An emotional support alligator? Is that even possible? How did we get here? Well, the use of service animals dates all the way back to the 1700s. The first guide dogs were trained in Paris to assist residents in a hospital for the blind.
Two hundred years later, German soldiers blinded by mustard gas in World War I found that German Shepherds were not only excellent companions but, with the proper training, could help them navigate daily life with a disability.
Fast forward another century and you arrive at the modern era, in which service dogs are extremely common. And more recently, Emotional Support Animals have risen in popularity. Though they aren’t as highly trained as service animals, they provide life-changing benefits to their owners.
Now, U.S. law dictates that service animals must be dogs. Though exceptions are sometimes made for miniature horses, it’s only under very specific circumstances.
Emotional Support Animals, on the other hand, can technically be any species. Common ESAs include typical pets such as cats, rabbits, birds, and guinea pigs – some are even larger animals such as llamas and donkeys.
But the common characteristic between all ESAs? They’re comforting. For most, a predatory Emotional Support Animal would be counterproductive. After all, it’s just a little difficult to relax around an animal capable of eating you.
For one Philadelphia man, however, a dog or cat or miniature pig could never replace WallyGator, his beloved 70-pound alligator.
Joseph Henney and His Emotional Support Alligator
So, here’s the thing. In addition to being cute and cuddly, dogs and cats are domesticated. They have an unquestionable ability to bond with their owner. Reptiles, however, are a different matter entirely.
Alligators, snakes, lizards, etc., have retained their primitive characteristics over the millennia. And while they can develop a trust for those who frequently handle and feed them, it’s not the same as the love shown by our usual wet-nosed companions.
But Joseph “Joie” Henney has never questioned the loving relationship between himself and WallyGator. He trusts his alligator so much, in fact, that he showers Wally with hugs and kisses and even allows the gator to sleep in his bed, just like any other house pet.
Wally goes with his owner everywhere, including to the grocery store and for walks in the park. And, of course, the 7-year-old alligator sports a harness and leash on these outings.
“Wally is definitely not your average crocodilian,” the 69-year-old explained to The Washington Post. Though Joie is a wood crafter by trade, he’s always had an affinity for alligators and other reptiles. But even he knows that his choice of Emotional Support Animal is a little strange.
“He’s a very special gator, but I wouldn’t recommend that anyone get one,” Henney said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, you will get bit.”