Wally the Alligator Is an Unlikely Emotional Support Animal Who Helps Kids with Disabilities
Most people don’t think of reptiles that can kill humans as particularly snuggly or calming, but a Pennsylvania man is changing that perception.
Joie Henney of Strinestown keeps a 4-foot-6-inch alligator named Wally as an emotional support and brings him to schools and senior centers to entertain and comfort kids and the elderly, Yahoo! News reports.
It didn’t take long for Henney to domesticate the creature, which a friend of his rescued from Florida in September 2016 when the gator was just 14 months old. Initially, Henney resorted to tongs to feed Wally, he told the York Daily Record, but he felt comfortable picking up the animal almost right away.
Within a month, the gator was gentle and happy to follow his new owner around the house “like a little puppy dog … He wants to be loved and petted,” Henney said.
Henney’s comfort with Wally came from his background as a bull rider — Henney has also kept venomous snakes as pets in the past, the local paper reports.
A few months after getting Wally, Henney began taking him to schools and senior homes for educational purposes, but he quickly noticed children with developmental issues especially enjoyed Wally’s presence.
“Wally’s never bitten me,” Henney told to the Record, “and he’s never tried to bite anyone. He’s pretty laid back.”
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This observation prompted Henney to seek “emotional support animal” status for Wally, and in December 2018, he was successful. Even before Wally became an official ESA, though, Henney tells PEOPLE that he took the reptile with him “mostly everywhere … like parks and stores.” In fact, when the pair goes for a walk in the local park, they’ll be gone for almost five hours because everyone wants to meet Wally, he told the Record.
Wally’s favorite past times at the Henney household including watching TV — Gator Guys and Swamp Boys are his favorite shows — rumpling the sheets on a made bed to create a sort of nest, and hanging out in an empty kitchen cupboard he has established as his home.
Henney also built a 300-gallon pond for Wally in his living room.
But for all Henney’s belief in the alligator’s calming powers, the owner also stresses during his visits that it’s not usually safe to keep gators as pets because they are, at the end of the day, wild animals.
“They aren’t for everyone,” Henney quipped to the Record. “But what can I say? I’m not normal.”