A Georgia man insists he’s more animal lover than alligator wrestler, but when it comes to keeping his dogs safe, David Quarterman is ready to fight anybody or anything — even a 9-foot-long gator.
On Sept. 21, Quarterman, who’s 5’5” and weighs 150 pounds, sprang into action and punched a giant alligator in the eye after the animal grabbed Sheba, his 70-pound Labrador retriever.
It was a rescue of cinematic proportions in a creek near Savannah, Georgia.
“When that gator raised up out of the water with my dog in his mouth, he looked like something out of a Hollywood horror movie,” the 58-year-old building contractor told PEOPLE. “My dogs are like my children and I’d do anything to protect them.”
Every morning just before dawn, Quarterman takes Sheba and his other dogs – Cush and Cody – to play fetch at a recreational area near his home. The day of the alligator attack started off normal for Quarterman and his dogs: he tossed the ball and they retrieved it, over and over again.
“I wore ’em out and they were hot so they ran to the water to cool off,” he said of his pets.
Quarterman was putting the ball in his truck when he heard one of the dogs let out a painful yelp. “The hair on the back of my neck raised up because I knew what was happening,” he recalled.
Dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and boots, Quarterman began running as fast as he could, hollering and cussing all the way. He ran into the water nearly up to his chest when the reptile – with Sheba in its jaws – popped up within an arms length of him, he said.
Instinctively, he punched the alligator in the eye.
“I didn’t have time to think,” said Quarterman when asked if he felt like a hero. “That adrenaline thing came over me. I think most people would have done the same thing.”
The gator had Sheba in its teeth for “just a few seconds,” the dog’s owner said. “If [the gator] had been another foot deeper in the water, he would’ve taken Sheba under and drowned her [in a death roll].”
Sheba suffered puncture wounds to her stomach, back and ear. She was treated by a local veterinarian and is currently recovering. Meanwhile, a trapper is trying to catch the gator.
“I’m a conservation guy and all that, but some young ‘un will be killed down there if that gator stays in that creek,” Quarterman said. “Since it happened I’ve heard people say that [the gator] is ornery because everybody’s been feeding him.”