One cute and quick dog has Lakewood Ranch residents from Esplanade to Mill Creek saying the same thing, “You little Rascal!”
The apt nickname came after repeated sightings of the dog running loose through several East County neighborhoods.
Rascal was first spotted on Nov. 9, 2023, and Azario resident Melinda Warren started tracking the sightings around Thanksgiving. Rascal has since been spotted in Esplanade, Sweetwater, Bridgewater, Lorraine Lakes and Mill Creek.
Warren set a trap on her front porch, and Rascal took the bait on Jan. 23. The shaggy King Charles spaniel mix was brought to Bishop Animal Shelter for a wellness check and to get paperwork so he could be adopted.
Rascal was brought to his foster home on Jan. 29 and escaped the following day when he ran out an inadvertently opened door, and once outside, he made it through a gate that had been left open by a delivery truck.
“It’s a reminder that some dogs are runners,” Warren said. “Anytime there’s an access to outside the home, they should be put in a crate or tethered to a human being.”
The foster hoped to adopt Rascal, and Warren said she feels terrible. Part of the problem is that Rascal is used to running.
“What happens when these dogs are loose, their senses are heightened to begin with,” Theresa Lash said. “When they’re in flight mode, they won’t go to anyone, including their owners or people they know.”
Warren reached out to Lash because the former detective and bounty hunter now volunteers her time to find missing pets. Her advice was to not chase Rascal because it will only make him run further away.
Lash said the best way to get a loose dog to come to you is to sit on the ground with food in hand. Even escape artists like Rascal are still dogs. Rascal was spotted on Feb. 3 near the golf course at Azario where hotdogs were being served.
Neighbors fear Rascal could be eaten by an alligator or, now that he’s wearing a harness, get tangled and trapped in the woods, so they’re trying to bait him back with traps and treats. Warren still has the original trap on her porch, and is adding two more.
While Warren is running the rescue operation, she has about a dozen people in her search party. They've reported 24 real-time sightings. Since an Apple air tag was attached to his collar, it has pinged four times, but no one’s been able to catch that little rascal yet.
Warren said an air tag is what they had on hand while they waited for the GPS collar to be delivered, but it’s not a good method for tracking dogs. When the air tag pings, it’s pinging on the nearest iPhone within 30 feet, not the actual tag. The dog keeps moving, and the ping leads back to where the phone was when the tag connected to it.
A trap is what caught Rascal the first time and is what Warren believes will catch him again. He’s fast, can maneuver through small spaces and knows the area better than any human could.
“When you’ve got a runner like this, he’s like a ghost,” she said. “He pops up and disappears, and he covers a lot of ground.”
Correction: This article has been updated to with the correct number of Apple air tag pings.
Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.