The two friends met early on Sept. 20 to ride their 21-speed bikes on the Suncoast Trail. But this trip would be unlike others that Bill Sharon and Pat Ryan have taken every Sunday for the last five years.
An hour into the ride, as they headed 25 miles north of the trailhead at Lutz Lake Fern Road, a chocolate-colored pit bull rushed out of a grassy area chock full of trees, barking and flashing its teeth.
"We picked up the pace a little bit," said Ryan, 56. "We figured the dog would run out of interest."
After about 100 yards, the dog turned in front of Sharon, 57.
"It's almost as if he sensed me speeding up, and he essentially ran into my front tire like a tackle," Sharon said.
Sharon went flying over the handlebars of his bike. He landed on his upper back, breaking his collarbone, scapula and three ribs. He also suffered a partially collapsed lung.
He spent two nights at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.
Sharon filed a complaint with Pasco County Animal Services, and now officers are looking for the dog and its owner, who could face a fine.
"A lot of people enjoy that trail," Sharon said. "I wouldn't want to see anyone else injured like I am."
While Sharon recuperates, animal control investigators plan to revisit the trail with Ryan to find out where the attack occurred.
The dog's owner could be issued a citation, said Kevin Mallory, Animal Services supervisor.
"We've had problems on the Suncoast with animals running loose," he said. "It's about several times a year."
The fine is $150 for a first-time offense of an aggressive animal. The price jumps to $310 for a second offense. (A $13 fee for court costs would be tacked onto either fine.)
Mallory said making sure loose animals don't interfere with trail users is an ongoing problem.
"It's just as hard to enforce people to keep animals behind as it is for the Sheriff's Office to keep people from speeding," he said. "We try to step up enforcement as it occurs, because we hope to deter this."
Sharon, a health care consultant who lives in Tampa and doesn't own any pets, isn't pursuing any legal action, but says he wants the dog's owner to keep the animal under control.
"I would be satisfied if the homeowner was fined," he said. "Advise them to keep his or her dog fenced in the future."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.