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Some people want to curtail ’emotional support animals.' Here are some of Florida’s strangest cases.

Emotional support animals permeate Florida news as one legislator looks to limit their use in the state
Dexter the peacock sits in Newark Airport after being denied access to a flight. (Courtesy of Instagram, 2018) 2-year-old Golden Retriever Eleanor Rigby gives birth to puppies near an airport bar in Tampa International Airport. (Courtesy of Emily Nipps)
Published March 13, 2019
Updated March 13, 2019

For a time, it seemed that you couldn’t scroll through a social media feed or have a conversation with a friend without broaching the subject of emotional support animals.

Now the topic has once again resurfaced, this time in the Florida Legislature, as State Sen. Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah) proposes legislation that looks to limit the use of emotional support animals as a way to dodge paying apartment pet deposits or to allow a pet in a building that doesn’t generally accept them.

Tampa International Airport has enacted similar requirements in recent months to cap the use of emotional support animals on planes. In February, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority voted to require passengers to secure their support animals in a carrier or keep them on a leash within 5 feet of their owner. For animals not flying, the authority asked passengers to keep them at home.

Just like the iconic Florida Man, bizarre support animal stories seem to be a part of the fabric that is living in Florida. Let’s take a look back at some of the most interesting tales.

A service dog gave birth at Tampa International Airport

Service dogs Nugget and Eleanor Rigby unexpectedly welcomed puppies at Tampa International Airport in 2018. As their family was about to board a plane to Philadelphia, Eleanor went into labor, welcoming her puppies in Airside F. Photos by Emily Nipps.

It was an unusual sight for a Friday afternoon at Tampa International Airport: a pregnant Golden Retriever splayed out on a blanket as she gave birth to eight puppies near an airport bar.

The incident appeared to be a uniting event for nearby passengers, many of whom stopped and watched the unexpected puppy delivery and cheered as each puppy came out of 2-year-old Eleanor Rigby.

A relative of the dog’s owner told the Tampa Bay Times that she knew the dog was pregnant but thought the flurry of new people at the airport prompted the premature birth.

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Despite the excitement, the event also touched off a debate, largely playing out online, on the validity of emotional support animals on planes. Emotional support animals differ from service animals in that they are intended to provide comfort rather than “perform tasks for an individual with a disability," which is the standard definition of a service animal based on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A woman was removed from a plane after trying to bring on her emotional support squirrel

A flight from Orlando to Cleveland was temporarily derailed after flight attendants discovered a passenger attempting to bring her “emotional support squirrel” on board.

When the squirrel-carrying woman would not leave the plane, passengers were told they had to disembark with little explanation from flight staff.

“All she said was ‘a squirrel,’” one passenger said of a flight attendant’s comments to him, according to an Associated Press report.

The passenger had indicated that she was bringing an emotional support animal on board, according to the airline, Frontier, but she did not specify it was a squirrel. Rodents do not fall in the category of emotional support animals allowed on flights, according to a statement from Frontier.

Police were eventually called to the plane when the woman would not leave. Her triumphant escort off the plane was captured on video by a fellow passenger and posted on Twitter.

A student flushed her hamster down the toilet before a flight

Passengers in line at the Spirit Airlines ticket counter at Tampa International Airport. Times (2014)

A Miami Beach student flushed her hamster down a toilet before boarding a Spirit Airlines flight after airline employees told her she could not bring her pet along--although she had confirmed with the airline two times prior to the flight that her dwarf hamster was allowed on board.

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When the student, Belen Aldecosea, got to Baltimore Airport, she said an employee with the airline told her she could flush her pet hamster down the toilet or let the animal loose. The 21-year-old spent hours debating the issue before eventually deciding to flush the hamster.

“She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet,” Aldecosea told the Miami Herald. “I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall.”

Although the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration does not have a rule against hamsters on flights, it’s at the discretion of the airlines whether they allow passengers to bring hamsters on a flight. Many major airlines ban rodents from air travel, as in the case of the emotional support squirrel.

A woman tried to bring her pet peacock on a plane

View this post on Instagram

@kumathedestructor took this great shot of me at #newarkairport today. Spent 6 hours trying to get on my flight to LA ���� (after following all required protocol) Tomorrow my human friends are going to drive me cross country! Keep an ��out for us! �� #bestroadtripbuddy #dexterthepeacock

A post shared by Dexter The Peacock (@dexterthepeacock) on

It was a sad day for Instagram-famous Dexter the Peacock when he was denied from a United Airlines flight in January 2018.

The peacock’s owner attempted to board a flight at Newark Airport with Dexter as an “emotional support animal,” but both the peacock and the owner were rejected because the peacock did not meet “guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size,” according to a United Airlines statement reported by The Washington Post.

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“Spent 6 hours trying to get on my flight to LA (after following all required protocol),” the Instagram post reads. “Tomorrow my human friends are going to drive me cross country! Keep an eye out for us!”

Although the flight was from Newark to Los Angeles, based on Dexter’s owner’s account, the peacock hailed from South Florida, according to the Miami Herald. His owner bought Dexter in Jupiter to participate in an exhibit at Miami art festival, Art Basel.

View this post on Instagram

At approximately 1pm on Sunday, July 22, 2018, Dexter the Peacock passed away in his favorite human’s arms. His passing was sudden and unexpected. Attempts were made to save him, but his doctor confirmed that nothing could have been done to alter his fate. Dexter defied stereotypes and brought joy and magic to all who encountered him. It was an honor to know him and a privilege to share this life journey with him. He never let fame, adoration or his prodigious number of followers on social media inflate his ego, and he loved working the camera with grace and humility. He is survived by his sisters, Eva (pictured here) and Zsa Zsa, and by all the humans who loved him. Dexter, you will forever be missed and remembered with fondness and love.

A post shared by Dexter The Peacock (@dexterthepeacock) on

In a tragic ending to the story, Dexter the peacock passed away in late July of 2018, according to an Instagram post from his account.

“Dexter defied stereotypes and brought joy and magic to all who encountered him,” the post reads. “It was an honor to know him and a privilege to share this life journey with him. He never let fame, adoration or his prodigious number of followers on social media inflate his ego, and he loved working the camera with grace and humility.”



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