Bridge Street loses its Buddy and beloved mascot

Buddy Lee
Buddy Lee spent his entire life wandering around Bridge Street and Bradenton Beach. - Submitted

BRADENTON BEACH – Bradenton Beach and Bridge Street lost a good buddy last week when Buddy Lee, the 14-year-old purebred tick beagle, passed away.

Buddy had to be put to sleep on Monday, Nov. 5. A memorial marker erected in his honor now graces the front yard of Claudia Lee and Rip VanFossen’s home on Third Street South.

“I bought the dog for Claudia so she’d have a companion. We got him as a pup and he spent his whole life here. This is the only place he ever lived,” VanFossen said on Wednesday.

“We got in accident Labor Day weekend. The airbag went off in my truck and blinded him and he lost his hearing from the explosion of it. He couldn’t hear and he couldn’t see and his blood work was bad so we had to put him to sleep Monday. We took him to get his eye taken out because we knew he was in pain, but the vet called back and said he’s just in too bad of shape to go through the surgery,” VanFossen explained.

“Buddy was a good dog. He was around here for 14 years. He never was tied and he went everyplace he wanted to go. He just went his own way at any given time. He’d sit in the middle of the street. He’d let people honk their horns and he wouldn’t move – he’d make them drive around him. It was amazing how many people really know who he was. I can honestly say he probably had more friends than I had out here. He made his rounds around here for a long time,” said VanFossen, who’s well-known as a local plumber.

Buddy Motorcycle
Buddy loved to ride with Rip on his motorcycle. Submitted | Rip VanFossen

“All the people at the Bridge Tender Inn knew him because he lived around the corner. He was quite the dog. He went through four hurricanes, he loved to ride on the motorcycle and he once made friends with a goat. I don’t think we’ll ever see another one like him. Because of all the growth, nobody can have a dog untied like that again.”

After finishing her shift at Hurricane Hank’s in Holmes Beach Wednesday afternoon, Lee shared her thoughts on Buddy.

“Everybody knew Buddy. One day, at five in the morning, I get this phone call from somebody who was down on vacation. They found Buddy at the Circle K and thought he was lost so they took him ‘home’ and I had to go get him. He was playing with their dog,” she said.

“He’d always go to the Bridge Tender, Sports Lounge and the Drift In. He used to play with Johnny the bartender at the Sports Lounge. A few years ago, all these people were running for mayor and I said Buddy’s going to run for mayor. We were going to get T-shirts made and everything. He was a great dog. Ever since he got hit by the airbag he wasn’t right. I didn’t want him suffering or being in pain,” Lee said.

Buddy Lee’s gravesite pays tribute to a well-lived dog’s life. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Maggie Field, the publisher of The Sun, placed flowers on Buddy’s grave after hearing of his passing.

“That was so nice,” Lee said of that act.

“He walked everywhere, he got fed everywhere and he’d lie in the middle of the street. I called him ‘meatloaf’ because he was overweight,” Field said.

Tona Rankin knew Buddy his entire life, and before he was given the name Buddy.

Buddy Pup
Buddy Lee, shown here as a pup in Claudia’s arms. – Submitted

“When they first got him, when he was a little puppy, Rip called me and said come over here, I got Claudia something. I went over there and there was Buddy and he was so cute. I said what are you all going to name him? They had some stupid name like Bocephus and I said that ain’t no name for this dog. A couple days later I took him to the Circle K with me and I was sitting there and everybody that saw him said, ‘Come here, buddy, come here, little buddy.’ So, I went back and told Claudia and Rip that was going to be his name – and he’s been called Buddy for 14 years,” Rankin said.

“One time, me and Claudia were going around saying Buddy needs a job. We started thinking and I said he can deliver the newspaper. I was working at the Drift In and I didn’t know she was coming by. They had this old mail slot in the door and I heard something dropped through the slot. It looked like a rolled-up newspaper and Claudia had bought a dog toy that looked like a newspaper and said “The Doggy Daily” on it. I said, ‘Oh my God, Buddy got a job.’ It was so funny, I showed everybody. He was such a great dog,” Rankin said.

BB Buddy cuddled up
Young Buddy cuddled up with one of his toys. – Submitted | Tona Rankin

Bridge Tender Inn & Dockside Bar owner Fred Bartizal said, “I remember Buddy when he was a puppy. He was a fixture on Bridge Street. He was always walking down the street. He would nap anyplace he wanted and people would walk around him. He was definitely an Island dog and everybody who knew him is going to miss him.”

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said, “When I was working the road, I’d drive down Bay Drive South every morning by the Bridge Tender and Buddy would be walking up the road checking everybody out. He slept everywhere – people would put him in a wheelbarrow and bring him home. He was a mainstay of the Bridge Street area and better known than a lot of the locals around here.”

Drift In manager Doreen Flynn said, “He was the real mayor of Bridge Street. He had his friends all over who fed him each day. A lot of our customers loved him. I actually brought him a T-bone on Wednesday. That’s when I found out what happened. His grave in the front yard looks beautiful.”

Former Drift In bartender Jill Capparelli knew Buddy since 2005.

“He used to come over to the Drift for food all the time. He’d go over to Brien (Quinn), the manager at the trailer park for food. He’d go up to Circle K and beg people for hotdogs. He was a character,” Capparelli said.