NEW PORT RICHEY — It was an expensive dog.
Romeo, a 9-week-old red-nosed pit bull, cost Jennifer Kandarge $350 on Craigslist. He cost Dennis J. Casanova 14 hours in jail and $1,000 bail.
Casanova, 27, and Kandarge, 44, met on the eve of the Fourth of July at the Emperors Gentleman's Club, where they spent the night dancing and drinking. About 2:30 a.m., Kandarge invited Casanova back to her place.
At her house in Holiday, Kandarge told Casanova she had to go to the bathroom and would be right back. He said he had to get something from his truck outside.
But when she returned from the bathroom, he was missing, and so was Romeo.
Kandarge called the Sheriff's Office. She thought Casanova was a friend of the people she was out with, but now it turned out they had just met him, too.
She spent 10 sleepless hours not knowing where Romeo was or if he was okay. She didn't want to upset her 12-year-old daughter if she put out that he was missing. The pup blended right in with her family: her daughter, a chihuahua and a Labrador mix.
She had planned to track Casanova down on Facebook, but it didn't come to that.
The next morning, she received a text message: "Hey I'm sorry I was wasted made a mad mistake! Ill being your dog."
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When Casanova headed to his truck outside Kandarge's home that night, he said, the puppy followed him to the door. So he picked him up and walked out with him.
"I don't even know — I was just drunk and wasn't thinking," he later told the Times. "I had no reason for it."
After he got to his New Port Richey home and still had the dog, he said, he didn't want to drive back because he was drunk. So he went to bed, with Romeo sleeping by his side.
Waking up and seeing the dog, Casanova panicked, realizing he had stolen this woman's dog. He texted her immediately.
They arranged a transfer in Tarpon Springs. He told her he didn't know why he took Romeo, but that it was wrong of him and he was sorry.
"He did the right thing," Kandarge said. She says she told the Sheriff's Office to drop it.
But the deputies were not as forgiving to Casanova.
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In 2000, when he was 19, Casanova crashed into a police car in Pinellas County and sped off. After a 2-mile chase at more than 85 mph, the officer mistook Casanova's cell phone for a gun and shot him three times in the shoulder, neck and mouth. After reconstructive surgery, Casanova served 6 1/2 years for assaulting an officer.
On Saturday, Casanova called back the deputy who had been trying to reach him about Romeo and met him at the Pasco Sheriff's Office substation. There, Casanova was arrested and charged with grand theft.
"Regardless if someone returns the stolen property, they still committed a crime," said Kevin Doll, a spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. "If a crime was committed, we have to investigate. And if there's probable cause, we have to make the arrest."
Casanova knows what he did was stupid, but he also thinks it was stupid that he went to jail for it. He posted bail on Sunday.
A personal trainer who is studying for a degree in sports medicine, Casanova said going back to jail was a "wake-up call." When he got home to his 13-month-old daughter, he vowed never to drink again.
"I can't get into anything minor, even something so little and petty like this," he said. "The police are going to take it to the full extent because of my history."
Kandarge felt bad, too. She says she was just grateful to have the dog back unharmed.
"It sucks that it had to escalate," said Kandarge, an MRI technician. "Everybody makes mistakes. When they do the right thing, they should get a little bit of mercy."
Isaac Arnsdorf can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6232.