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Man saves pet dog from alligator’s jaws in Estero, encounter caught on video

A man risked his life to save that of his beloved puppy’s from the grip of an alligator, and it was all recorded by a nearby surveillance camera. Thankfully, both man and canine are OK.

The dramatic encounter in an Estero neighborhood was caught on record thanks to a partnership between the Florida Wildlife Federation and the fSTOP Foundation.

Richard Wilbanks says his instincts and adrenaline kicked in when a gator snatched his dog, Gunner, and dragged him into a pond. He immediately jumped into the water to save his pet.

Wilbanks he called the encounter a learning experience.

“He just came out like a missile,” Wilbanks said.

FWC said serious injuries caused by alligators are rare in Florida, but hopes the video of Wilbanks’ encounter leads to a better relationship between people and wildlife.

“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 FWC said in a statement.

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

Wilbanks pried open the gator’s mouth and saved Gunner.

“He had one little puncture wound, and … my hands were just chewed up,” Wilbanks said.

Even after being dragged underwater in the jaws of a gator, Gunner is doing fine.

“Fortunately, I was in a position that I was able to save Gunner’s life,” Wilbanks said.

Meredith Budd is the regional policy director of the Florida Wildlife Federation. She said they typically capture videos of things such as deer or bobcats in the wildlife. It’s not often they record activity like what Wilbanks and Gunner experienced.

The federation’s video partnership with fSTOP is part of a campaign called “Sharing the Landscape.”

“We live on a shared landscape,” Budd said. “We don’t just want to tolerate wildlife, but, rather, we want to thrive with wildlife on a shared landscape.”

The goal is to help people appreciate and understand the wildlife they live near and help reduce the conflicts that can sometimes happen between people and nature.

“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.”

Wilbanks said he understands this is the gator’s home and that it was just doing what a gator does to survive, and that’s why he decided not to call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

We did reach out to FWC about this video, but we are still waiting to hear back.

Gunner is now a little hesitant to go near the water, but because Wilbanks calls this a learning experience, he’s keeping Gunner away from the water now and always on a leash.

“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.

The FWC responded with the following statement:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have not received a report of this incident and the video shared is not the property of FWC.

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. People with concerns about an alligator should call FWC’s toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286). When someone concerned about an alligator calls the Nuisance Alligator Hotline, we will dispatch one of our contracted nuisance alligator trappers to resolve the situation. FWC also works to keep Floridians and visitors informed, including providing advice about Living with Alligators.

Reporter:Justin Kase
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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