(NBC) – A Florida man is drawing praise for valiantly saving his puppy from the jaws of an alligator.
Richard Wilbanks, 74, was just enjoying the sun when he heard his new puppy, Gunner, crying. A alligator in the backyard pond at his Lee County home had grabbed the dog and pulled it into the water.
Wilbanks, an avid hunter, reacted quickly, jumping into the pond, grabbing the small alligator and pulling its jaw open, so Gunner, a three-month-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, could escape, surveillance video of the rescue shows.
“It was just a shock, it happened so fast,” Wilbanks 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, whom NBC News was unable to reach on Sunday, told WBBH that he only got a few cuts from the rescue, and the puppy is OK.
“He had the dog and he is covered in blood,” said Wilbanks wife, Louise, describing the moment she realized her husband had wrestled the small gator.
The late October incident was captured on video because Wilbanks participates in a program where residents who live adjacent to wild habitats let the Florida Wildlife Federation and the fStop Foundation put cameras on their land to document animals, according to the Fort Myers News-Press. The foundations learned of the incident only recently after collecting the memory card from the camera on Wilbanks’ land.
WBBH said the alligator was removed from the Wilbanks’ backyard.
Amazingly, Wilbanks was able to keep the cigar he was smoking in his mouth while he rescued the little guy.