Bryson Kliemann, 8, has been collecting Pokémon cards since his dad introduced him to the trading cards when he was 4 years old. He has hundreds in his collection, stored in binders and lock boxes. Every Christmas, birthday or holiday, he asks for cards.
“His Pokémon cards are his most prized possession,” said his mother, Kimberly Woodruff, 26.
But Bryson decided to sell his cherished cards to save his dog’s life – a humble gesture that has rippled across the nation and raised thousands for sick pets.
“It makes me feel happy that everybody came together,” Bryson told USA TODAY, thanking the people who helped his dog.
The Lebanon, Virginia, boy wanted a dog for years and would cry when he left the local animal shelter after a visit, Woodruff said.
In March, a friend’s dog had puppies, and Woodruff adopted Bruce, a now 4-month-old black lab mix. Pretty soon, Bryson and Bruce were inseparable.
“They’re best friends,” Woodruff said. “They love each other.”
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But then Bruce, once a “very playful puppy,” suddenly wouldn’t come out of his cage and began losing weight, Woodruff said.
Bruce was diagnosed with parvo, a contagious virus that can be deadly if left untreated. Woodruff had given Bruce self-administered vaccines, including for parvo, in order to save money but didn’t realize they had to be refrigerated.
Veterinarians told Woodruff that it would cost $655 for the first three days of Bruce’s treatment, and warned more could be needed, including thousands of dollars to keep him at the animal hospital overnight for up to a week. It was a price tag the family couldn’t afford.
Woodruff explained the situation to Bryson the next morning.
“Mom, I don’t want Bruce to die,” he said through tears. “I’m going to pray that he don’t die.”
After school, Bryson came home with a plan: He pulled a bunch of papers from his backpack – drawings scrawled on the back of his schoolwork of a stand with his Pokémon cards on it. He would sell his collection to save his puppy.
At first, Woodruff discouraged Bryson.
“We’ll figure this out,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”
But the next day, Woodruff was in her phlebotomy class when her husband sent a picture of Bryson seated at a table in the front yard with a wooden sign that said: “Pokémon 4 SALE.” Woodruff cried.
“It was heartwarming, but it hurt to see,” she said. “I didn’t want this to be something he had to worry about. That’s my job. But seeing him be so selfless made me realize that I did something right in raising him to be like this.”
Slowly, handfuls of neighbors congregated around the Pokémon card stand, thinking the boy was just selling his cards for extra pocket money. But when they found out what it was for, word began to spread.
“It started out with a few neighbors, and then those people told people and they told more people, and it kept going and going,” Woodruff said.
Woodruff shared the photo of Bryson at the stand on a local Facebook group, hoping more neighbors would stop by. She said she didn’t expect the “overwhelming outpouring of support.”
Some of her friends in Michigan asked her to set up a GoFundMe for Bryson because they lived too far away to support the stand in person. So Woodruff created a page called “Just a boy trying to save his dog.”
“I know I have been raising him right,” the GoFundMe’s description read. “With a heart of gold because he’s so worried about our Bruce, he is beside the road trying to sell his favorite thing in the world just to make his puppy better.”
As the story spread and online donations poured in, dozens lined up at Bryson’s stand. Selling each card for $5 to $10, the boy collected $400 in only two afternoons.
Some neighbors brought their own Pokémon card collections and gave Bryson their cards to replenish his collection. Others donated money and dog supplies.
Bryson’s grandfather, David Cole Jr., said the family has received messages of support from people in China, Australia and Ireland.
“With everything that’s happened in the past year and a half, we need some sunshine,” he said. “But for Bryson, all he knew was that his puppy was sick, and he’d do whatever it takes to save his puppy.”
Bryson has even been invited to the National Dog Show in November. And when an employee at the Pokémon Co. in Seattle caught wind of Bryson’s efforts, the company sent him packs of rare Pokémon cards.
“He was stunned when he opened them,” Woodruff said.
Woodruff said her son, whom she describes as shy and introverted, has been overwhelmed by the attention. After their local news station interviewed him, he told his mom, “I just want to be a kid.”
“I never expected any of this,” Woodruff said. “It’s given me hope for humanity. To see people come together like this to help my little boy was just beautiful.”
So far, the GoFundMe has raised more than $19,500. Woodruff decided to contact local shelters and animal hospitals and use the extra money to pay for what they may need or help families struggling to pay for health care for their dogs. Woodruff and Bryson have helped four families so far pay for their dogs’ medical care.
Meanwhile, Bruce is “back to normal times 10,” Woodruff said.
Woodruff said she hopes Bryson and Bruce’s story serves as a warning for people to get their dogs vaccinated and not to rely on self-administered vaccines unless they have experience using them.
“I hope this story helps people realize that there’s still good left in this world,” she said. “I’m amazed by the uproar of support for a little boy and his dog in small-town Lebanon, Virginia. Who would’ve thought?”