Emotional support alligator spotted walking in Philadelphia park

Wally the Gator, who measures about 5ft in length, was adopted by his owner back in 2016 after being rescued from a Walt Disney Resort in Florida

Johanna Chisholm
Monday 29 August 2022 18:52 BST
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An alligator going for a stroll in a Philadelphia park caught the attention of many fellow park-goers, not only for its unexpected presence outside of a zoo but because it was donning a harness that labelled the reptile an emotional support pet.

Wally the Gator, as he’s since been identified on his owner’s Facebook and TikTok accounts, has been stunning public audiences around Philadelphia for years, according to Philly Voice. And this most recent brush with the starstruck paparazzi at the city’s LOVE Park on Friday afternoon ended up gaining him hundreds of thousands of views and likes on each account, while he cuddled with strangers who likely didn’t expect their weekend would begin with snuggling a stranger’s reptile.

“We were just walking by LOVE Park and saw this kid playing with an alligator in the fountain,” said Britt Miller in an interview with Philly Voice after sharing snaps of the gator on her own social media.

The mother, who had brought her own daughter to the park to cool off in the splash pads, described how though she was initially stunned to see how calm the creature was with all the fanfare he was attracting, she didn’t find herself comfortable enough to let her own child pet him.

“Of course, there was a ton of people around taking pictures. The girl (who had the alligator) seemed to be with her family, who were sitting off to the side. They were super friendly. People were picking up the alligator, petting it, all sorts of stuff,” she said.

Pictures shared on her Twitter account show the nearly 5ft gator cozying up with one man as though he’s holding a small child, while another passer-by is seen petting the top of the reptile’s head near the red harness strapped across his body, which reads: “emotional support” and “Wally”.

“It seemed totally calm, I guess, for an alligator, you know?” said Ms Miller. “It wasn’t reacting at all.”

Wally, whose owner was interviewed in 2019 by the York Dispatch about his uncommon house pet, was adopted back in 2016 by Joie Henney, 65, after being rescued from the Walt Disney Resort in Florida.

Owning a pet alligator, though legal in most states – including Pennsylvania – is often discouraged by experts who argue that most families will turn to giving the reptiles up for adoption once they begin to grow to a size that’s outside of most people’s comfort zones.

“He loves attention, (and) he loves people,” said the 65-year-old Strinestown native in an interview with the York Dispatch about his “calm” natured pet.

Mr Henney registered the creature as an emotional support pet back in 2019, making him the first reptile of his kind to receive such recognition in the US.

A GoFundMe for Wally’s owner was set up earlier this year by a friend of Mr Henney’s as a way to support the 65-year-old alligator owner as he undergoes treatment for cancer.

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