A 66-year-old Florida grandfather made a daring rescue Friday after an alligator snatched his beloved West Highland Terrier, wrestling the 130-pound reptile into a pond to save his precious pooch.
Steve Gustafson was doing yard work when he heard his dog, Bounce, let out a sudden yelp. He looked up to see a gator dragging her into the pond behind his home at The Villages retirement community near Orlando.
"Without thinking I said, 'you're not gonna get her!'" Gustafson told the Orlando Sentinel. "[I] took off down the hill, did a bellyflop onto the top of the alligator, got a hold of the alligator's back left leg, got her tail underneath my right arm and then we were all underwater."
Gustafson said he got his feet underneath him and stood up in the shallow pond, taking a big push back toward the shore. The gator let go of Bounce -- but came around to bite him on the hand.
"When he snapped the second time I got him with his mouth closed, hung on like they show on TV, pushed his head down at the bottom of the pond and now I had his head at the bottom of the pond and his left leg in my left hand and I had the alligator," Gustafson said. "I'm yelling at Bounce to come in and she can't make it cause she's got water in her lungs and she's exhausted. So I let the gator loose and the gator took off and I grabbed Bounce and came up here on the shore."
Gustafson's neighbor, 77-year-old John Scott, told the Sentinel he witnessed much of the encounter while eating lunch on his porch but had no time to react.
"I saw a big, huge splash and the tail of the alligator, and Steve flipped out of the water," Scott told the newspaper.
Gustafson and Bounce both received medical treatment -- he for a few bruises and puncture wounds that needed stitches, the dog for getting water in her lungs and her skin scratched up -- but were otherwise unharmed.
Alligator biologist Patrick Delaney with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told ABC News attacks on dogs are “extremely uncommon” but do happen.
“One thing we stress at the Florida Fish and Wildlife is to be proactive. Not letting your dog that close to the shoreline would be the best thing you could do, and if you’re near the shore, keep your dog on a leash,” he said.
Delaney said higher temperatures this month have also meant more alligator activity.
“Their activity levels are based off temperatures,” he said. ”It has been hot down here and they’re still moving around.”
As for the gator itself, it's certainly not the last Gustafson will see of it: According to the Sentinel, a local trapper caught it on Monday. Gustafson plans to have it stuffed and keep it on his porch as a reminder of his and Bounce's survival story. He also said he'll also keep a closer eye on the dog when she's close to the shore.
"When people ask [about] my reaction — I didn't have a choice," he said. "If I hesitated I would have lost my best friend."