Pennsylvania Man's Alligator Becomes Emotional Support Animal. "I'd Wake up and He'd Be Laying on My Head."
“I had his whole jaw print on my face.”
When we think of emotional support animals, what usually comes to mind are dogs or cats (or even miniature horses). For one man, though, his choice of emotional support animal is a lot less cuddly and much more dangerous. Pennsylvania man Joie Henney says Wally the alligator is not only a pet but a beloved companion. "Wally has been quite different than any alligator I've ever dealt with in the past 30 years," says Henney. "He doesn't show anger. He doesn't show aggression. He hasn't since the day he was caught. We never could understand why. He's just lovable. He sleeps with me, steals my pillows, steals my blankets. He's just awesome." Here's how Henney takes care of Wally, and vice versa.
Wally was rescued by Henney after he was found in a pond in Disney World, Florida. Henney decided to take the alligator to prevent him being euthanized, and they two have lived together in harmony ever since. Wally lives cage-free on Henney's property near Hershey, Pennsylvania, subsisting on a diet of Cheetos and chicken wings.
According to Henney, Wally has never displayed so much as a hint of violence or aggression towards his owner. "I've never met an alligator that will not bite you," Henney says. "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 is making it clear people should not be rushing out to get themselves their own emotional support alligators, saying his bond with Wally is "very special." Wally apparently took care of Henney during a particularly difficult time in his life. "He is my emotional support alligator," said Henney. "I'd lay on the couch, and I'd wake up and he'd be laying on my head. And I knew it was for a long period of time because I had his whole jaw print on my face."
Henney says Wally is so tame they have been to splash parks together—that must have been fun for the local kids—and the alligator has even performed the duties of a ring-bearer at a wedding. "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," said Henney, adding that Wally "makes me feel loved."
Tame alligators are usually a huge cause for concern. Five gators in Mississippi were put down after they became accustomed to being fed by people and lost their fear of humans. "I've never encountered alligators that were that conditioned in a wild situation," said Ricky Flynt, the state department's alligator program coordinator.
"We're talking about alligators that were coming to a bridge as soon as you stopped on it and coming from as far as 450 yards away. … This was something that was going on there for a while… Alligators are apex predators, and they are wild animals. When someone has been feeding an alligator, they begin to lose their fear of humans and associate them with a source of food."