Man's Emotional Support Alligator Raises Eyebrows

By Kelly Burch 01/31/19

The man said that staying close with the alligator has helped him stay off of prescriptions for his depression. 

man holding an emotional support alligator

For most people, being in close company with a five-foot-long alligator would be the opposite of comforting. But when Joie Henney feels symptoms of depression coming on, he snuggles up with Wally, his emotional support alligator.

"I had Wally, and when I came home and was around him, it was all OK," Henney told "My doctor knew about Wally and figured it works, so why not?”

The doctor certified Wally as an emotional support alligator, likely the first of his kind. 

Henney, who hosted a wildlife show on ESPN from 1989 to 2000, says he is familiar with dealing with wild animals and is aware that the alligator could hurt him. He rescued Wally when the alligator was 14 months old, and the alligator now spends time in an indoor pool, snacking on chicken wings and comforting Henney when he’s feeling down.

Henney said that staying close with Wally has helped him stay off of prescriptions for his depression. “He comforted me,” Henney said. “I got over my depression.”

Henney first realized that Wally could help him feel better when he went through a series of sudden losses of friends and family. “I lost three in a week, two in less than 24 hours. I was laying down one day, he literally crawled up on the cot with me and laid his head on top of my face.”

At just four years old, Wally is still growing. He’s could be 16-feet long one day, but Henney insists their relationship will endure. 

"He likes to give hugs,” by resting his snout on Henney’s face, the owner explained. 

Wally makes public appearances with Henney, and Henney insists that he’s not that unusual from more traditional pets. "He's just like a dog," Henney said at one event. “He wants to be loved and petted.”

Henney said he isn’t the only one who has benefitted from Wally’s attention. “He is registered as my emotional support animal, but he has done a lot for others.”

Henney has even used Wally to help raise money for a child with autism.

But despite the feel-good aspects of Henney and Wally’s connection, many people question whether the use of emotional support animals has gone overboard.

Getting an animal certified as an emotional support animals can allow the animal to come into public places, but some people say that the proliferation of emotional support animals is undermining the role of guide dogs and others trained to help people with medical conditions.  

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.