A Florida man now understands the need for pets to stay away from the water after rescuing his puppy from the jaws of an alligator in an action captured on dramatic video.
The man, Richard Wilbanks of Estero, was among residents selected to have a camera placed in his backyard under a state project aimed at documenting interactions along the part of Lee County where development meets untamed lands, according to USA Today.
As shown on the video, Wilbanks, 74, jumped into waist-deep water in a murky pond after a small alligator dragged Gunner, his 3-month-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, underwater.
A wheezing Wilbanks grabbed the squealing dog from underwater and pulled at the jaws of the alligator until the puppy was free. The dog scampered back to the safety of dry land.
“We were just out walking by the pond,” Wilbanks said, according to CNN, “and it came out of the water like a missile. I never thought an alligator could be that fast. It was so quick. I just automatically jumped into the water.”
Prying open the gator’s jaws was “extremely hard,” he said, leaving his hands “chewed up.” In addition to bandaging them, he needed a tetanus shot after the late-October incident.
Gunner suffered one puncture wound, but after a trip to the veterinarian was fine, according to CNN.
Wilbanks volunteered for the state project, titled Sharing the Landscape. The project is a joint effort of the Florida Wildlife Federation and the fStop Foundation, according to Meredith Budd, regional policy director for the wildlife federation. The goal is to reduce conflicts between people and nature.
“We live on a shared landscape,” Budd said, according to WINK-TV. “We don’t just want to tolerate wildlife, but, rather, we want to thrive with wildlife on a shared landscape.”
— South Florida Sun Sentinel (@SunSentinel) November 22, 2020
Wilbanks said he does not want authorities to try to remove or kill the alligator.
“They’re part of nature and part of our lives,” he said, according to CNN.
Wilbanks now keeps his puppy on a leash when outdoors and well away from the water.
“I would like to emphasize for people that have pets to make sure that they keep them away from the edge of the water,” Wilbanks said, according to WINK.
“It gives us a new appreciation,” said Louise Wilbanks, Richard’s wife. “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.”
— MyFWC (@MyFWC) October 21, 2020
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said serious injuries caused by alligators are rare, but the video should serve as a warning for Florida residents.
“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,” the commission said in a statement.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.