He might be far from cuddly but this alligator has been certified an ’emotional support pet’ by US medics.
Wally, the four-and-a-half foot alligator, is in the care of Joie Henney, 65, of Strinestown, Pennsylvania, and is now used to help comfort the disabled and vulnerable as part of the unlikely partnership.
Joie, who hosted a hunting and fishing TV show – Joie Henney’s Outdoors – for more than a decade, took the alligator on in 2015 after it was rescued by a friend in Florida.
He told the York Daily Record he had to use tongs to feed Wally at first, to avoid the possibility of losing a finger or an even larger body part, although he maintains that Wally has never bitten him or anyone else.
While he might not have been able to hand feed Wally, Henney said that he was able to pick up the gator and comfort him.
It took about a month to domesticate Wally after which he ‘was like a little puppy dog’ and would follow him around the house.
When Wally arrived at Henney’s home, the gator was about 14 months old, measured around one-and-a-half feet long and was apparently scared of everything — just like a dog or cat would be in a new environment.
“I’m not a dog person. I had venomous snakes. I rode bulls,” he said. “I like the calm things in life.”
After getting Wally, Henney said he started taking the gator around to schools and senior centers for educational reasons, which was when he said that he started to notice that children with developmental issues, such as autism or Tourette’s, seemed to be calmed by Wally’s presence.
“I’m not normal,” Henney added.
“Wally’s never bitten me,” Joie said, “and he’s never tried to bite anyone. He’s pretty laid back.”
That realization sparked the idea of seeing if he could get Wally classified as an official service animal.
When that idea didn’t pan out — service animals are limited to dogs and small horses and require rigorous training — Henney went online and registered Wally as an emotional support animal in December 2018, instead.
Much like a dog, Henney said, Wally is territorial and considers and empty kitchen cupboard his home. The gator has also been known to knock over garbage cans and enjoys lying on the couch and bed and making a nest out of the blankets and sheets.
Wally and a second gator, two-year-old Scrappy, are allowed to wander Henney’s home at will and make free use of a 300-gallon pond that Henney has built in his living room.