There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the title “Emotional Support Dog” or “Emotional Support Animal.”
Dogs or other animals with these titles are not certified therapy animals, and they’re not truly service animals. They require no specific training, although technically they must be well-behaved and not disruptive or aggressive.
Really, all you need to get your critter “certified” is an official letter from a doctor or therapist, stating that you have a condition that will be alleviated by an ESD or ESA. This will get you into no-pet housing and will allow you to travel with your animal companion.
Many ESAs are quite well-mannered and bring immeasurable comfort to their owners, greatly improving their quality of life. Other times, people cause quite a stir with the poorly behaved creatures that they drag everywhere with them, annoying everyone around them just because it’s their “emotional support animal.”
Perhaps when you think of a support animal, you think of something fluffy and soft, but Wally is here to challenge that notion. Wally is a 4.5-foot-long alligator, and he’s all about cuddles.
Wally’s owner, Joie Henney, is smitten with his reptilian friend. He describes Wally as being both dog and child-like, getting into cupboards and trouble like it’s his job.
But when it comes to people, Wally is careful and loves attention. “He’s just like a dog,” Henney told the Sun Sentinel. “He wants to be loved and petted.”
For Henney, the exotic is normal. He grew up on a farm, started riding bulls at age 10 and has an affinity for lethal creatures that has led him to handle some of the most venomous snakes on the planet without any backup antivenom.
“I’m not a dog person,” he explained. “I had venomous snakes. I rode bulls. I like the calm things in life.” Later, he added, “I’m not normal.”
At some point, Henney got involved with gator rescue, which invariably led to him keeping one of the rescues. Wally was just a little over a year old when he became Henney’s newest addition.
“Everything has a bad attitude at first,” Henney explained, admitting that in those early days Wally was more wild than anything else, snapping at Joie and startling easily.
But slowly, Wally began to warm up to Henney. “He was like a little puppy dog. He would follow us around the house,” Henney said.
Wally has a friend named Scrappy, and Henney has built them a 300-gallon pond … inside his living room. Wally even watches TV with Henney, refusing to eat until the program’s ended.
Since getting the gator registered as an ESA, Henney and Wally have become local celebrities. They go everywhere together, for strolls in the park or traveling for educational purposes, visiting schools and other centers as gator ambassadors.
Henney is very careful to remind people that alligators are not good pets for everyone. The novelty quickly wears off when people get an exotic animal without doing their research and realize how much work and cost keeping a gator can be.
Still, Henney thinks Wally makes a great companion and based on the response from the community, plenty of people have warmed up to the cold-blooded critter.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.