Wally and his companion just wanted to see the Philadelphia Phillies play baseball against the Pittsburgh Pirates like everyone else.
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After all, he was an emotional support animal. He wore a harness with his name on it. He enjoyed hugs. He looked imposing at just over 5ft long, but he had never bitten anyone. He helped his handler, Joseph “Joie” Henney, with his years-long battle with depression.
He couldn’t help that he was an alligator.
On Wednesday night, Phillies security denied Henney, a longtime Phillies fan, and his beloved alligator entry to Citizens Bank Park in Pennsylvania. The stadium welcomed “guide dogs, service animals, or other service animals in training”, according to policy on the Phillies’ website. “All other animals are prohibited.”
The reason Wally the emotional support alligator was not allowed in the ballpark. #phillies #philly #Philadelphia #MLB #baseball pic.twitter.com/4M9kNtkSw6
— The Philly Captain (@philly_captain) September 28, 2023
That prohibition part of the policy apparently applied to Wally, who became Henney’s emotional support animal after a friend had brought Henney, who grew up on a farm surrounded by animals, a baby alligator rescued from Florida.
Henney had worked at wildlife sanctuaries and even fostered reptiles in his home before they went off to roam in sanctuaries and zoos. Henney adopted Wally in 2015.
“I lost three family members and four lifelong friends in two weeks. I shut down in a big, deep depression,” Henney told the Guardian in 2022. Soon after, after his doctor noticed he had been doing better, Henney said: “I’m hanging out with my alligator.”
The duo became a viral sensation after Henney walked Wally, who is followed by more than a 114,000 on TikTok, through Philadelphia’s Love Park as they sought to win America’s Favorite Pet Animal Kingdom contest. Observers on social media expressed a mixture of confusion, support and surprise for the bold attempt to bring an alligator to a Phillies game.
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Are you kidding me. A #Phillies fan tried to come into game tonight with what they said was a “service animal.” An Alligator! Yes an Alligator. Thing’s I’ve never seen. This is it. @SportsRadioWIP pic.twitter.com/H7A0FM0IYC
— Howard Eskin (@howardeskin) September 27, 2023
“He is constantly with me, constantly keeping my attention and making me laugh. We found that he does sense people’s emotions, and he tries to comfort them,” Henney said of Wally. “He is famous for his hugs. People come from all over the world to get a hug.” Footage from outside the stadium showed at least one bystander hugging Wally.
The duo enjoyed traveling together. The Patriot Ledger, a newspaper in Pennsylvania, reported that Henney had previously managed to bring Wally to senior centers and minor league baseball games. But a Phillies game wasn’t in the cards. No one even said “see you later.”