It's hard to describe the bond between human and dog, even for a guy willing to wrestle an alligator to save the puppy he'd only known for a few weeks. In viral footage, Florida's Richard Wilbanks is seen standing waist-deep in a pond before pulling up a nearly 4-foot-long alligator, which had his 3-month old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Gunner, in its jaws. Without losing the cigar hanging from his mouth, the 74-year-old Wilbanks pried open the alligator's mouth, allowing Gunner to jump out and onto dry land. He'd been walking the dog near his home in Estero in late October when the alligator lunged out of the pond, grabbed Gunner, and disappeared. "It came out of the water like a missile … It was so quick," Wilbanks tells CNN. But to save his beloved pooch, he reacted just as fast. Without thinking, "I just automatically jumped into the water."
Gunner spent a few days at an animal hospital recovering from a puncture wound on his belly and water in his lungs, per CNN. Wilbanks also visited a doctor as the alligator clamped down on his hands, leaving them "chewed up," per the Fort Myers News-Press. But Gunner, who stole his owner's heart at their first meeting at a breeder's home in Miami, was worth the trouble. Wilbanks tells WINK News that he considers Gunner as one of his children. The incredible rescue was only documented by accident as a surveillance camera, set up to monitor landscapes used by humans and wildlife, was rolling. "While this video was shocking … it's a learning opportunity for the importance of respecting wildlife and taking precautions to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," says a Florida Wildlife Federation rep. Wilbanks tells the News-Press that he'll now use a leash. (Read more alligator stories.)