s just as legally valid- aka not at all. Fake service animals also can land you in jail. They are not trained for public access and in my experience are reactive and aggressive. In 3 months of public access work with my REAL service dog who alerts me to convulsions 5-10 minutes before they start, heart problems and when to take medication as well as DPT to help lessen the damage convulsions do I have encountered 4 fakes- every single one tried to attack my dog and one caused a missed alert leading me to need an er. Please research a bit before promoting scammers. Real service animals aren’t a joke but there is a serious issue of people using scam sites to FAKE a service animal and it gets real handlers injured or even killed. If you have a fake that distracts a real service animal you face a fine of $500-5000 and possible jail time. If your animal attacks a service animal you are liable for the cost of the vet bills and if the animal must be retired the full cost of the animal and training ($10,000+), civil court damages (injury/distress to the handler), and if the handler is injured/dies jail time. Where I am the cost if your fake distracts mine and I report it? Is $5000 and mandatory dog training for a first offence. It’s $10,000 for each additional offence. Don’t lump fakes and ESA (neither who legally have public access rights) in with real service animals. In the USA there is a $500+ fine for faking a service animal in general. If you are going to mention service animals at least know what you are talking about and the legal consequences of using a site to fake… or even the fact there is no official registration for service animals. They just must meet the legal requirements of task trained to mitigate a disability beyond simple emotional comfort. To have public access rights they must be trained to behave in public. Please stop spreading misinformation that those scam sites let you register your pet as a service animal. They don’t. They give you a fake vest and papers so you can be entitled not caring you can kill someone just so you can take fluffy with you and when fluffy doesn’t behave create an access headache for a real service animal when the handler has to waste time explaining that was a fake, their animal won’t make a mess or disturb people, you will not even notice it’s there til you see it.

  2. Animals should only be allowed in the cargo hold. This shit is ridiculous, especially for people with allergies. People > animals.

  3. Hmmmmm….. I wonder what she is doing for emotional support now or how she got through the flight without ’emotional support’? Will she purchase another hamster? And are hamsters fungible as support animals?

  4. In Washington State , she would be guilty of a felony – period.

    RCW 16.52.205
    Animal cruelty in the first degree.
    (1) A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the first degree when, except as authorized in law, he or she intentionally (a) inflicts substantial pain on, (b) causes physical injury to, or (c) kills an animal by a means causing undue suffering or while manifesting an extreme indifference to life, or forces a minor to inflict unnecessary pain, injury, or death on an animal.

    If Spirit staff said what they said – and that has not been ajudicated, it’s reprehensible and I would hope there would be liability for that. But this person is 21 years old, and adult – she had choices. I understand she was upset, but that’s not gonna cut it.

  5. Horrible story on many accounts.

    Poor girl, poor hamster, and poor people in the future with legitimate emotional service animals who will be punished for this.

  6. If you really need a service animal, then you should be willing to pay to have it on the plane with you. We take our seven pound puppy on board all the time and we pay about $200 to do it. Do I like paying $200 ? No I don’t. We also don’t let the puppy run around the plane either or bother other passengers.

  7. The airline should have let her keep the dang hamster. Its not like it would bring the plane down if it got loose.

  8. Really? You flushed a live animal down the toilet. How is that not criminal animal abuse? Anyone who is that cruel and callous does not deserve an emotional support animal, let alone any pets. This makes me sick to my stomach.

    • I think she may end up getting in a little bit of trouble for it in the long run – or at least a lot of angry posts on social media.

  9. The only criticism to your post (I agree with everything otherwise) is not encouraging others to pay a few bucks to license an animal. I wish there was a way since refundable deposits wouldn’t really work to discourage the practice unless they truly need the service animal. It’s tragic that someone had to get stitches on their face for airlines to finally crack down.

    • Shirley – thanks for the comment. I think there are people out there getting a license that shouldn’t be. I guess that is my point – there is no real criteria for it which I think will only hurt the people that truly need it in the long run.

  10. She clearly did not need the animal if she flushed it. This is not a child, but a 21 year old woman. If she really couldn’t think of anything to do, she could have called her friends and family and asked for suggestions. Killing your pet is never the right choice. On a positive note, people should now know that they can call PETA and someone will come get the animal.


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