11:06 GMT +313 December 2019
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    An alligator floats atop the water of 40-acre lake at Brazos Bend State Park in Needville, Texas

    ‘Just Like a Dog’: Emotional Support Alligator Visits Senior Center (PHOTOS)

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    A scaly stranger and his owner paid senior citizens at a Pennsylvania assisted living centre a visit Monday and created quite a spectacle while dispelling some preconceived notions.

    Wally, a 4.5-foot (137 cm) emotional support alligator, is the latest guest to grace the community centre in the Village at Sprenkle Drive.

    Led by his owner, former ESPN Outdoors host Joie Henney, the gator and his sharp teeth understandably gave many pause.

    "I'm not scared of snakes", one cautious, elderly woman said, according to the York Daily Record (YDR), "but that thing has a lot of teeth".

    To put the mature crowd at ease, Henney made sure to announce that Wally has, to his knowledge, never bitten anyone and "acts like a three-year-old" in terms of curiosity around the house.

    Despite his rough skin, Henney says Wally loves being petted and you will know you've found his sweet spot when he raises his head and closes his eyes.

    Henney decided to give Wally a home when the cold-blooded creature was just a "pup" at 14 months old, and had only been out of the wild for two days following a Florida rescue mission. 

    Though domestication took some time, Wally eventually warmed up to the Henneys and soon became part of the family.

    "He was a like a little puppy dog," Henney told YDR. "He would follow us around the house."

    Despite the connection, it wasn't until Henney began showing Wally off to children with disabilities and senior citizens that he noticed how calming the gator was for everyone. It was soon after that that he began looking into getting Wally certified as an emotional support animal.

    According to the US Service Animals website, an individual seeking qualification for their animal must have an emotional or psychological condition that is alleviated by the pet — that's it. Though no formal training is required, the certification can definitely change how one approaches the pet. 

    When he's not getting all the pets he can desire from curious audience members, Wally loves to lounge in his 300 gallon (1,364 L) pool in the living room and munch on frozen rats and chicken.

    "[Emotional support gators] aren't for everyone," Henney said to YDR, noting that he has another gator named Scrappy. "But what can I say? I'm not normal."


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    Emotional Support Animal, pets, alligator, United States, Pennsylvania
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