We’ve seen all sorts of emotional support animals, from dogs and cats to pigs and other farm animals. But an alligator?
Sure, why not! WallyGator is the only alligator in the United States who has earned his emotional support animal certification. He lives in York, Pennsylvania with his devoted owner, Joie Henney, who often brings him out in public to soak up the love and attention of his many fans.
Wally is a bit of a local celebrity in their hometown. Joie brings him to restaurants, shops, and the mall, and he draws a crowd of admirers wherever he goes. People line up to have their picture taken with Wally, and Joie uses every opportunity to teach people about gators and help remove the stigma around them.
Wally also has his own social media channels where fans can follow him on his adventures.
Joie has always loved reptiles and other animals. He has an entire room of his home devoted to keeping reptiles, although Wally has the run of the house. The gator can get up on the couch, and Joie says he loves watching TV.
Wally came into Joie’s life 6 years ago at a pivotal time.
“I lost three family members and four lifelong friends in two weeks,” Joie explained. “Depression, it just hit me hard. I really needed emotional support, and a friend of mine rescues gators.”
The baby gator had been taken from a Florida lagoon. Since gators removed by animal control are considered “nuisances,” Wally could not be released back into the wild. After Joie’s friend suggested that he adopt Wally, man and beast formed a tight bond right away.
Joie soon found out that Wally is not your typical alligator.
“Wally has been quite different than any alligator I’ve ever dealt with in the past 30 years,” he explained. “He doesn’t show anger. He doesn’t show aggression. He hasn’t since the day he was caught. We never could understand why.”
Joie says he sleeps with the gator and trusts him implicitly. He has never bitten anyone, and he is as docile as any other indoor pet. When Joie began treatments for cancer, he really leaned on Wally for support. That’s when a friend suggested he register the gator as an emotional support animal.
“I thought it was crazy,” Joie admitted. “It is crazy.”
Regardless, Joie applied and got Wally registered as a card-carrying emotional support animal. They recently took a trip to Philadelphia to film a news segment, and they swung by Love Park to cool down in the sprinklers and fountains for a break. Joie was traveling with his good friend Mary Johnson and her kids.
When Mary’s daughter walked Wally through the fountains on a leash, people definitely noticed! Tons of people uploaded videos of Wally to social media. They were blown away to see a gator being walked on a leash, and their minds were blown when they discovered Wally is an emotional support animal.
“They just had a blast,” Joie said. “People came as soon as they heard Wally was there to get a hug and get a photo with him.”
Mary has set up a GoFundMe to help Joie with expenses related to his cancer treatments. In the meantime, he’ll keep loving Wally, and he’ll find joy in sharing his unusual source of support with others.
“He is literally licensed as an emotional support animal,” said Joie. “He has helped thousands of people with emotional support. Wally just makes life so much better.”
We never thought of alligators as being particularly cuddly, but Wally has changed our mind! Imagine how many other minds he’ll change as he meets more people in the world. All in a day’s work as the country’s only emotional support gator!
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