September 28, 2023
A man who tried to bring his alligator into the Phillies game on Wednesday night was turned away by security at Citizens Bank Park, but not without becoming an internet sensation in the process.
The unusual scene went viral after SportsRadio 94WIP's Howard Eskin posted a photo of the alligator outside the ballpark.
Citizens Bank Park's rules prohibit all animals, except certified service dogs and service dogs in training, from entering the stadium. Emotional support animals — alligators or otherwise — can't get into the ballpark. (Eskin's post on X, the platform formerly called Twitter, misidentified the gator as a service animal).
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
Still, this wasn't an ordinary gator. It was Wally, billed as the world's one and only emotional support alligator, who was rescued from Disney World in 2016. He's the same gator seen enjoying a splash at the LOVE Park spray ground last year.
Wally's owner, Joie Henney, is a reptile enthusiast who rescues gators that either have been abandoned as pets or are found in areas too close to human activity. Wally was one of three alligators Henney took in from Disney World to care for at his home in York.
Outside the ballpark Wednesday night, Henney explained to YouTuber The Philly Captain that Wally isn't a service animal, but rather Wally's red harness signifies that he's been registered as an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals are typically validated by licensed mental health professionals. They are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, so there are fewer legal requirements for businesses and other public spaces to accommodate them.
Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks that aid people with disabilities. Emotional support animals are believed to provide a therapeutic benefit, such as comfort or companionship, to someone with a mental or psychiatric disability.
Henney said Wally didn't show any aggression when he was rescued and has never attempted to bite anyone. He decided to keep Wally as a pet to help him cope with depression after several family members and friends died. Wally is now 8 years old, about 5 feet long and 60 pounds.
Wally posed for photos with fans outside the stadium Wednesday night, allowing kids to pet his chin and others to carry him. At one point, a police officer approached Henney and Wally and explained that the alligator had to go.
In recent years, Wally has emerged as a bit of a celebrity. He was the leading vote-getter last year in America's Favorite Pet, a popularity contest that supports animal rescue and rehabilitation. Wally also starred in the Disney+ TV show "Loki," where he was a variant of the character played by Tom Hiddleston in the Marvel Universe films, and he has nearly 112,000 followers on TikTok.