HUDSON — Baxter had saved his master's life once before.
Early Monday morning, when two armed burglars broke through the front door, he tried again. He growled and bit and fought. He ran into the night, chasing the intruders.
A shot rang out. A .22-caliber bullet severed the boxer's spine. A veterinarian ended his suffering.
Cathleen Coluzzi, who purchased Baxter as a puppy eight years ago, said losing Baxter was like losing a family member.
"I loved that dog just like I love these kids," Coluzzi said, pointing to her two sons, Coty, 20, and Kyle, 19. "I'm not kidding one bit."
Coluzzi, 40, was doing laundry about 1:30 a.m. when two men wearing hooded sweatshirts broke down the door of her one-room apartment in the Parkwood Acres subdivision in northwest Pasco County. Coluzzi said she could only see their eyes as they pointed guns at her and demanded cash.
They found Coluzzi's purse and took about $130, she told deputies. Coluzzi, who is disabled from a work-related accident seven months ago, tried to call for help, but a burglar knocked the phone out of her hand.
Baxter jumped on the man and bit his leg. The burglar hit Baxter with his arm and "fired off a couple of shots," Coluzzi said. Coluzzi was hit in the left thigh, but she fought back, swinging a candleholder and kicking. She suffered minor pellet wounds, a Sheriff's Office report said.
Moments after Baxter bolted out the door, Coluzzi heard a shot and a yelp. She found him on the ground with a wound between his shoulder blades.
"He was my personal protector," said Coluzzi, who was treated for her wounds at a local hospital. "This dog was the best dog I have ever known."
One freezing night in January 2007, the temperature in Coluzzi's room fell to below 30 degrees when her space heater failed. She said Baxter climbed on top of her and wouldn't let her sleep. She called one of her sons, who took her to a hospital, where she was treated for hypothermia.
"If I would have stayed in the house, I would have died," she said.
Her sadness over losing Baxter was tempered by one bit of luck.
"He just bred for the first time, and his puppies are going to be born next week," she said. "That's the only thing getting me through this." She and her two sons will each get a puppy.
Nomaan Merchant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.