“I had done it before on vacation with another airline, so I filled the container with water and put Theo in it,” he said.
While checking his bags for his flight on Southwest Airlines, customer service agent Ismael Lazo noticed the dark blue and purple fish and explained to Rumfola that the airline pet policy only small dogs and cats are allowed on board in the carriers. Other pets are not allowed on aircraft.
“All my roommates had already gone home for the summer and I had no one to leave Theo with,” said Rumfola, who is majoring in early childhood education at the university.
“I was very sad and wondering what I was going to do. He is my pet,” she said.
Lazo, 35, said he understood Rumfola’s concern for Theo.
“I have two dogs, I wouldn’t want to abandon them anywhere,” he said. “And I also know how hard it is to leave them behind when I’m out of town.”
So he made a split second decision to offer his home and his fish keeping services.
“How about I take your fish home to live with me and my fiancée until you go back to college in the fall?” she said she told him. “You can text me over the summer to see how he’s doing anytime you want.”
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Rumfola’s face lit up, Lazo said. Right away, he felt good about his unusual offer.
There was a catch: Lazo told Rumfola that he knew nothing about caring for a pet fish, but was willing to give it a try.
“She gave me her fish kit, some food and some water conditioner, then she told me how often to clean the water,” he recalled. “I told her that she would do whatever she could to keep Theo happy.”
Rumfola said she was delighted with Lazo’s offer and promised she would visit often over the summer to see how Theo was doing in his foster home.
“It was very nice that he took responsibility for taking care of my fish,” he said. “He knew he would miss Theo over the summer, but was grateful to know he would be taken care of.”
Rumfola said she bought Theo from a Tampa pet store last year to keep her and her new roommates company in their on-campus apartment during their first year away from home.
“We’re allowed to have pet fish, so I really wanted to have one,” she said, noting that she was immediately drawn to the bright blue and purple fish with a tail that floats.
“It was such a pretty color and when I brought it home I saw that it had a bit of a funny personality,” Rumfola said. “He liked to hang around his fish tank.”
“I put his bowl on the kitchen island and noticed Theo really liked watching me do the dishes,” Rumfola added. “He always got emotional when he did that.”
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It wasn’t long before she was looking forward to seeing him after her classes every day.
Abandoning him at the airport would have been cruel, Rumfola said. Sending him to spend a few months with Lazo was the best option available and she said that she was happy to accept it. She seemed like a trustworthy person.
As soon as he got home to New York, he texted Lazo:
Hi Ismael, I’m the girl from the airport with the fish! I was wondering how he is. If you have any questions about Theo feel free to text me, thanks!”
Lazo quickly replied, “Hey! We headed to the store to buy him a bigger tank.”
“We enjoyed having Theo around and also noticed that he would get excited when my fiancée was doing the dishes,” Lazo said.
However, he said he wasn’t sad when Rumfola returned to classes in Tampa in late August. and it was time to reunite her with Theo.
“To be honest, I was worried something was going to happen to her during our shift,” he said. “So he was happy that Kira had him back.”
When Rumfola went to Lazo’s apartment to pick up the fish, he gave him and his fiancée, Jamee Golub, a gift card from the store and some sweets as a gesture of thanks.
Lazo did not realize at the time that he was not the first airport worker to volunteer to look after fish.
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In 2018, a customer service team at Denver International Airport cared for a woman’s pink betta fish for several days while on vacation in California. She abandoned the fish and ended up in the airport’s lost and found area when she wasn’t allowed to take it on a Southwest Airlines flight. Airport employees eventually reunited the couple.
As for Rumfola, she’s back on campus, relieved to be reunited with her little aquatic friend. Theo is swimming around the bowl, just like he did in Lazo’s apartment.
“I am so grateful that he stepped up to help,” she said of Lazo. “Four months is a long time, but Theo seems pretty happy.”
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