The retiree was walking by the pond in his backyard with his Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Gunner, when the gator shot out of the water and snatched the canine.
A 3-month-old puppy received a new lease on life thanks to the incredible bravery of a Florida man who wrestled an alligator to rescue the pup from its jaws of death. In a shocking video making the rounds on the internet, the retiree was captured dragging the gator above water and prying open its jaws to free his puppy. According to CNN, 74-year-old Richard Wilbanks was walking by the pond in his backyard with his Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Gunner, when the gator shot out of the water and snatched the canine.
A Florida man is drawing praise for saving his puppy from the jaws of an alligator after being dragged into a pond. https://t.co/X7ZF2cwWbi— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 23, 2020
With no regard for his own safety, the heroic Wilbanks of Estero did not hesitate to run into the pond and wrestle the gator back above the water surface. The retiree broke the reptile's vicelike grip on Gunner by using his brute strength to pry open the beast's jaws with his bare hands. "We were just out walking by the pond and it came out of the water like a missile. I never thought an alligator could be that fast. It was so quick," Wilbanks recounted. "It was just a shock, it happened so fast," he told NBC Fort Myers affiliate WBBH. "Instinct just took over and adrenaline kicked in and I just went right into the water after the gator and Gunner."
Wilbanks, an avid hunter, revealed that while holding the alligator wasn't so tough, prying open its jaws was "extremely hard." His hands were "chewed up" after the encounter, he added, and he went to a doctor for a tetanus shot. Meanwhile, Gunner miraculously escaped his brush with death with only one puncture wound in his belly and did fine after a trip to the veterinarian's office. "He had the dog and he is covered in blood," Wilbanks wife, Louise, described the moment she realized her husband had wrestled the small gator.
The late October incident south of Fort Myers was captured on camera, thanks to a partnership between the Florida Wildlife Federation and the fSTOP Foundation, called Sharing the Landscape. Speaking to the Fort Myers News-Press, Meredith Budd—the regional policy director for the wildlife federation—explained that the project involves residents who live in areas that border wild habitat in Lee County volunteering to have cameras placed in their backyards to document wildlife that lives and shares the same landscape. Wilbanks was one of the residents selected to have a camera in his backyard.
This is simply awesome.— Jay Strack (@Jstrack007) November 22, 2020
Man rescues puppy from alligator and doesn’t even drop his cigar. pic.twitter.com/Ld9soGNvM6
Budd revealed that although the incident occurred in October, the foundations were unaware of it until this past week when they collected the memory cards and saw it on the footage. "We live on a shared landscape," she told CBS-affiliate WINK. "We don’t just want to tolerate wildlife, but, rather, we want to thrive with wildlife on a shared landscape." In a statement addressing Gunner's near-death experience, the FWC said: "We encourage everyone to take precautionary measures, particularly those who live or recreate near the water. Dogs and cats are similar in size to the natural prey of alligators. Do not allow pets to swim, exercise, or drink in or near waters that may contain alligators. Keep pets on a short leash and away from the water."
"Serious injuries caused by alligators are rare in Florida. FWC places the highest priority on public safety and administers a Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program (SNAP) to address complaints concerning specific alligators believed to pose a threat to people, pets, or property," the statement added. Wilbanks explained that he chose not to call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as he understands this is the gator’s home and that it was just doing what a gator does to survive. "It gives us a new appreciation," said Louise. "We do need to be aware they are wild animals. They're not here for our benefit. We're very lucky to share this space with them."