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Have you seen this emotional support gator? Wally's owner says he's lost in Georgia

Joie Henney says his emotional support alligator, Wally, is missing in Georgia after being kidnapped, found and released into a swamp with some 20 other gators.
Heather Khalifa
/
The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
Joie Henney says his emotional support alligator, Wally, is missing in Georgia after being kidnapped, found and released into a swamp with some 20 other gators.

In ordinary times, the social media accounts devoted to Wally Gator document the nearly six-foot-long emotional support alligator's adventures around Pennsylvania: visiting nursing homes, splashing around in Philadelphia's Love Park fountain, meeting with the mayor and smiling contentedly in his red harness as various admirers hug and hold him.

In recent days, however, they've been overtaken with pleas for help: Wally is missing in Georgia, where his owner Joie Henney says he was kidnapped, recovered and released into a swamp.

Henney and Wally were visiting friends in Brunswick when someone took the gator from his pen in the early morning hours of April 21, the Wallygator Facebook page posted on Saturday.

"Wally was stolen by some jerk who likes to drop alligators off into someone's yard to terrorize them," the account posted the following day. "Once discovered they called [Department of Natural Resources], DNR then called a trapper. The trapper came and got Wally and dropped him off in a swamp with about 20 other alligators that same day."

A spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Resources told NPR on Friday that a permitted trapper had responded to a "nuisance alligator call" in Brunswick on April 21 and later released it "in a remote location."

They described the way the trapper handled the alligator as "appropriate and routine." But they could not confirm whether the animal in question is Wally, or where he is now.

The Wallygator Facebook page did not specify the location of the swamp, but urged people to get in touch with Henney to aid in the search and "pray because we need a miracle," especially given the presence of the other alligators.

"The swamp is very large and the trapper said the chances of them finding Wally is slim to none," it continued. "But this is Wally ... Joie and friends are currently headed to the swamp to search and will continue daily."

As of Friday, nearly 400 people had donated more than $10,000 to an online fundraiser supporting "travel costs, advising costs and possible legal and veterinary costs" related to Wally's disappearance.

Henney has not responded to NPR's requests for comment. But in a post on his personal Facebook page, he thanked supporters for their concern and said there is a no-questions-asked reward for Wally's safe return.

"Wally is very important to me as well as to a lot of other people that he makes happy and puts joy in their hearts," he wrote, alongside photos of the two of them cuddling.

Wally has more than 145,000 followers on TikTok, 35,000 on Instagram and 10,000 on Facebook. And that's not his only claim to fame: He was also the visual reference for Alligator Loki in the Disney+ show Loki.

After Wally made headlines last September for being turned away from a Phillies game, Henney told NPR that Wally, then 8 years old, came into his life at about 18 months.

Henney had long rescued and rehabilitated animals and didn't set out to keep this one.

"But Wally became special, and he attached to me really super close, so I kept him," Henney said.

Wally loves chin rubs and giving hugs, and doesn't bite when people get close to him — something Henney said he'd never seen in his three decades of handling gators.

Wally has been a source of comfort to strangers and friends alike, if social media is any indication. And he was by Henney's side for a series of difficult moments, including the loss of several family members and his own treatment for prostate cancer.

"He means a lot to me," Henney said. "Actually, he means as much to me as my children."

Henney said Wally is the first reptile to be legally certified as an emotional support animal, a process he went through several years ago at his doctor's suggestion.

Reptiles are permitted as pets under Pennsylvania state law, they just can't be released into the wild. In Georgia, however, "only licensed or permitted individuals can retain alligators in captivity," according to the DNR.

On Friday, a post from the Wallygator Facebook account said the DNR had told Henney he would be prosecuted if he catches Wally. The DNR spokesperson declined to comment beyond their statement.

Meanwhile, in a Wally fan Facebook group, worried admirers are discussing the logistical and legal aspects of his situation and suggesting tactics for trying to find him — from flooding the governor's office with calls to distributing flyers in the area to calling in TV's Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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