Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Man and dog spent 15 years together before hit-and-run crash separated them

CLEARWATER — Edward Ortwein lay dazed and badly injured in a roadway.

The ex-trucker, then 77, had been taking his dog for a walk about 7 a.m. March 20 when he was struck by a car that left the scene.

Somehow, he pulled out his cellphone and called 911.

"Me and my dog was just hit by a car," he said.

He could not move, Mr. Ortwein told the dispatcher as he lay near the intersection of South Drive and East Drive. Before he spoke another word about his own condition, Mr. Ortwein said, "I don't know where my dog is."

He had always adored Brutus, the 15-year-old miniature pinscher he had bought as a puppy not long after retiring to Clearwater. They walked for miles every day, sometimes several times a day.

"Brutus was the leader," said Rick Ortwein, 45, Mr. Ortwein's son. "Wherever Brutus wanted to go was where they went. If Brutus wanted to go home, they went home."

The hit-and-run collision was not the first medical incident Mr. Ortwein had suffered while walking his dog. Around 2001, his family said, he lay on the grass as rescue workers attended to him during a heart attack.

The whole time, Mr. Ortwein never let go of the leash.

Their walks had grown shorter in recent years. Brutus had gone blind in one eye and had kidney problems.

After the hit-and-run crash in March, emergency medical personnel took Mr. Ortwein to Bayfront Medical Center in critical condition. He had sustained numerous internal injuries, a broken pelvis and a broken nose and teeth. The person who hit him hasn't been found.

Despite Mr. Ortwein's fears, Brutus escaped injury. A neighbor found the dog wandering around after the crash and returned it to Mr. Ortwein's home.

•••

Mr. Ortwein grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. For most of his career he drove a truck for a company, hauling sides of beef and produce around New York state.

He and his wife, Grace, had seven children. Rick Ortwein, a mechanic, describes his father as a "joke-around kind of guy" who bought old cars for his children, then helped fix them up. He was a good bowler who formed a league team with his four sons, the Five-Os.

Mr. Ortwein retired to Clearwater with his wife around 1996, at age 62. The couple brought a puppy into their home, a teacup-sized miniature pinscher.

"That dog was my father's life," said Linda Ventura, 56, Mr. Ortwein's daughter. "He wouldn't go anywhere until he had taken the dog for a walk. He said the dog always came first."

Miniature pinschers are sometimes mistakenly called "miniature Dobermans" because their rust-and-black markings resemble their cousin the Doberman pinscher. They might weigh 8 to 10 pounds, but Brutus weighed more than that.

"He spoiled him rotten," Rick Ortwein said.

When Brutus started having health problems, he put the dog on a diet, including carrots, and shelled out thousands in medical expenses.

Grace Ortwein, his wife of 57 years, died in 2009. That left Mr. Ortwein and Brutus at home.

"Ever since then, that's all he had," his daughter said.

•••

After the collision, Mr. Ortwein lay in the hospital, his focus fading in and out. Sometimes he seemed delusional, as when he told family members he had just won a lot of money. Brutus stayed in the apartment alone, with Ventura, her husband and the neighbor stopping in to care for him.

"He really missed my dad and he went into a depression," Rick Ortwein said.

Two months after the crash, Brutus lost the sight in his good eye.

He stopped eating. Then he stopped drinking water.

In May, a veterinarian told Ventura the dog's kidneys were shutting down. He would not last more than a day or two. Ventura had Brutus put to sleep.

Two weeks later, on June 8, Mr. Ortwein died, too.

He had not been able to recover from his injuries and died at a rehabilitation center.

He was 78.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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