HOLLYWOOD — Ron Katz took his Havanese mix, Rudy, to Hollywood’s dog beach, letting the 17-pound Toto lookalike run free in the sand. Soon his precious little dog would be dead.
Within five minutes, Rudy was pinned under the tire of a truck driven by a lifeguard supervisor.
Now Katz is learning to live a life without Rudy, a rescue dog he adopted five years ago.
Never again will they kayak through the mangroves together or venture out on neighborhood walks.
“He was probably closer to me than anyone else in the world,” Katz said. “He was my sweet little boy, my companion and my best friend.”
Rudy was running through the sand at Hollywood’s dog beach on July 7 about 3:30 pm when he was crushed under the front passenger tire of a truck driven by Marine Safety Patrol Capt. Leo Yost, the city confirmed.
Rudy, who would have turned 7 in August, died on the way to the animal hospital, Katz says.
Yost was driving a city truck through the dog beach at a slow rate of speed when Rudy ran up and started chasing the truck and biting at the tire, said Joann Hussey, a Hollywood spokeswoman.
“He was slowly traveling south along the fence that separates the beach from the dunes when a small, unleashed dog came running at his vehicle,” Hussey said. “He hit the brakes and because of the sand soil, the vehicle coasted forward slightly.”
Yost came to a stop, but the dog’s body was pinned under the wheel.
Katz, who was sitting nearby but distracted by a phone call from his brother, says he heard people screaming, “Your dog! Your dog!”
He says he looked over and saw a crowd rushing toward the truck. Then he saw Rudy.
“I saw my dog crushed under the passenger wheel,” Katz said. “The guy stopped right on top of him.”
Frantic, he ran to Rudy, cursing at the driver to back up. Yost backed up, Katz says, but stayed in the truck.
Katz lifted up a limp Rudy and cradled him in his arms.
“He had blood coming out of his mouth and his nose,” Katz said. “He was not awake. When I picked him up he jerked his head and that was it. He didn’t make one noise. He died 10 minutes later.”
Yost, who could not be reached for comment, is an animal lover and has been distraught ever since, according to one city official.
“He feels terrible that this tragic accident happened,” Hussey said.
Katz, of Hollywood, says one witness told him he thought the truck was going too fast.
Hollywood requires emergency vehicles driving on the beach to not exceed 25 mph, even in an emergency.
“Yost indicated he was driving very slowly, around 5 mph,” Hussey said.
The incident is under investigation, but Hussey says there’s no way to confirm Yost’s speed that day.
Jim McCrady, vice president of the United States Lifesaving Association for the Southeast Region, says he’s heard of lifeguards accidentally running over sunbathers, but never a dog.
“I don’t know that this has happened anywhere else in the country,” he said. “I will go out on a limb and say this has never happened before.”
Dogs are known for chasing trucks even at the dog beach, said McCrady, a former lifeguard supervisor in Fort Lauderdale.
“When I worked in Fort Lauderdale, the dogs chased the trucks so we just drove slow. I’d come to a complete stop until I could see the dog.”
Hollywood’s dog beach sits between Pershing and Custer streets.
Hollywood doesn’t require owners to keep their dogs on a leash at the dog beach, but the rules do require owners to be responsible for their dog at all times. Hollywood resident Beth Witherspoon was horrified to hear a lifeguard was driving on the dog beach.
“Of course a dog is going to get run over,” said Witherspoon, who takes her dog to the beach every Sunday. “They shouldn’t drive on the sand through the dog beach. They need to get over on Surf Road and go around. There’s no reason for them to drive through that dog beach.”
Fort Lauderdale resident Dimitri Laskaris and his girlfriend were at the dog beach that day with their puppy.
“If I do go back, I’m going to keep him close,” he said. “It all happened so fast. It was awful to see that. The last thing you need to worry about is your dog getting hit at the dog beach.”
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Hollywood resident Wendy Schugar-Martin, a frequent visitor of the dog beach, says she plans to keep an even closer eye on her dogs when they head to the beach after hearing what happened to Rudy.
“That breaks my heart,” she said. “That poor family. Poor little Rudy.”
The day Rudy died, Katz raced Rudy to a vet in Fort Lauderdale to confirm he was gone.
“I spent about an hour in the room with him saying goodbye,” he said. “I hurt. Picked him up and held him. Gave him kisses. I apologized to him for what happened. Told him I loved him and I missed him.”
Katz says he and his wife can’t bring themselves to get rid of Rudy’s dog bed or leash.
“Life is very empty without Rudy,” he said. “I took a walk on the route I usually take with Rudy and it was like a nightmare. Just a reminder that he’s not here anymore.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan