A Pennsylvania man with an alligator is proving that emotional support pets can be both terrifying and comforting at the same time.
Joie Henney, 65, of Strinestown, Pennsylvania, lives with two alligators, one of which is a four-and-a-half-foot-long, registered emotional support animal called Wally.
Henney — who had his own hunting and fishing TV show, Joie Henney’s Outdoors, for more than 10 years — became Wally’s owner in September 2015, after a gator-rescuing friend from Florida asked if he wanted a gator.
Joie Henney, 65, registered his pet alligator, Wally, as an emotional support pet in December. Henney likens Wally to a dog and says that the gator just wants to be ‘loved and petted’
Henney’s gator-rescuing friend from Florida asked him if he wanted Wally back in 2015. Henney, who had a hunting and fishing TV show for a decade, said yes, he did want a gator
Henney said that Wally likes to have the top of his head rubbed, just like a dog does
Henney, who had been involved with gator rescues in Pennsylvania prior to getting Wally, told the York Daily Record that he was ‘always fond of’ alligators.
When Wally arrived at Henney’s home, the gator was about 14 months old, measured only about one-and-a-half feet long and was apparently scared of everything — just like a dog or cat would be in a new environment.
Henney, who grew up on a hog farm, told the newspaper that 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, though.
It took about a month to domesticate Wally, Henney said, at which point the gator ‘was like a little puppy dog’ and would follow Henney around the house.
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.
Henney said he originally wanted to see if he could register Wally as a service animal, after discovering his calming effect on people with developmental issues, but settled on registering him as an emotional support animal
Wally was just over a year old and one and a half feet long when he arrived at Henney’s home in 2015. The gator is now three years old and measures four and a half feet long
Henney takes Wally around to schools and senior centers for educational reasons. Wally is seen here at Pennsylvania’s SpiriTrust Lutheran Village on January 14
Wally is quite content to be held the way a traditional pet would be held. Henney said that Wally has never bitten him or tried to bite anyone else
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.
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.
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.
Wally is seen here again with a resident at the SpiriTrust Lutheran Village
While emotional support pets might not get any special privileges under federal law, Wally is now allowed to go almost anywhere with Henney, barring some restaurants that have rejected Wally’s presence supposedly out of fear that the gator could carry salmonella.
During a recent trip to Pennsylvania assisted-living facility, Glatfelter Community Center at the Village, Henney told a woman that the leash- and harness-wearing Wally liked having the top of his head rubbed and that he’s ‘just like a dog’ that ‘wants to be loved and petted.’
Henney frequently posts pictures of himself and other cradling a content-looking Wally in their arms.
Despite seeming evidence to the contrary in Wally’s case, Henney said that he is sure to emphasize that alligators do not make good house pets whenever he’s doing his educational gator presentations, because they are still wild animals.
Henney also noted that, unlike crocodiles and caimans, alligators don’t usually attack humans unless they’re attacked by humans first and that they don’t actually like to eat human flesh.
Alligators ‘aren’t for everyone,’ Henney told the York Daily Record. ‘But what can I say. I’m not normal.’