Wally is not your average emotional support pet. He's a 4 1/2-foot long alligator with razor-sharp teeth.
But Wally's owner, Joie Henney, insists that the scaly reptile loves people. He recently took Wally to visit the Glatfelter Community Center at the Village at Sprenkle Drive, an assisted-living development north of York, Pennsylvania, the York Daily Record reported.
What was the reaction?
Residents were curious but cautious as they stood around Wally and looked at him with a mix of curiosity and terror, the outlet reported. Fortunately, everyone's fingers and limbs remained intact.
"I'm not scared of snakes," said one of the residents who had her picture taken with Wally. "But that thing has a lot of teeth."
Not to worry, Henney told her.
"He's just like a dog," he said. "He wants to be loved and petted."
Henney encouraged her to pet Wally on the top of his head.
Unlike other emotional support animals who have made headlines, Wally dines on frozen rats and lives with another alligator, Scrappy, in a 300-gallon pond that Henney built in his living room. The gators like to lounge on sofa and watch TV, Henney told the news outlet.
"They aren't for everyone," said Henney, who from 1989 until 2000 hosted "Joie Henney's Outdoors," a hunting and fishing show that aired on ESPN Outdoors, Fox and other channels. "But what can I say. I'm not normal."
Henney admitted that Wally is still a wild animal and you must be careful with him. But Henney believes the alligator is sweet, even if he's not soft and cuddly.
What's the trend with support animals?
The trend of "emotional support animals" has led people to bring all sorts of creatures into public places, including airports. Advocates say the pets belong there because they provide a mental health service. But airlines began restricting emotional support pets after passengers began arriving with miniature horses, goats, snakes, hedgehogs, and spiders.
In one case, a woman tried to bring an emotional support peacock aboard a United Airlines flight. And in another case, a supposed emotional support dog bit a passenger aboard a Delta Air Lines flight in 2017.
The website PetMD explains that emotional support pets provide "companionship and comfort to a person with a mental or emotional issue, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, phobias, or other afflictions."
Mental health professionals must also prescribe them as "treatment for a diagnosed mental or psychiatric disability," the website states. People cannot simply declare that their pet is an emotional support pet.
Where did Wally come from?
Henney rescued Wally about three years from a group of alligators that were going to be destroyed to make way for a new commercial development. At the time, Wally was 14 months old and about a foot-and-a-half long.
"He was a like a little puppy dog," Henney said. "He would follow us around the house."
Over time, Wally has become even more domesticated, Henney told the news outlet.