ST. PETERSBURG — The hard-shell blue suitcase was floating in a canal south of downtown when the boat rental worker fished it from the water.
Inside, the body of a black and gray pit bull appeared severely beaten.
Police launched an animal cruelty investigation, and tracked down the suitcase owner using a number written on the luggage. She said she had thrown it into a community trash bin months ago.
Police issued an alert about the grisly discovery Thursday morning, noting that the luggage owner was not a suspect.
A detective canvassing the area, near LottoBoat rentals at 100 14th Ave. S, found a couple who said the dog belonged to them.
Their story was not what he expected.
The dog's name was Beloved.
Samuel Orsini, 34, and Gina Glass, 27, said Beloved was killed Wednesday by a hit-and-run driver on Fourth Street S near Bartlett Park.
She was on a leash but got away when Orsini turned to check on his beagle, Boomer, he said. He carried Beloved back to their apartment, but by then her heart had stopped.
Glass and Orsini both live on disability. Glass has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, she said, and Orsini is mentally disabled.
They called the SPCA, she said, but didn't have the $55 fee the agency charges to collect a dead animal.
They wanted to bury Beloved on their apartment's property, but their landlord said no. He told them to put her body in the Dumpster, they said.
"I have too much respect for my animal just to throw her away like she was yesterday's trash," Glass said.
So they came up with a new plan. They fished the suitcase out of the trash bin at their apartment on Sixth Street S. They put the dog's body inside and carried it under the bridge that crosses a small canal beneath 18th Avenue S. They filled the suitcase with water and hoped Beloved would sink to the bottom.
"I wanted to put her in where she was happy, which was over by the swamp," Glass said.
They didn't think they were doing anything wrong. They've seen dead squirrels in the water, and eventually, Glass thought, the suitcase would pop open and Beloved's body would be eaten by an alligator.
"For the time being, she could be in that suitcase and be in a happy place," Glass said.
Glass and Orsini said they found Beloved as a stray and took her in when no one else would.
"She was full of love and happiness," Glass said.
Police say they're waiting for the results of an SPCA necropsy to confirm the couple's story, but they don't expect to seek criminal charges.