Not even a truck could keep Taz down.
More than a week after witnesses say the two-year-old male Rottweiler was struck by a Ram truck while crossing Pershing Drive in Playa del Rey, he is back to walking again, even without the use of one leg. Passersby say the driver of the truck and a passenger allegedly fled the scene of the Aug. 7 accident without checking on the dog or calling police.
The afternoon collision at Pershing and Manitoba Street left Taz bleeding from the mouth and nose, in addition to a serious leg injury, lung contusions, and superficial bumps and scratches.
Shockingly, the young dog suffered no broken bones due to the impact, said Jill Winter, president of the non-profit CageFree K9 Rescue, which is handling the care of the injured pet. Although Taz is showing strong signs of recovery, the most serious of his injuries is nerve damage to his front left leg, which he is unable to use, Winter said.
“He’s doing better. When we originally got him he couldn’t stand up or walk,” Winter said. “He’s able to walk on three legs now and we will start him on physical therapy this week.”
If there is no improvement with the nerves over the next month, the leg will be amputated, said Winter, who estimates there is a 90 percent chance the procedure will be required. She said the injured leg currently acts as a hindrance, and if amputated, she noted that many dogs can function well on just three legs.
The story of Taz has seemed to hit a soft spot for those who encountered the hurt animal on the Playa del Rey street. Local resident Beth Brown, who posted flyers about the accident on the following day, said the 13-year-old boy whose family owned Taz told her he named his pet after the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character, seeing how he would go in circles when barking.
Witnesses and passersby say they were surprised to see that Taz had survived and are relieved to learn he’s recovering, but also expressed frustration at the actions of the male driver and male passenger involved. Playa del Rey resident Courtney Kinker was returning home from Los Angeles International Airport when she saw the unleashed dog coming toward her on Pershing and slammed on her breaks, narrowly missing him. She then saw the Ram truck driving past accidentally hit Taz, who was still in the street.
“Honestly, he looked like he was dead; I don’t know how he survived this,” Kinker said of the injured animal.
Kinker described the incident as clearly an accident, noting that the dog was blocked behind her car before he was hit, but she did not see the truck stop at the scene to call police or provide any information. The truck’s front license plate was knocked off at the scene due to the impact, witnesses said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind (the driver) didn’t see that dog; my car was completely blocking (Taz),” said Kinker, who called 9-1-1 after seeing the dog alive.
Chong Mok said he was riding his bicycle back to Redondo Beach when he saw Taz lying on the street barely moving.
“I honestly didn’t think he was going to survive because he was breathing erratically,” Mok recalled. “I was pretty devastated at that point and I really didn’t want to watch this dog die in front of us.”
Other passersby stopped at the scene and after seeing the driver return to pick up the license plate, some followed the vehicle and took pictures of the truck and two men. The men appear to be smirking in one of the photos.
Witnesses who came across the injured pet stress that the crash was an accident, but they are disturbed that the truck occupants failed to remain at the scene until police arrived and appeared to show no remorse for what happened.
“I think it’s a difficult scenario… but you have a responsibility as a human to report something and make it right to the best of your ability,” Kinker said.
Brown said police informed her that the accident is considered a civil case and despite some evidence, including witnesses and photographs, the owner of the dog would have to press charges because animals are identified as property in traffic accident investigations. After community members helped track down the owner of Taz, Laurie Rizzo, she told The Argonaut that she intends to press charges in connection with the alleged hit and run.
Rizzo, who lives with her 9-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son and has two other daughters living in Oregon, said she is humbled by the support of those who stopped to see that Taz received the appropriate care.
“I think it was remarkable that people cared that much,” said Rizzo, who works as a paralegal with the state bar.
Brown believes the response by people at the scene and the rescue foundation that took him in helped save his life.
“It’s amazing how many people stepped up so quickly to help,” she said.
Rizzo says she lost her home in Pasadena two years ago and her family has recently been staying with friends. Taz was being watched by a friend in Playa del Rey when he took off from the home before the accident, and Rizzo said she has since relinquished ownership because she can’t afford the treatment costs.
“It was real hard to give him up; he was our baby,” said Rizzo, adding that her son was distraught in hearing of the accident. “Taz was part of our family and we miss him terribly.”
Rizzo explained that the Rottweiler was given to her children as a Christmas present in 2009 and he became very protective of the family, regularly sleeping with the kids, who were real close with their pet.
“He looks rough on the outside but everybody loves Taz,” Rizzo said. “He’s a great dog and he’s very protective.”
Those who have recently come to know Taz are not surprised to see how he has fought through the injuries and is on his way to recovery.
“He’s a brave boy; he’s strong and he’s alert,” Brown said.
Winter agreed. “I would say he’s a survivor. He’s a strong, tough dog who has the will to survive and he wants to live.
“He took a pretty big hit but he made it through and he’s lucky he’s alive.”
Taz is currently under the care of CageFree K9 Rescue, which rehabilitates sick and injured animals and helps find them homes. Taz’s veterinary care up to this point, approximately $1,100 has been funded entirely by donations, and Winter said the rescue foundation is seeking other donations to fund future care including physical therapy (about $2,000) and potential leg amputation ($3,000). After Taz has recovered from medical care, the foundation hopes to find him a home.
Information, (310) 202-6900, www.cagefreecanines.com/rescue.asp, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rizzo expressed confidence that Taz will live a full life at his new home but hopefully not forget his former family that misses him dearly.
“I know Taz will do better and when he sees all of us I think it will be like this happy homecoming,” she said. “We can’t wait to go see him.”