A Pennsylvania man says his pet alligator is an emotional support animal, and he has been taking the reptile to visit the elderly.
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.
Joie Henney, who hosted his own hunting and fishing show from 1989 until 2000 on outlets including ESPN Outdoors, and his 4 1/2-foot alligator, Wally, paid a visit to the Glatfelter Community Center at assisted living development the Village at Sprenkle Drive north of York.
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.
Wally was about 14 months old when it arrived in Henney’s home in Strinestown in September 2015. It took time for the gator to become domesticated, snapping at everything.
After a few months, Wally became accustomed to its surroundings despite being a wild animal, and was calm enough that Henney would let it roam around the house.
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.
Joie Henney would like to assure you his emotional support alligator wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone a human being.
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.
Henney soon brought Wally around to schools and senior centers to educate people about gators. During one visit, he noticed children with developmental issues, such as autism or Tourette’s, were calm around Wally. That got him to thinking: could Wally be used to help people?
Henney found that rules surrounding service animals, mostly dogs, were very strict. But registering a gator as an emotional support animal only required him to fill out a form online.
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 presentations, Henney stresses an alligator does not generally make a good house pet, and people could get seriously hurt if they don’t know how to handle one.
Alligators ‘aren’t for everyone,’ Henney told the York Daily Record. ‘But what can I say. I’m not normal.’