March 4, 2024 5:34 pm
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Pennsylvania Alligator Becomes Emotional Support Animal

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Reinette LeJeune         

We’ve all been out in the world somewhere and crossed paths with service animals. Dogs, cats, even pigs have taken their jobs seriously to help humans navigate both physical and emotional disabilities. But if you were to see an alligator providing those same reliefs, what reaction would you expect to have? Alligator expert Joie Henney assures us that his gator, Wally, poses absolutely no threat. 

Wally was found in a pond in Disney World, according to Henney. With Florida law dictating the relocation of gators to other spots as illegal, Henney agreed to take him in. Now, he resides in Hershey, Pennsylvania, living off Cheetos and chicken legs shoulder to shoulder in Henney’s own house – without any cages. “I’ve never met an alligator that will not bite you,” Henney told CBS News. “You fool around [with their head], their instinct is to grab you. He does not do it. You can reach in there and rub his tongue. He refuses to close his mouth. We don’t know why.” Henney recommends not following in his footsteps, as most gators are not sweet or cuddly, but insists that his relationship with Wally is very special. “He is my emotional support alligator,” he said.

After losing people close to him, Henney fell into a deep depression. It was around this same time that Wally began showing more affection towards the human, almost as if he could sense his owner’s needs and turmoil. “I’d lay on the couch, and I’d wake up and he’d be laying on my head,” Henney said. “And I knew it was for a long period of time because I had his whole jaw print on my face.”

This period marked a new chapter in their storied relationship. Wally began accompanying Henney everywhere he went – from doctor’s offices to drive-thru restaurants. Wally has been to splash park with Henney, and even played ring bearer at a wedding. It’s thanks to their strong connection that Henney says his depression has dramatically improved. 

“I’ll get lonely and stuff like that and he seems to sense that stuff and he’ll come up and he’ll give me a hug,” Henney said, adding that Wally “makes me feel loved.”