Aviation Fatality: One Hamster's Story

By Charles Norwood

According to the news, a 21-year-old student flushed her pet hamster down an airport toilet after being told that she was not allowed to bring the animal on her flight. Apparently the airline had previously told her that she could bring the hamster along for “emotional support,” but then they changed their tune at the last minute.

The fate of “Pebbles” was thus sealed and the student, after having done the deed, was left sobbing hysterically in a bathroom stall. She claims that one of the airline’s workers had suggested flushing the hammy, but the airline denies this. Lawyers have subsequently become involved.

Parisian street art in
memory of the deceased
Now this is obviously a disturbing story. An innocent hamster lost its life, after all, and a young woman’s mind may be permanently destroyed. However, there might still be a silver lining to all this carnage. Even the most disheartening events often provide an opportunity for learning, and this shitshow is no exception.

So let’s see if we can squeeze some moral instruction out of this incident. Who is the guilty party here? Is it the airline? Or is it the student herself? And what is the best course of action for the next person who finds herself in this type of situation?

For some people, it probably seems indisputable that the airline is at fault. The student herself clearly cared about her pet (she was devastated after she murdered it), and, arguably, she was psychologically infirm from the outset (she was relying on a rodent for emotional support).

Moreover, the airline initially told her she could bring the hamster on the plane. Then they reneged at the last second, forcing this vulnerable young woman to make the impossible choice between the life of her beloved pet and her travel plans. Pebbles’ blood (and the student’s PTSD) is thus obviously on their hands. Right?

Well, maybe not.

Sure, the airline made a mistake when they told her she could bring her hamster-therapist along on her flight. And yes, they subsequently pulled out and forced the student into a nasty, almost Biblical conundrum. But what they didn’t pull out was a gun. At no point did an employee of the airline put a gun to the student’s head and actually coerce her to dispatch of Pebs by flushing him down the toilet.

In other words, she had options. She could have, for example, taken Pebby home and then caught a later flight. She’s an adult, and she made the active choice to flush him. According to this line of thinking, our student has nobody to blame for her hammy’s death but herself.

Fascinating. But where do I stand on this issue?

Personally, I prefer to focus on the future rather than the past. Li'l Pebs is dead. He’s ancient history. Food for sewer rats. And blaming people isn’t going to bring him back. But maybe there’s a teachable moment somewhere in this tragedy. Maybe there’s hope for the next traveler whose “emotional support” animal gets turned away by airline staff. So let’s take a look at what the student could have done differently.

Her instinct to kill the hamster, I think, was correct. But instead of actually doing it, she maybe could have just threatened to do it. She could have made a dramatic face and said, “If you don’t let me on this plane I’m going to kill this hamster.” And she could have kept repeating that sentence, possibly while filming the whole thing, until a manager and/or security guards showed up. An outburst like this would have accomplished one of two things:

1) Not wanting to be seen as publicly responsible for the death of a hamster, the airline would have honoured their initial offer and let her onto the plane.

2) They would have “taken her down” and forbidden this young woman from going anywhere near a plane, in which case the difficult moral quandary would have been painlessly solved for her and dear Pebbles would have survived intact.


Charles Norwood is the author of Epistemology Bloody Epistemology: An Academic Satire and co-founder of the literary collective Goathanger.com. He lives in Toronto, where he is involved in a variety of criminal activities; writing, after all, does not pay.

Image attribution: By Môsieur J. [version 5.1.1] (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jblndl/5539644998/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Alterations were made by Ewedrooper.