ESTERO, Fla. “On the day of their meeting, Richard Wilbanks and Gunner were inseparable.
Gunner, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was sitting right next to Richard at the kennel in Miami at the first meeting, and both were needed.
Richard took Gunner home to his wife, Louise, in Estero, and the now-famous duo is always next to each other, whether on the couch or on the lanai overlooking the wildlife reserve.
The company was put to the test at the end of October, one Sunday morning, when Richard and Gunner went out for a walk by the lake next to Wilbanks ’home.
The couple were walking along the shore, where they were alligators alerted by Richard or Gunner.
The nearly four-meter-long gator jumped out of the water in an instant and grabbed Gunner. Richard let go into the water without hesitation after the puppy and the gator in his chin.
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“It was like a rocket,” Richard said, recalling the incident. “We were only about 3 feet away, but it struck like a snake.” Gunner was in a vise grip and I just ran.
Richard and Louise moved to Estero four years ago.
The couple arrived through mid-Texas, Louise said. Richard’s son, Grant, a landscape architect who lives in Bonita Springs, so the Wilbanks knew the area well and wanted to be close to the family.
The couple visited the Estero house, but it was under contract, Richard said. The two went back to Texas and were on their honeymoon when the real estate agent called to let them know that the house had returned to the market. They did not hesitate.
“We fell in love,” Richard said.
Hidden in the cul-de-sac of their neighborhood, Wilbanks ’home is all about love of nature.
Paintings of seahorses and rose spoon strips hang in the family room, where one of Gunner’s beds lies in front of the TV. A large painting of a cross-stitched heron and two great egrets takes care of the dining table.
Louise said Richard spent four years with plants in the garden, so the conservation area was undisturbed.
Richard said he saw their deer, turkey, bob and even a panther near their home.
“It’s amazing to be able to share our lives with wildlife,” he said.
And that positivity even applies to the alligator who grabbed Gunner.
“He’s still swimming out there,” Richard said.
Gunner was shocked after the attack. After Richard was free to squeeze Gunner, the gator clutched his hand and he had to get rid of it. The couple retreated to the house, both blood dripping.
After Richard quickly repaired his hand, Gunner went to the animal hospital, where doctors found a puncture wound. The Wilbanks were worried about any internal injuries, but the X-rays showed only some water in the lungs. The puppy was in the hospital for a few days to recover.
Gunner is just as right as it is now, and he has greeted the visitors with energy in the doorway and only the puppies can gather it and have a new leash for his walks.
“A new leash for life,” Richard said.
Gunner and Richard’s harassing experiment was videotaped because the Florida Wildlife Association and the fstop Foundation placed cameras to track wildlife in the area.
“I’m happy with their work,” Richard said of the FWF. “And it lets people know we can live with wildlife.”
Meredith Budd, a FWF representative in Southwest Florida, says Wilbanks Street is very receptive to cameras.
In total, 17 cameras from 15 cameras will be placed in Estero’s backyards, the two organizations called Landscape Sharing.
“Humans and wildlife are both inherently the same landscape, and homeowners who live in nature and the surrounding area need to understand the value of the animals around them,” Budd said. “While this video was shocking, and I’m glad everyone is fine, I’m glad it’s a learning opportunity for the importance of respecting the game and taking precautions to ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone.”
The association regularly inspects the cameras, Budd said, and this was the first time such an event had appeared.
Cameras only store a certain number of photos and videos before the memory cards fill up and run on battery power, so it’s a bit laborious to keep up with everything. Budd said he would be happy to procure solar power and cloud storage for the cameras, but the funding is not there.
Nevertheless, the cameras show the dynamics that enjoys nature in the garden and between wildlife.
“It’s interesting to see the timestamps of when there are people out there and we share this landscape – just not usually at once,” Budd said.
There are wildlife in southwest Florida that share the same space that people use, and Budd says it’s important to know what precautions are needed to mitigate risk or conflict.
Richard told him and Gunner that this was a happy ending story.
Tip: Be sure to keep your dog on a leash and keep it 10 feet from the water.
Follow Karl Schneider on Twitter: @karlstartswithk
This article originally appeared on the Fort Myers News-Press page: a Florida man who rescued his dog from an alligator shares a puppy update