By Josh Letner The Joplin (MO) Globe
August 15, 2011
JOPLIN, Mo. — Johnnie Richey was one of five people killed when the May 22 tornado flattened the Joplin Elks Lodge on West 26th Street. His home near 26th Street and Adele Avenue also was destroyed.
|Joyce Richey, mother of tornado-fatality victim Johnnie Richey, wipes away tears Sunday after her son’s dog, Sugar, was reunited with the family.|
Richey’s family spent the chaotic days after the storm searching for information on his whereabouts and sifting through the rubble of his home.
Richey, 52, was an Elks Lodge trustee and, according to his sister, Kerri Simms, was well-known in the community.
“If you played softball or had anything to do with bowling or the Elks Lodge, you would have seen him,” said Simms, of Farmington.
After five excruciating days, the family learned that Richey was among those who died at the Elks Lodge.
The grief was compounded by the fact that Richey’s trusted companion, Sugar, a 9-year-old blond cocker spaniel, was missing as well.
Simms immediately began an effort to find Sugar. She did what many others in search of a lost pet did: She made posters and created a Facebook page dedicated to locating the dog. But as the weeks rolled by, the chances of finding Sugar grew slim.
That all changed Friday night when Chris Ruport, a part-time driver with Affordable Taxi, spotted a stray dog walking along West Seventh Street and decided to pick it up. Ruport was unavailable for comment, but his wife, Courtney, said her husband is not known for rescuing animals.
“My husband doesn’t usually pick up stray animals, so there must have been something about her that said ‘help me,’” she said.
Ruport took Sugar back to the Affordable Taxi shop, where his in-laws, Jerry and Anita Dallies, cared for her. Courtney Ruport said Sugar “drank bowl after bowl of water” and looked “pretty beat up.”
It was obvious that Sugar had once been well cared for, they realized, but the past few weeks had been rough on her.
That night, Chris Ruport went home and posted a photo of Sugar on Craigslist. Within hours, word reached Simms that a dog matching Sugar’s description had been found. Jerry Dallies had misjudged Sugar’s gender, and she was listed as a male, but closer examination revealed the mistake. A growth on Sugar’s hind end confirmed her identity, and Simms made the trip from Farmington to claim her.
Simms took Sugar to the Emergency Pet Center in Joplin, where she was treated for severe eye and ear infections, flea infestation, and severe dehydration. Richey’s mother, Joyce Richey, said Sugar was weak when the family picked her up.
“When we first saw her, she was shaking real bad like she didn’t have the energy to stand, but they put her on (intravenous fluids) and kept her overnight, and she was better,” she said.
Simms has taken Sugar home, where she lives with six other dogs and five cats. She said Sugar has spent a lot of time sleeping and eating.
Finding Sugar has given her a new connection with her brother, Simms said.
“It means having part of my brother back,” she said. “We can’t bring him back, but we can at least have her. Now we don’t have to wonder. They wouldn’t let us see my brother after the tornado, so I don’t want to say it’s closure, but we know now that she’s OK.”
Simms said those who are still searching for lost pets should continue to do so.
“I know there are a lot of pets still out there, and there may be people keeping them not realizing that the owners are looking for them,” she said. “All I can say to them is start with the fliers and keep looking.”
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