This Man Claims His Emotional Support Alligator Helps His Depression

Meet Wally, the support alligator.

I’m just going to put it out there: This seems like a bad idea.

A Pennsylvania man made headlines when he revealed he has an alligator as an emotional support animal.

You read that right. A support alligator, albeit a smallish one who seems unlikely to take a chunk out of anyone at the moment. The gator’s name is Wally. Owner Joie Henney brought him to York County, Pennsylvania, in 2015, when Wally was a mere 14 months old.

You can spot the duo below in a Facebook post from Henney:

Wally lives in a 300-gallon pond inside Henney’s house, along with fellow gators Scrappy and Luna. Henney told Philadelphia TV station KYW-TV that Wally’s arrival helped him cope with the loss of three loved ones in the span of a week.

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“I was laying down one day, and he literally crawled up on the cot with me and laid his head on top of my face,” Henney said.

According to the York Daily Record, Henney started taking Wally with him around town — Home Depot, Cabela’s, walks in the park. Eventually, Henney looked into registering Wally as a service animal but settled on the more general “emotional support animal” designation.

alligator photo
Getty Images | Sam Greenwood

Unlike service animals that are trained to physically help their disabled owners by performing tasks, an emotional support animal provides comfort to those suffering from mental or psychiatric disabilities.

A pet doesn’t require special training to become a support animal. Emotional support animals are not protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act, but it shows what Wally means to Henney.


Many pet owners register their dogs as emotional support animals. However, all sorts of species — including snakes, spiders, possum and turkeys — have been deemed necessary to their owners’ emotional health, much to the consternation of airlines where these creatures are often allowed to fly uncaged.

Wally wears a handy harness and a leash when out in public with Henney, as captured on the owner’s Facebook picture below. Most of the time, though, he lounges around the house and enjoys the occasional snack — raw chicken or frozen rats, mostly.

“He’ll lay there all day long,” Henney said. “That’s what he does. He’s pretty lazy.”

Now 4 years old, Wally is approximately 4.5 feet long. The average size of a male American alligator is 11.2 feet long; the largest males can weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

At some point, the harness and leash won’t do much.


However, it’s worth noting that Henney has experience with handling reptiles. He previously owned them as pets. He also worked with an alligator rescue organization in Pennsylvania, which is how he connected with Wally.

Gators in Pennsylvania? Apparently, there are a number of people who keep gators as pets, despite the fact that the cute baby ones inevitably grow up to be very big ones.

alligator photo
Getty Images | Chris Graythen

Still, perhaps it’s not such a bad idea for Henney to have Wally around for snuggles and support. I can sort of see it now — that huge, toothy mouth does look a bit like a friendly smile.