A dog named Nixon is sowing his wild oats in east Belleville and west Shiloh, roaming fields and neighborhoods, flirting with females, eating at the homes of compassionate strangers and managing to survive freezing temperatures for nearly two months.
He's also outsmarting a small army of residents who have been trying to catch him and return him to his owner.
People plot strategy and post Nixon sightings on Facebook and Nextdoor, often describing how the white Akita-husky mix with a black and brown face and three brown splotches on one side bolts when they try to make contact.
"He's a wild and crazy dog," said Gay Arnold, 57, of Belleville, an administrator on the Facebook page "Lost and Missing Pets of Belleville, IL." "He's not feral. He's had owners since he was a puppy. But he's more feral-acting than a feral dog. He won't stop. He keeps running even if you call him by name."
Never miss a local story.
Arnold is a U.S. Department of Defense employee who is passionate about dog rescue. She has spotted Nixon more than 20 times in neighborhoods such as Chenot Place, Old Lincolnshire, Villa Madero and Eagles Landing. She set up traps in several places.
"He won't even come to his owner," Arnold said. "It's like he's on this rambunctious mission. And with so many females going into heat, it's only going to get worse."
Nixon is about a year old. Julio and Debbie Galan, of Fairview Heights, bought him from a breeder and named him after President Richard Nixon. (Their previous dogs were Ike and Reagan.) The couple gave Nixon to their son, Cesar, when he moved to Belleville in late December.
The dog lasted only one day at his new digs, causing some to wonder if he was homesick or just disoriented.
"We were on our first walk, and I noticed his harness was loose," said Cesar Galan, 28, who lives in St. Clair Village apartments, off Illinois 161, and works at Papa Murphy's Pizza in Swansea. "I tried to adjust it, and he took off."
Nixon raced toward the woods lining Loop Creek. Galan ran after him, but fell on a slope and lost sight of the determined dog.
In early January, Galan posted a notice on the Facebook pages "Lost and Missing Pets of Belleville, IL" and "Lost and Missing Pets of St. Clair County, Illinois." The information also made its way to Nextdoor, an online network for area neighborhoods.
Since that time, Nixon has turned animal-loving residents into dog detectives.
"Saw him off Lebanon Ave and Villa Madero subdivision headed towards Hartman," one follower wrote. Another reported that Nixon hangs out on Cresthaven Drive late at night. "Doesn't appear any thinner, so someone is feeding him," she said.
That follower pondered a strategy of cooking steaks on the grill and serving them with sauce from Andria's Steak House in O'Fallon to tempt Nixon. Other residents have sent out teenage brigades to look for the escapee and cruised neighborhoods with hot dogs for bait.
Those kinds of reports both comfort and worry Galan, who noted that Nixon is a growing puppy. If he gets too big, his collar could choke him. He also might start liking his new life better than his old one.
"I'm thankful that a lot of people are leaving food out for him," Galan said. "He's not starving. "But that also gives him a reason not to come home."
Beyond social media, Galan has distributed fliers to churches, gas stations, stores and Belleville East High School. He has spent hours searching by foot and vehicle and saw the dog himself several times.
"He'll either ignore me, or he'll come up to me and wag his tail like he wants to play, and then he'll run off again," Galan said. "He's fast and stubborn. He doesn't want me to interrupt his fun time. There also might be a couple of girls around for him."
Rumor has it that Nixon is interested in a certain German shepherd in town, as well as a Greyhound mix. But clearly he wants nothing to do with humans.
"He's very skittish around people," Galan said.
Maryanne Martin, 38, of Shiloh, learned about Nixon from "Lost and Missing Pets of Belleville, IL" when trying to find her stepson Christian's dog, Elsa, a German shepherd.
That dog was hit and killed by a car on Feb. 8, but before the accident, the Facebook page gave the family hope and a sense of community support.
"It's really such a neat example of people banding together and trying to help find lost dogs through social media," said Martin, a compliance officer with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Martin plans to repurpose signs that her family made for Elsa to spread the word about Nixon. She fears for him staying in the wild too long, given that coyotes also live in the area.
"Praying we get him back home to you, Cesar," she wrote on Facebook.