A baseball fan and his emotional support alligator named Wally were barred from entering a Major League Baseball stadium to meet players of the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, though he’s still hoping a meetup will be possible in future.
Joie Henney and Wally attempted to enter the Philadelphia Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park on the day of their home game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Henney explained to CNN Sport that Wally was at the stadium after he had been invited to meet the Phillies players and their partners before Wednesday’s game against the Pirates.
However, because they arrived late to the stadium, the players were already out warming up meaning Wally was not able to spend some time with them.
“So we bought tickets and Wally has been into other baseball games, so we assumed that it was OK,” Henney said. “We never asked or checked with it, but they only allow service animals, such as dogs and horses, into the stadium, not ESA animals.
“Wally is an emotional support animal, not a service animal. People criticized me because they don’t know the story behind everything … but when they came and told us, there was no disagreement, there was no arguing, there was no conflict at all. It was all good.”
Henney added: “They’ve got their rules and we’ve got to go by their rules. I can’t go there and make my rules.”
According to Citizens Bank Park guidelines: “Certified service dogs or service dogs in training for guests with special needs are welcome. All other animals are prohibited.”
Despite the disappointment of Wednesday, Henney is optimistic that he and Wally will be able to return to meet the Phillies’ players before the MLB playoffs start.
When approached by CNN for comment, the Phillies pointed towards the team’s policy on service animals.
Wally is Henney’s emotional support animal and has blossomed into an internet sensation, amassing a large social media following, due to his relaxed nature and willingness to engage with all.
Wally can be seen sharing hugs at schools, police stations and hospitals with Henney leading him around by his harness.
Henney told CNN last year that he acquired Wally six years prior. A longtime reptile rescuer who has worked with alligators for 30 years, Henney was contacted by a friend working in Florida.
“There was an overabundance of gators in that area,” Henney said.
In Florida, so-called “nuisance alligators” must be either euthanized or transferred into captivity, he explained.
Wally was removed from a lagoon in Florida, said Henney. His friend brought the baby gator, then just 20 inches long and a little over a year old, to Pennsylvania.
“Wally has been quite different than any alligator I’ve ever dealt with in the past 30 years,” said Henney. “He doesn’t show anger. He doesn’t show aggression. He hasn’t since the day he was caught. We never could understand why.
“He’s just loveable. He sleeps with me, steals my pillows, steals my blankets. He’s just awesome.”
Wally’s easygoing personality led Henney to have the gator licensed as an emotional support animal, he said. The alligator has provided comfort for him as he has undergone radiation treatments for cancer.
CNN’s Zoe Sottile and Sara Smart contributed to this report.