Southwest Passenger Reunited With Pet Fish After Claiming Airline Forced Her to Abandon Him

Yes, it's a fish. I know," Lanice Powless said. "But dang, it was my pet."

Southwest Airlines. Photo: DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty

A Southwest passenger has located her pet fish after claiming the airline forced her to leave him behind as she traveled.

According to KGTV, Lanice Powless, a student at the University of Colorado, was ready to board her flight to San Diego with her pink betta fish Cassie in tow, when an airline employee notified her that Cassie wouldn’t be allowed on the aircraft, per Southwest’s pet policy.

Powless says she had brought the fish—which she bought during her freshman year of college when she was feeling lonely at school—along on other flights and had never encountered an issue.

“I have traveled with it,” she says. “I had it in my container too.”

According to the TSA website, the government agency allows live fish on board to count as a carry-on bag.

“Live fish in water and a clear transparent container are allowed after inspection by the TSA officer,” the website reads.

However, Southwest Airlines has their own pet policy, which allows only “vaccinated dogs and cats to travel with you in-cabin under the seat in front of you.”

A spokesperson for the airline tells PEOPLE that because of this policy, live fish are not permitted in the passenger cabin.

Upon learning of this policy, Powless claims she asked the gate agent if she could leave her fish at the counter so one of her friends could come pick him up in half an hour, but the check-in agent denied her.

When TSA also stopped her for the same reason, she says she started asking strangers traveling on other airlines that do allow fish to fly if they would care for her beloved pet. “I ended up turning around and giving it to a lady behind me,” she told USA Today.

After handing off her finned friend, she made it through the TSA check point, but the woman who she had given it to was then also stopped. Once she made it through security however, Powless told KGTV that the airport staff kept the two women apart, seemingly to prevent an exchange of the fish back into its owner’s possession, and continued to follow her around, making her feel like a criminal.

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“They were not allowing us to converse at all because they were thinking we were going to do some secret exchange throughout the airport,” Powless said. “Even after I was no longer in possession of the fish, they still continued to have security around us, and follow us through the airport and escorted onto our plane, as if we brought something bad onto the airport.”

She did not detail whether she planned to give up Cassie permanently to a fellow traveler or try to reunite with the fish and its temporary guardian after touching down in San Diego.

Powless still doesn’t know what’s become of Cassie. “I don’t know where my fish is at. I don’t know if they allowed her to take it,” she told USA Today.

However, on Tuesday, Powless’ story had a happy ending when the Denver Airport located Cassie and posted a memo on their Twitter that he had been staying at the airport.

“Dear Mom, I’ve been having fun here at Denver International Airport,” the typed message reads. “This place is great. There are lots of fun people. The food is delicious and there are tons of animals to play with — especially dogs! I’ve even got my Christmas shopping done! Everyone has been really nice to me and has been taking good care of me But I’m ready to come home.”

Powless tells PEOPLE that Cassie has been at the airport since Friday, and that she guesses “they didn’t let that lady take it after all, but a very kind lady named Stacy kept him for me.”

Powless told KGTV since the incident, she has been made fun of for her attachment to the betta fish, but doesn’t understand why.

“Everyone’s laughing at me. Yes, it’s a fish. I know,” she said. “But dang, it was my pet. And just because it wasn’t a cat or dog, it wasn’t as important?”

She adds that she and the betta had a fast friendship during her time at college.

“I put my finger in there, he come up and nibble my finger. He was a cool fish,” Powless says. “I even got him a heater, because it gets so cold in Colorado.”

A spokesperson for Southwest tells PEOPLE that after their team informing Powless of the pet policy, they “offered to re-book the customer for a later flight to allow them to make arrangements for their pet but the customer refused that option. The customer eventually traveled on their originally scheduled flight.”

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