Watch Hero Florida Man Calmly Wrestle Tiny Puppy from Alligator's Jaws

“They’re like children to us, so there was no second thought whatsoever.”

young alligator
Photo: nostalgi1/Getty Images

In an instant, a walk through his backyard turned into a life-or-death battle for Richard Wilbanks and his new puppy.

"We were just out walking by the pond," Wilbanks, of Estero, Florida, told CNN, "and it came out of the water like a missile. I never thought an alligator could be that fast. It was so quick."

Before he knew it, the sneaky gator had his precious puppy.

So, the 74-year-old jumped into his backyard pond, wrestled the smallish gator above surface, and wrenched its jaws open to free Gunner, his three-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. And, thanks to a partnership between the Florida Wildlife Federation and the fSTOP Foundation, the whole terrifying encounter was caught on camera.

The footage was captured in October as part of the shared project called Sharing the Landscape. Residents who live in areas that border wild habitat in Lee County can volunteer to have cameras placed in their backyards to document wildlife. Wilbanks was one of them.

Meredith Budd, regional policy director for the wildlife federation, told USA Today that the organizations were unaware of what happened between Wilbanks and the alligator until this past week, when they collected the memory cards and saw the footage.

Wilbanks credited his quick actions to simple adrenaline. "I just automatically jumped into the water," he recalled to WINK. "They're like children to us, so there was no second thought whatsoever."

Holding the alligator wasn't so tough but prying open the jaws was "extremely hard." Wilbanks said his hands were "chewed up," and he went to a doctor for a tetanus shot.

As for Gunner, the pup had one little puncture wound in his belly and is reportedly doing just fine after a trip to the veterinarian.

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Wilbanks told CNN that he doesn't want the alligator removed from the pond or destroyed.

"They're part of nature and part of our lives," he said.

Wilbanks still takes Gunner walking, but now keeps the little puppy on a leash—and 10 feet from the pond.

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