Published September 19, 2012
Stephen Gustafson says he didn't think twice about running to rescue his dog when she was dangling from the jaws of an alligator last Friday afternoon in Lake County. Fla.
Gustafson, 66, was trimming branches on an oak tree when he heard his 13-pound West Highland Terrier, named Bounce, let out a "yelp."
"She let out a really high pitched, what I call 'yelp,' and I looked up and the gator had her in his mouth and was taking her far out," he told FoxNews.com. "I knew if I needed to react, it had to be quick."
Gustafson took off running across the backyard of his Florida home for the lake and wrestled the alligator to save Bounce.
"I saw the dog moving into the water and ran down the short hill in my backyard and just took a flying leap and landed flat on the back of the alligator," he told FoxNews.com.
Gustafson said it was about a thirty-second struggle before he was able to free Bounce. "We were all under water," he said, "My main objective was to get the dog to the surface for air."
The alligator reportedly let go of the dog and turned towards Gustafson's hand. "He didn't bite and hold. It was more of a snapping. He went to bite again and his jaws came close but I grabbed his jaw and pinned it shut and down to the ground," he said.
The Iowa-native tells FoxNews.com that as a child he grew up around animals and was always holding snakes. "I'm comfortable around animals, I knew I had to hold the snout closed. Once you hold the mouth closed, it can't open up. It just doesn't have the strength," he said.
Bounce's fight for life didn't end as the alligator, defeated, swam away. The dog was still about 8-feet from shore and was "out of juice," Gustafson said. When he was able to retrieve Bounce, she was suffering from water in her lungs and needed a few stitches from the scuffle.
As for Gustafson, he suffered a few puncture wounds on his hand, and bruises on his thigh, but he says he'd do it in again in a heartbeat for his dog.
The alligator was eventually trapped and is being preserved for Gustafson and his family. "It's gong to be an heirloom for future generations to see what their crazy great-grandfather did," he said.
As for Bounce, Gustafson says he plans on keeping a closer eye on her when she is roaming the backyard from now on.