Lots of people have emotional support animals. It’s usually a family cat or dog, or even a hamster or a bird. Joseph Henney, on the other hand, has Wally, an alligator who gives free hugs when they go out shopping together.
Imagine going to do your weekly shop, casually browsing the pet aisle when suddenly you see an alligator. Unlikely? Well, for residents of Jonestown, Pennsylvania, it’s a pretty normal sight to see. Joseph Henney and his alligator, Wally, often shop at their grocery store together and even let shoppers hug the alligator.
‘He’s super sweet-natured,’ Joseph told The Washington Post
‘Not your average crocodilian’
The Washing Post goes on to say that Joseph and Wally love to sit on the couch and watch TV together, and even give signals to want a little love.
‘When he turns his nose towards you, that means he expects a kiss.’
Definitely not the typical alligator that you’d find in the zoo, Wally even has a mass of followers on his social media platforms. The alligator has over 5000 followers on Instagram, frequently sharing all the friends Wally meets going about his day.
Clearly a lover of the limelight, Wally has a TikTok account too, where he recently shared a trip to LovePark in Philadelphia.
Wally has a whopping 70,000 followers on TikTok with fans constantly filling the comments with love for the alligator.
Although Joseph clearly loves his emotional support alligator, he warns others about following in his footsteps.
‘He’s a very special gator, but I wouldn’t recommend that anyone get one,’ he told The Washington Post. ‘If you don’t know what you’re doing, you will get bit.’
Raul Diaz, a herpetologist and evolutionary development biologist, agrees with Joseph. ‘I definitely assume that [Henney] is an exception when it comes to caring for an alligator — he’s done a good job… But most people don’t have that kind of time to devote to a pet alligator’s care.’
How Joseph met Wally
The two met in 2015, when Joseph’s friend asked him to take in some alligators found in a pond in Orlando. Not your usual friendly favor, right? Well not for Joseph, who has had 30 years of experience with crocodilians. Although his profession is wood-crafting, he loves caring for and relocating reptiles in his specially-bought indoor enclosure.
While he sent two of the three alligators to reptile refuges, he made the decision to keep Wally. ‘I bonded with him and was committed to caring for him,’ he told The Washington Post. The decision really came to help Joseph when he faced some troubling times.
‘My doctor wanted to put me on depression medicine, and I hate taking medicine,’ he told The Philadelphia InquirerI had Wally, and when I came home and was around him, it was all OK…My doctor knew about Wally and figured it works, so why not?’
Matt Evans, assistant curator of herpetology at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, suggests volunteering as the best way to get involved if you’re interested.
‘If you are interested in working with alligators, volunteer at your local zoo or nature center or get involved with citizen science.’
The love that Joseph and Wally have for one another may not be typical, but that doesn’t make it any less sweet.
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