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Alligators have been his “medicine” against depression for years.  Now he is asking for help to get it back.

Alligators have been his “medicine” against depression for years. Now he is asking for help to get it back.

by Associated Press

A Pennsylvania man who credited an alligator named Wally for helping ease his depression nearly a decade ago is now searching for the alligator after it disappeared during a vacation on the Georgia coast.

Joie Henney has thousands of followers on her social media accounts dedicated to Wally, the cold-blooded sidekick she calls an emotional support alligator.

The man posted photos and videos online of people petting the four-foot reptile as if it were a dog, or hugging it like a teddy bear. Wally’s popularity increased last year when he was banned from a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.

Now, Heaney says he’s distraught after Wally’s disappearance in April, when they went on vacation together in Brunswick, Georgia, a coastal city 70 miles south of Savannah. The man suspects that someone stole it on the night of April 21.

Joey Heaney holds Wally, an emotional support alligator, on January 14, 2018. Ty Lohr/USA Today Network

In his social media posts, Heaney said people jokingly left Wally outside the home of someone who called authorities, leading to the alligator being trapped and released into the wild.

“We need all the help we can get to bring my baby back,” Henny said, crying. In a video posted on TikTok. “Please, we need your help.”

Heaney added that he did not have time to speak when The Associated Press reached him by phone Wednesday morning. He did not immediately respond to several subsequent messages.

The Johnstown, Pennsylvania, man said Wally came into his life in 2015 after the alligator was rescued in Florida at the age of 14 months.

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Henny Added to the Philadelphia Inquirer In 2019, the animal helped him relieve depression after the deaths of several close friends. He noted that the doctor treating his depression had described Wally as an emotional support animal.

“He never tried to bite anyone,” Heaney told the newspaper.

No one has filed police reports about the missing alligator in Brunswick and surrounding Glynn County, according to spokesmen for the city and county police departments.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources confirmed that someone in the Brunswick area reported a nuisance alligator on April 21 — the day Heaney said Wally had disappeared — and a licensed person was sent to capture it. The agency stated in a statement that the crocodile was “released in a remote location,” but confirmed that it did not know whether the crocodile was Wally.

[Autoridades rescatan más de 150 animales de un supuesto matadero ilegal en Florida]

In Georgia, it is illegal to own alligators without a special license or permit, and the state Department of Natural Resources said it does not grant permits to keep alligators as pets. In Pennsylvania there is no state law prohibiting the possession of alligators. Although it is illegal That their owners release them into the wild, according to the Fisheries and Boating Commission.

David Mixon, a wildlife biologist and coastal supervisor with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, has seen a lot of alligators in yards and pools. He has also shown captive alligators in presentations to school groups and Boy Scout troops.

The specialist pointed out that even crocodiles that appear obedient can be dangerous, and he is always careful to keep their mouths closed with one hand, or preferably with duct tape.

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“They are unpredictable and tend to react to stimuli,” Mixon explained. “There are many videos and photos of people handling alligators and doing so without getting hurt. But the more time you spend around them, the more likely you are to get injured.”

Authorities in neighboring Florida, where an estimated 1.3 million alligators live, recorded this happening More than 450 cases of unprovoked bites since 1948. This includes more than 90 bites since 2014, six of which were fatal.

According to Lori Kogan, a psychologist and professor at Colorado State University who studies human-animal interactions, in states where the law allows keeping alligators indoors, they can be considered emotional support animals.

Unlike service animals that help people with conditions like blindness or post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional support animals don’t undergo special training, Kogan said. They also have no official registry, although health professionals often write letters of support to owners who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder.

“People can become very attached to different animals,” Cogan said. “Can you cling to a reptile? Can it comfort you? I would say yes. For me personally? No.”