You’ve all heard of Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) right? If a person is going through a very difficult time, for whatever reason, and is suffering from depression, sometimes the company of a pet can bring that person out of his darkness. I fully believe in this … one of our ‘feral five’, Oliver aka Ollie, seems to just sense when I’m sad or upset and plops on my lap, nuzzles my hand for pats, and purrs so loud it nearly rattles the windows. How he knows when he’s needed, I don’t know, but he does.
Well, a man in Pennsylvania has a support pet who has helped him through the deaths of several close family members as well as his own battle with prostate cancer and the two are inseparable. The man is Joseph Henney and his emotional support pet is Wally … WallyGator, that is!
WallyGator goes with him almost everywhere, from the grocery store to walks in the park. They hug each other and sleep in the same bed. WallyGator is an alligator. The two watch television together on the couch, and when Henney takes him to the farmers market, WallyGator gives hugs to shoppers — as long as they are okay with being that close to a 70-pound reptile with a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. Says Joie (pronounced Joe) …
“When he turns his nose toward you, that means he expects a kiss. He’s super sweet-natured. He’s a very special gator, but I wouldn’t recommend that anyone get one. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you will get bit.”
Henney’s unlikely friendship with WallyGator began in 2015 when a friend from Florida called to ask if he could take in a few gators that had been found in a pond in Orlando. Because he has always enjoyed caring for reptiles as a pastime, Henney told his friend that he could take in three juvenile alligators. Little did he know, he was about to embark on a beautiful friendship with one of them.
For about three decades, Henney—who makes a living in wood-crafting—has helped relocate unwanted alligators, snakes and iguanas to wildlife sanctuaries in his free time. He revealed that he is usually called to rescue alligators that people take in as pets when they are cute baby gators but find difficult to handle when they inevitably grow into large animals. After moving the rescue reptiles into separate indoor enclosures in his home, Henney finds sanctuaries or zoos to take them. Two of the gators he received from his Florida friend eventually went to reptile refuges in New York and New Jersey.
WallyGator, however, he decided to keep as he had formed a special bond with the then-14-month-old reptile.
“I bonded with him and was committed to caring for him. One of the problems when someone gets an alligator for a pet is they don’t realize they’re in for a long haul. When they get to three feet, nobody wants them. They can bite and they’re extremely hard to handle.”
According to Henney, it was evident to him from the very beginning that WallyGator was different from all the other alligators he’s handled …
“He wouldn’t eat live rats, and he really showed a love for cheesy popcorn. I thought it was different, but I was still very cautious around him. I’ve been handling gators for years, and I’ve learned to read them. An alligator isn’t going to attack you for no reason. I’m always careful, but I felt it was fine to let him roam free in the house. He enjoyed being held, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a super nice, friendly alligator.'”
It was in 2017, after several family members and friends had died in a 2-week period, that he and his unusual pet really bonded.
“I was depressed and WallyGator started to do silly things to cheer me up. When I was on the couch, he’d pull my blanket to the floor.”
It was his doctor who suggested that he register the reptile as an emotional support animal when Henney revealed how WallyGator had helped with his depression. Although he initially dismissed the idea, Henney went home that day with a letter from the doctor qualifying the alligator as an emotional support animal. He later filled out an application on the U.S. Service Animals website and received a certificate along with a harness and leash for his alligator once it was approved.
Henney also credits his leathery friend for emotionally supporting him through a recent diagnosis of prostate cancer and weeks of radiation treatments. Because he knows there’s a good chance his pet gator will outlive him (gators typically live 80 years or more), he has arranged with a friend to ensure that WallyGator gets to spend the rest of his days in reptilian comfort.
Don’t believe me, do you? Take a look at this short clip of Joie and Wally …
I loved this story … it warmed my heart. But not enough to make me want a pet alligator! I can only imagine how he would get along with our five cats!!! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and to my friends in the U.S. – Happy Labour Day Weekend!!!