Students, teachers at Ricardo Richards raise money to treat rescued stray dog


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ST. CROIX - Just more than a week ago, a whimpering dog wandered onto the grounds of Ricardo Richards Elementary School and into the hearts of its students.

Visibly malnourished, and with his ribs protruding through his thin brown skin, he scoured the grounds trying to find scraps of food left behind by the hundreds of children who had been romping there throughout the day.

Music teacher Barbara Daniels said she first saw the dog the day of the school's piano recitals.

"We saw him hanging around, and he was in a sad, sad state, so we made the decision then to try to love him and at least make him healthy again," she said.

Fifth-grader Jewel Joseph didn't think the dog was very attractive. And while the dog looked sick, she knew he was special because he remained calm and rubbed against the students even though they were strangers.

"He was so willing to show us affection so we showed him love too," Jewel said.

Some of the students gave the dog food and water over a few days and bantered about names for their new-found pet.

While "Berry" was one of the favorites, since the school is located in Estate Strawberry Hill and is nicknamed the Strawberry Patch, the final pick was "Ricky" short for Ricardo, Daniels said.

Once a name was selected and the students became more attached to the dog, Daniels said she took him to Sugar Mill Veterinary Clinic to have him checked out and cleaned up and that was when they found out that little Ricky had heartworms and was in need of treatment.

"The treatment for the heartworms is very expensive, and if he does not get help he would die," Daniels said. "It was more than likely that he would have to be put to sleep."

With some pleadings from the students, Daniels decided that perhaps Ricky did deserve another chance.

And with her help, students are raising funds for Ricky's treatment.

The school is circulating flyers and posting on its Facebook page, asking anyone to donate at least $1 to the "Save Ricky Project."

Daniels said the students and even some parents have been very compassionate and have been sending in dollar bills, jars of coins and sharing the word about Ricky, a dog in need of a second chance.

Jewel and her classmates have wrapped the hundreds of coins that have been donated so far in hopes of raising money for Ricky. It's really not a lot of work, Jewel says, because they know it is all for a good cause.

Daniels said Ricky is about 18 months old, is a Crucian mixed dog and is in need of lots of love. Love the community is giving.

Daniels, who already has two other dogs, has taken Ricky home with her and she says the support from the school family and the community has been a welcome and encouraging surprise.

Superior Pets Supplies has donated a three-month supply of quality dog food for Ricky and veterinarian Stacia Jung has agreed to help with some of the fees associated with Ricky's care.

It will still be a very expensive venture, Daniels said, but one that will be well worth it as Ricky gets a second chance at life and the students get a sense of service.

DaRe'on Christopher said she was proud to be a part of the project because it taught them about teamwork and having compassion for other living things.

"We don't always realize that animals hurt just as much as we do and helping Ricky helped us to see that we should show compassion and work as a team to get things done," she said.

Ricky, said Jung, is just one of thousands of animals in the territory who have abused and abandoned.

"When he came in he was underweight, but really sweet and grateful that he had some help and a whole lot of new friends," she said.

Heartworms, like those Ricky is suffering from, are transmitted to dogs and cats from mosquito bites. And because most animals spend a majority of their time outside, and the territory is located in a part of the world where mosquitoes are plentiful year round, Jung tries to educate her clients on preventative treatment for their pets.

"It's a lot cheaper to prevent heartworm than to treat it," she said.

The spaghetti-like worms get into the heart and clog up the heart muscles so the heart can not do its job, Jung said. The animals often exhibit coughing, shortness of breath, weight loss and other symptoms that may lead to death if they are not treated.

Jung said Ricky will be treated for the heartworms and intestinal parasites and neutered.

"There is a very big over-population problem not only here, but in other parts of the country and we all need to do our part to be responsible, take care of our pets and have them spayed or neutered if we know we do not have a home lined up for them," she said.

"The children really inspired me to do be a part of it, Jung said. "Sometimes it just takes the energy of the youth for us to stop and think of the things in life that really matter."

To help Ricky, contact the school at 778-0612.

"It's obvious that he had been abused and neglected for a long time, but he still has so much love to give," Daniels said.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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