HUDSON — For almost two weeks after armed burglars killed her boxer with a .22-caliber bullet, Cathleen Coluzzi cried every day.
Baxter had lived with Coluzzi since he was born eight years ago. His death left a gaping hole in Coluzzi's life.
"That dog meant more to me than I could put in words," Coluzzi said. "It just breaks my heart."
But a couple from Auburndale gave Coluzzi a gift on the Fourth of July: a gold-haired boxer puppy. Her black snout and ears bear a striking resemblance to Baxter.
The puppy plays with Coluzzi, who was disabled from a work-related injury seven months ago. And she cheers up Coluzzi whenever she thinks about Baxter.
"I've just seen the absolute worst and the absolute best in people in the last two weeks," Coluzzi said.
It was about 1:30 a.m. June 23 when two men in hooded sweatshirts broke down the front door to Coluzzi's one-room apartment behind a home on Lee Street in Parkwood Acres.
Coluzzi, 40, could only see their eyes as they pointed guns at her and demanded cash.
They took about $130 from Coluzzi's purse. But when one burglar reached for her, the usually mild-tempered Baxter leaped.
He bit the man and barked loudly. The burglars fled onto Lee Street with Baxter in pursuit.
From inside, Coluzzi then heard a shot and a yelp. She ran outside and found Baxter on the ground.
He struggled to breathe. A bullet had shattered his spine. A veterinarian ended his suffering hours later.
The only bright spot for Coluzzi was that Baxter had bred for the first time not long before his death. Coluzzi and her two sons would all receive a puppy.
But a week later, Coluzzi received more bad news: The dog carrying Baxter's puppies had miscarried.
Coluzzi would not be deterred.
"That's when I started making phone calls," she said. "I knew I had to have another puppy."
One of her calls was to Deanna Snell, who had placed a newspaper ad to find homes for her two boxer puppies.
Snell says she understood Coluzzi's pain after reading about her loss.
"A lot of it has to do with we know boxers, we love boxers, we have two of our own," Snell said. "And if something was to happen to our boxers, I would just go nuts."
Snell faxed a photo of one of her puppies to Coluzzi.
"When I saw her, I was just in love," Coluzzi said.
They agreed to meet last Friday. When Snell and her husband arrived, the puppy bounded out of their car and started jumping around, Coluzzi said.
"Now, she's got to be around me 24/7," Coluzzi said.
Others have also offered support. A local pet store donated a training cage for the puppy as well as a year's supply of dog food.
Coluzzi also heard from one person who offered to do a portrait of Baxter.
She hasn't named the puppy yet because she wants to find a name that honors the dog she had for eight years.
"We're taking suggestions," she said with a smile.
Nomaan Merchant can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6244.