TAMPA — To save Lizbeth the dog from the jaws of an alligator Thursday morning, Tom Martino pulled out his gun and fired around the thrashing in the Hillsborough River.
When the Jack Russell terrier got free from the gator's grip, Martino fished Lizbeth from the water and gave her mouth-to-snout resuscitation.
The 15-pound, black-and-white dog is being treated at a veterinarian's office for puncture wounds and lung complications from almost drowning.
"I just pulled my gun out and started blasting," Martino said. "I didn't really want to hit the alligator, but I wanted to scare the damn thing to let her go."
The alligator was trapped by authorities Thursday night.
The attack happened about 11 a.m. as Martino, 57, was walking with Lizbeth in back of his central Tampa house on the river.
At first, Martino thought the commotion was Lizbeth tangling with a duck. But it was a 5-foot alligator instead.
Nervous about shooting the dog, Martino instead fired his .357-caliber handgun around the alligator until it released Lizbeth and swam away.
He retrieved the dog and started giving CPR, breathing into her nostrils.
"She was just like dead, you know?" he said. "I was petrified for the dog, because she's like a baby to me."
But then the dog spit out water and began breathing again. Martino and his wife rushed Lizbeth to Florida Veterinary Specialists, 3000 Busch Lake Blvd.
When admitted, Lizbeth had lung problems, along with two puncture wounds on her back and teeth marks on her belly.
Her condition improved overnight, Martino's wife said Friday morning.
"The doctors are actually surprised she's doing better," Karen Martino said. "She's breathing well enough that they're going to try to do the wounds today."
The staff was also concerned about infections because the 9-year-old dog had been at the clinic last week after acting lethargic, Tom Martino said.
He asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to set a trap; the gator was caught around 6 p.m.
"It never went for his trap, but he threw a line out there and snatched it," Martino said.
Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Stephanie Wang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.