Man Loses Emotional Support Gator: 'Bring My Baby Back'

Joie Henney was vacationing in Georgia when Wally vanished
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 2, 2024 7:14 AM CDT
Man Loses Emotional Support Gator: 'Bring My Baby Back'
Joie Henney hugs his emotional support alligator, Wally, on Jan. 22, 2019, inside their home in York Haven, Pennsylvania.   (Heather Khalifa/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP, File)

A Pennsylvania man who credits an alligator named Wally for helping relieve his depression for nearly a decade says he's searching for the reptile after it went missing during a vacation to the coast of Georgia. Joie Henney has thousands of social media users following his pages devoted to Wally, the cold-blooded companion that he calls his emotional support alligator. He has posted photos and videos online of people petting the 5 1/2-foot alligator like a dog or hugging it like a teddy bear. Wally's popularity soared to new heights last year when the gator was denied entry to a Philadelphia Phillies game. Now Henney says he's distraught after Wally vanished while accompanying him on an April vacation in Brunswick, Georgia, a port city 70 miles south of Savannah, per the AP. He said he suspects someone stole Wally from the fenced outdoor enclosure where Wally spent the night on April 21.

In social media posts, Henney said pranksters left Wally outside the home of someone who called authorities, resulting in his alligator being trapped and released into the wild. "We need all the help we can get to bring my baby back," Henney said in a tearful video posted on TikTok. "Please, we need your help." The man from Jonestown, Pennsylvania, has previously said he obtained Wally in 2015 after the alligator was rescued in Florida at the age of 14 months. Henney told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2019 that Wally helped alleviate his depression following the deaths of several close friends. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources confirmed that someone in the Brunswick area reported a nuisance alligator on April 21—the day Henney said Wally went missing—and that a licensed trapper was dispatched to capture it.

The agency said in a statement that the gator was "released in a remote location," but it stressed it doesn't know if the reptile was Wally. It's illegal in Georgia for people to keep alligators without a special license or permit, and the state's DNR says it doesn't grant permits for pet gators. Pennsylvania has no state law against owning alligators, though it's illegal for owners to release them into the wild, per its Fish and Boat Commission. In areas where people can legally own alligators, it's possible for them to be considered emotional support animals, says Colorado State University psychologist Lori Kogan. Unlike service animals that help people with disabilities such as blindness or PTSD, emotional support animals have no special training, she notes. More here.

(More alligator stories.)

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