Sean Ricciardi was driving north near Sarasota on Saturday afternoon when he saw something unusual: a dog running along Interstate 75.
This wasn't just any dog. It was Doc, the dog that helped Hillsborough County sheriff's agricultural unit Detective Lowell Cain through a tough time. In June 2011, Cain's father died, his dog died, and Cain got lung cancer.
Sheriff David Gee, his brother-in-law, gave him Doc as a gift. Cain beat the cancer — thanks partially, he says, to Doc, who became the agriculture unit's unofficial mascot. Whenever the Sheriff's Office needed to herd stray cows, Doc came to the rescue.
Saturday morning, Cain was driving back from Englewood with Doc in a trailer behind him. Somehow, Doc wiggled through a small opening, leaped from the truck doing 60 mph and survived. Cain didn't realize it until later.
Ricciardi knew none of this. The 22-year-old actor from Tampa just knew there was a dog running next to the highway. He pulled over and chased Doc, maybe a mile, until he found him cowering behind a house.
Ricciardi petted the dog. "Come on," he said. The dog followed. They stopped at a gas station for water, and walked in front of a surveillance camera.
The dog had a collar, but no tags. He was microchipped, but the chip company didn't have any information available on him. Ricciardi got the dog medical care and food and called animal organizations Saturday. None had heard about a missing dog meeting the description.
Wednesday, he called again. A woman told him the Sheriff's Office was looking for a dog. "He's been in the news," she said.
The Sheriff's Office had launched a media assault to find Doc. The video of Ricciardi and Doc at the gas station had circulated, but Ricciardi doesn't own a television.
At a news conference Wednesday with a reunited Doc and Cain, Ricciardi said he never thought twice about pulling over for a dog. "If it was my dog, I'd want someone to do the same thing," he said.
A $1,000 reward for returning Doc, he said, was a bonus. He didn't know about it until Cain told him Wednesday.
Cain hasn't figured out how Doc got out, but said it will be the last time Doc rides in that trailer.
As the news conference ended, television cameras closed in on Doc. He did not appear to like it. He looked like he wanted to go for a run.
"Stay," Cain said. Doc stayed.
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]