Watch (If You Can) an Elderly Florida Man Pry His Dog from an Alligator

elderly Florida man saved dog from alligator

Dec. 19, 2020 Update: Gunner has been named a “deputy dog” by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. (His dog dad truly deserves to be co-honored, don’t you think?)

I don’t know 74-year-old Richard Wilbanks of Estero, Fla., but I do know this for sure: He will likely never, ever, ever, let his dog walk off-leash near his backyard pond again. That’s what he was doing when his little dog Gunner, a 3-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was snatched and dragged underwater by a small alligator.

“We were just out walking by the pond,” Wilbanks 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.”

Wilbanks immediately sprang into action and was able to pry Gunner from the alligator’s jaws (even without dropping the cigar dangling from his mouth!). It took an agonizing 12 seconds, but Wilbanks and Gunner, amazingly, weren’t seriously injured. Gunner has recovered after being treated by a veterinarian for a puncture wound in his belly, Wilbanks told WINK. Wilbanks said his hands were chewed up and he had to get a tetanus shot.

The whole scary incident, which happened in late October, was captured on video, thanks to cameras placed on Wilbanks’ property by a partnership between the Florida Wildlife Federation and the nonprofit fStop Foundation in an effort to monitor local wildlife.

Wilbanks doesn’t blame the alligator for just doing what alligators do, and doesn’t want the critter to be removed or killed. “They’re part of nature and part of our lives,” he told CNN, adding that in the future, Gunner would only be walked on a leash at least 10 feet away from the pond.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) released a warning for pet parents following this incident, WINK reports. “We encourage everyone to take precautionary measures, particularly those who live or recreate near the water,” the FWC stated. “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.”

Amen. Here’s the video, which is difficult to watch even though both Gunner and Wilbanks lived to tell/bark the story.

Other Dogs Saved by Their Owners from Alligators

Gunner wasn’t the first, and unfortunately won’t likely be the last, dog to be saved from an alligator by their owner. Here are two I’ve previously written about:

  • Another elderly man, 75-year-old Buddy Ackerman of Palm Harbor, Fla., was walking Oso, his daughter’s Golden Retriever, on a retractable leash in July 2019 when an 8-foot-long alligator slithered out from a retention pond and snatched the dog. Ackerman immediately began kicking the gator’s snout, and Oso was released unharmed.
  • In July 2015, 52-year-old Lori Beiswenger saved Hope, her 9-year-old Terrier mix, after the dog was snatched by an alligator on the Inverness, Fla., golf course she owns. Beiswenger pulled on the gator’s tail until it released her dog. Hope suffered a severed artery and other injuries, but recovered after surgery.

Photo: ABC7 News Bay Area/YouTube

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!