Bryson Kliemann’s Pokémon card collection is his most prized possession. But the 8-year-old boy from Lebanon, Va., decided to sell it to save his dog’s life.
When Bryson learned that the 4-month-old puppy, Bruce, needed an expensive medical treatment to survive, he knew he had to do something. “Bruce got sick and needed my help,” Bryson said. “I was super sad. I didn’t want to lose my best friend.”
He hatched a plan to sell the beloved Pokémon card collection that he had been accumulating since he was 4 years old. He set up a simple stand on his front lawn with a large wooden sign that read: Pokemon 4 SALE.
It started last month when Bruce, a mixed lab the family had purchased in March from a friend whose dog had puppies, was alarmingly lethargic. “He is a very playful puppy, and he wasn’t really moving,” said Bryson’s mother, Kimberly Woodruff. “He wasn’t coming out of his crate; he wasn’t eating.”
She took him to Southwest Virginia Veterinary Services, where he was diagnosed with parvo – a contagious virus, which, if left untreated, can be lethal. Bruce had already been given the parvo and other core puppy vaccines, which Woodruff opted to administer herself at home to save money, she said. But Bruce still got sick.
Treatment for the virus comes at a steep cost, Woodruff learned. The veterinary bill would be a minimum of about $655 for a three-day stay at the clinic, plus additional expenses for future treatments – which she and her husband could not afford. “Our income is very limited,” said Woodruff, 26, adding that she is studying phlebotomy and her husband is an arborist. “My husband is the only one who works, since I’m in school.”
Although the family of five has had other small pets in the past, “he is our first family dog,” Woodruff said. They got the puppy for Bryson, “and I really didn’t realize how expensive it could be until this happened.”
In a seemingly private conversation with her husband, Woodruff voiced her concerns about how they would afford the dog’s treatment, which included antibiotics, IV fluids and other therapies. Bryson overheard.
“That’s how he came up with the idea that he was going to help,” she said. But when her son shared his plan to sell his Pokémon cards, she told him not to worry and said that they would find a way to pay for the treatment no matter what.
Still, Bryson took it upon himself to sell his Pokémon cards after school the next day. Neighbors slowly congregated around the table to check out his collection.
“I think they were sad for me and for Bruce,” Bryson said.
Over the past four years, Bryson has amassed “hundreds of cards,” his mother said. “Christmas, birthdays, any holiday you get gifts on, that’s what he asks for, and that’s what he gets.”
Woodruff wasn’t at home when Bryson started selling the Pokémon cards on May 4, but her husband sent her a picture of Bryson seated at a table outside next to the large sale sign.
“I cried,” Woodruff said. She was saddened that her son felt compelled to sacrifice his favorite belongings, but also heartened that he was willing to do it for his dog.
She shared the photo on a local Facebook group, in the hope that it might encourage neighbors to stop by and acknowledge her son’s efforts. She wasn’t expecting anyone to react, she said, but the instant outpouring of support “was overwhelming.”
Woodruff received a flurry of messages and comments from people in the community asking to donate, and given the demand, she decided to start a GoFundMe to raise just enough money to cover the cost of the treatment. “I didn’t want him to have to sell his cards,” Woodruff said.
As the story spread, not only did online donations mount, but dozens of people in the community started lining up at Bryson’s Pokémon stand. After only two afternoons of selling his cards, he collected $400.
Bryson sold the cards for between $5 and $10, depending on the trading value, but “a lot of people weren’t even buying them,” Woodruff said. Instead they showed up at the stand and dropped off $20, asking for nothing in exchange.
Some neighbors came carrying their own Pokémon collections, and rather than donating money, they graciously gave Bryson their cards. “He sold some cards, but before I could even notice a dent in his collection, people had already dropped off so many more,” Woodruff said. “It was amazing.”
Neighbors delivered dog supplies, too. Ginger King, who lives next door to the family, dropped off food for Bruce. “I’m a dog lover myself, so I decided to help out as much as possible,” said King, who asked Woodruff what type of food Bruce eats, then went to a store to get it, along with treats.
When King saw Bryson selling his cards, “I felt so sorry for him,” she said. Her mind wandered to Daisy, her cherished Welsh corgi, and she said she could empathize with how Bryson and his family must have been feeling.
Brenton Moseley decided to pitch in for the same reason. “I’ve got three dogs, so it hit me pretty hard,” said Moseley, who owns Lonesome Pine Brewing Co. “I put myself in Bryson’s shoes, and looked at him selling his most valuable things to save his best friend and dog.”
Moseley decided to host a three-day event dubbed “Brews for Bruce.” He set up a donation box at the bar, and contributed a portion of all his sales. “We raised $450,” Moseley said. “We were in tears talking about it,” he added. “It’s very heartwarming to see how our community and town reacted with selfless giving.”
Bryson’s story also touched people outside the Lebanon area, including an employee at the Pokémon Co. in Seattle, who sent him a package filled with rare cards. When it arrived, “I couldn’t believe it,” Bryson said. “I was so, so, so, so excited.”
The package contained a note that read, “Hey Bryson, we were so inspired by your story about selling your cards for your dog’s recovery, these are some cards to help you replace the ones you had to sell.” Woodruff said, “I was amazed. I didn’t think it would reach them.”
She was also awed by the kindness of strangers around the world who donated money and shared messages of support. In just a few days, the family raised much more than what was needed to cover the cost of Bruce’s treatment, and they decided to use the additional funds to support other sick pets in Southwest Virginia.
Woodruff contacted the vet’s office where Bruce was treated, and “I told them if anyone comes in and they need any help paying, please let me know,” she said, adding that she also donated to a local animal shelter.
So far, the funds have helped three other families pay their veterinary bills. “We definitely want to pay it forward. It’s a horrible situation to be in,” Woodruff said. “Knowing other families go through the same thing, we want to help.”
Bruce is now at home and healthy, and although he is still receiving treatment and being closely monitored, “he is definitely back to his puppy self.”
The family is thrilled to have Bruce at home, they said, and they are grateful to the people who helped make his recovery possible. “I never in a million years would have thought something that my 8-year-old did in a small community would have such an impact,” Woodruff said. “It truly has been incredible.”