Meet Wally, the Emotional Support Alligator Who Helps His Owner Battle Depression

6 months ago

A man has caused a stir online after revealing his emotional support animal is an alligator, which he takes everywhere. Despite the backlash, he wants people to know how Wally is different from other alligators and the positive impact he has had on his life.

Wally was found in a pond in Disney World.

Wally is a rescued alligator that was located as a baby in a pond within Disney World, in Florida. Although many might assume the best option would have been to reallocate the animal to another place in the wild, laws in the state of Florida wouldn’t allow it and the common practice is to either euthanize them or put them into captivity.

With that in mind, Joie Henney, a longtime reptile rescuer and alligator expert made the decision to take him in, in 2015, as Pennsylvania, where Henney lives, allows individuals to own alligators and other exotic animals with the right permits and licenses.

Wally lives freely in Joie’s house, with no need for cages.

For every other alligator, their first instinct is to bite, especially if you approach them and try to touch them in any way. That isn’t the case with Wally. According to Henney, he poses no threat and is the first of his kind that he has met in 30 years that doesn’t seem to have that aggressive nature. He has never tried to bite anyone, no matter what situation he’s put into, even Henney puts his hand in his mouth to rub his tongue.

No one can find an explanation for his calm behavior, so Henney advises people to not get alligators, as most won’t have the same friendly temper. “He doesn’t show anger. He doesn’t show aggression. He hasn’t since the day he was caught. We never could understand why,” Henney said. “He’s just loveable. He sleeps with me, steals my pillows, steals my blankets. He’s just awesome.”

Wally has been a comfort to Henney in his toughest times.

In 2019, Henney got a license that enabled Wally to act as an emotional support animal. Since then, the alligator has helped his owner get through his radiation treatments for cancer, as well as given him a chance to fight depression without the use of medication. In fact, Henney was prescribed anti-depressants, but he refused to take them because he claimed Wally alone was enough and now credits the animal for bringing him out of it.

As an emotional support animal, Wally is allowed to be out and about with Henney and go almost anywhere. However, the alligator has been barred from a few restaurants out of fear of the management that it might carry salmonella. In September 2023, Henney and Wally also made headlines for being refused entry to Citizens Bank Park, home of the baseball team Philadelphia Phillies.

The sweet alligator visits schools and senior centers for educational purposes.

Wildlife experts and animal welfare organizations have advocated countless times for new laws prohibiting the keeping of wild animals as exotic pets, including alligators, given how they are frequently abandoned by their owners when they become too large for them to handle.

The World Animal Protection non-profit organization also lists other concerns with the practice of keeping exotic pets. Amongst them are the fact that basic needs aren’t met, with a high number of reptiles dying 1 year after becoming a pet, and how they are linked to disease outbreaks, like salmonella, that lead to hospitalizations.

However, Henney has made it clear that he does not promote that alligators make good pets. He often takes Wally on educational visits to schools and senior centers, where he claims to emphasize that. Instead, he expresses his aspiration that Wally’s story might inspire individuals to treat others kindly and bring smiles to their faces, given the challenging nature of the world.

Pets often pay an important role in the lives of their owners, whether they’re considered emotional support animals or not. Ruger, a rescued dog, witnessed both his best friend’s first and last day of school. It was a decade full of memories, and their story has now been told.


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