Schultz: A Boy And His Dog, A Story Of True Love
By CONNIE SCHULTZ
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
All he wanted was a plain brown dog.
No froufrou pooch or designer breed for Chris Kuzma. Those fancy dogs always can find a home. This boy wanted to pour his love into the kind of dog other people ignored.
For most of his life, it had been just Chris, his mom, Karen, and his sister, Nikki. They didn't have much money, but they were the kind of family that closed ranks and made it work.
He was an A student who never asked for anything. When he asked for the plain brown dog, his mother listened.
He promised to save every penny to buy a dog bowl, a leash and a collar. He'd train her, too, and always take time to play with her.
"Wait 'till I can buy a house,'' his mother always said. "We can't rent and have a dog.''
In 1993, her own dream came true. Karen bought a house in Lakewood, Ohio, and, right away, 12-year-old Chris was yapping at her heels.
"You want a plain brown dog?'' she said, grinning. "Then let's go find one.''
She took her boy to the Animal Protective League, where lost and abandoned orphans press wet noses through wire-cage doors and plead for an end to their loneliness.
Chris knew as soon as he laid eyes on her that she was the one.
Her name was Cricket, and she had clearly descended from a long line of philanderers that included a boxer, a terrier and a beagle. She was chestnut brown, with little white patches on her chest and paws. Chris leaned down and scooped her up.
"She's bowlegged,'' Karen said.
"She's perfect,'' Chris said between puppy-breath kisses.
They were nose-to-nose from that moment on.
Every day, Cricket and Chris rolled and tumbled in the grass like they hadn't seen each other in weeks. Karen had never seen a kid who loved animals more. Once, Chris found a sick kitten on the street that had to be put down. Chris burst into tears at the news.
He peppered Karen with questions:
"Did the kitten understand?''
"Did the kitten know how much we cared about him?''
"Did he know it wasn't supposed to end this way?''
Some words you can't forget no matter how long you live.
About a year and a half after Cricket had met the love of her life, Chris set out without her on his new mountain bike to hang out with friends before dinner. He never came home.
When police told Karen over the phone that Chris had been hit by a train, she fell to her kitchen floor and screamed for Jesus. She found her boy at the hospital, hooked up to life support, his body still perfect but his head injuries beyond any version of hope. He died three days later, on Aug. 12, 1995.
Karen donated his organs. It helps to know a young mother got Chris' heart.
"A part of Chris lives on,'' Karen says. "In that heart, you know?''
Another part of Chris lived on in Cricket. She became Karen's protector, walking miles and miles with the grieving mother, sometimes long after midnight. She followed Karen around the house, too, keeping an eye out.
For the 12 years that Cricket was around, a part of Chris was, too.
About six weeks ago, Karen knew before the vet told her that something was wrong. Cricket didn't want to eat, and instead of prowling the house, she just lay in her favorite chair by the window all day long. X-rays confirmed what Karen knew but couldn't bear to say: Cricket was dying.
Karen lay down with her for the final injection that would end Cricket's suffering. Her own pain, she says, was physical, it hurt so much. Another piece of her son was gone.
On Chris' birthday, April 13, Karen placed an "In Memoriam'' ad with a photo of Chris and Cricket in the classified section of The Plain Dealer. She wanted everyone to know there was once a boy named Chris who loved a plain brown dog named Cricket.
Maybe they're together, she says, but she's not sure.
One thing she does know: It wasn't supposed to end this way.
[Click here to see a picture of Chris and Cricket.]