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Man says emotional support alligator helps his depression

Joie Henney holds up Wally, a 4-foot-long emotional support alligator, at the SpiriTrust Lutheran Village in York, Pa. Henney says he received approval from his doctor to use Wally as his emotional support animal after not wanting to go on medication for depression.
Image Credit: Ty Lohr/York Daily Record via AP

YORK HAVEN, Pa. - A Pennsylvania man says his emotional support alligator helps him deal with his depression.

Joie Henney, 65, said his registered emotional support animal named Wally likes to snuggle and give hugs, despite being a 5-foot-long alligator. The York Haven man said he received approval from his doctor to use Wally as his emotional support animal after not wanting to go on medication for depression, he told Philly.com .

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

Wally was rescued from outside Orlando at 14 months old and is still growing; Henney said Wally could be 16 feet long one day. Henney says Wally eats chicken wings and shares an indoor plastic pond with a smaller rescue alligator named Scrappy.

Wally, who turns 4 this year, is a big teddy bear, in Henney's words. The cold-blooded reptile likes to rest his snout on Henney's, and "he likes to give hugs," he said.

The alligator has never bitten anyone and is even afraid of cats, according to Henney.

Henney acknowledged that Wally is still a dangerous wild animal and could probably tear his arm off, but says he's never been afraid of him.

Henney's background also indicates a comfort with creatures like Wally. He hosted a show called "Joie Henney's Outdoors" on ESPN Outdoors from 1989 to 2000, according to the York Daily Record.

Henney frequently takes Wally out for meet-and-greets at places like senior centres and minor-league baseball games.

"He's just like a dog," Henney told a woman at a recent outing to a senior centre. "He wants to be loved and petted."


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