How 'snuggling with an alligator' has helped this man deal with depression
When it comes to Emotional Support Animals, we thought we'd heard it all. A dog. A cat, A pig. A monkey. A kangaroo. Even a peacock hit the news when Brooklyn-based artist Ventiko attempted to board a United Airlines flight with it back in February 2018.
But what about an Emotional Support Alligator?
You'd think cuddling up with a dangerous wild animal wouldn't comfort you so much as it would lead to certain death - but you'd be wrong. In fact, Joie Henney describes the 5-foot long, 60-pound alligator that lives in his York County living room as "a bashful big teddy bear who loves to snuggle".
The 65-year-old, who lives in Pennsylvania, says his gator, Wally, helped him with the depression he developed after three of his close friends died in a matter of days.
Speaking to Philly.com, he revealed that his doctor wanted to put him on depression medicine after his "lifelong" friends passed away in rapid succession.
However, he had a better idea: insisting that when he was around Wally, he felt okay, he asked his doctor to sign off the scaly reptile as an official ESA.
Although Service Dog Registration of America has reportedly claimed that their therapist would "never approve a client to have an alligator as an emotional support animal," it would appear that Joie's doctor did - and it worked miracles.
Claiming that Wally filled the void and the "camaraderie he lost" when his friends passed, the 65-year-old said: "My doctor wanted to put me on depression medicine and I hate taking medicine. I 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?"
The registered support animal, who will be four in July, was rescued from just outside Orlando when he was 14 months old. He is currently fed on chicken wings and lives in an indoor plastic pond which he shares with another young reptile named Scrappy.
According to his owner, he has never once tried to bite anyone and if you respect him, he will respect you. "He has never tried to bite no one," Joie said. "I don’t push him on to people. I tell people to respect him, not fear him. He will not hurt you."
Despite this, Joie accepts that Wally is still a wild animal that could tear his leg or arm off at any moment - or worse. He also admits that his girlfriend Liz Caswell kept "kept her distance" from the reptile at first.
Nonetheless, his family - including his five children and 18 grandchildren - are apparently mostly fine with the scaly teddy bear, which could be as big as 16-feet-long and weigh between 900 and 1,100 pounds one day.
One thing's for sure: Joie certainly has no worries about Wally being his ESA, telling people: "You know, whatever works for you. Dogs and cats don’t work for me."