Florida man wrestles his puppy from alligator's jaws after the reptile drags it into water

A puppy has escaped the jaws of death after its elderly owner wrestled the animal from an alligator in a dramatic encounter in Florida.

Richard Wilbanks, 74, was walking his three-month-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Gunner, when an alligator, lurking in his backyard pond, rapidly emerged and snatched the puppy.

The 74-year-old immediately chased the alligator into the water and began wrestling with the reptile. After a short struggle, Wilbanks managed to pry open its jaws, allowing Gunner to scamper to safety. 

"We were just out walking by the pond and it came out of the water like a missile," Wilbanks recalled to CNN. "I never thought an alligator could be that fast."

The 74-year-old owner said the adrenaline kicked in instantly, and he automatically responded by chasing the alligator into the pond.

Wilbanks said his hands were "chewed up" after grappling with the reptile, and he sought medical attention for a tetanus shot.

Gunner escaped relatively unharmed and is recovering from a puncture wound to the belly.

The dramatic rescue, which occurred south of the city of Fort Myers, was captured by surveillance cameras due to a partnership between the Florida Wildlife Federation and the fSTOP Foundation, CNN reports.

Wilbanks said he doesn't want the alligator removed from the pond or put down.

"They're part of nature and part of our lives," he said.

His wife Louise agrees, telling local media that the couple have no hard feelings towards the gator.

"It gives us a new appreciation. 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," she said.

Wilbanks still takes Gunner walking, but keeps the puppy on a leash - and a few metres from the water's edge. 

"Our pets, they're just like family to us," he said.