Stray dog becomes fixture at school district

Sunday, December 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPERRY, Okla. (AP) -- Rufus knows his way around the Sperry school district.

There are a few handouts at lunchtime and the concession stand near the baseball fields is always a great spot for bites of hot dogs.

Then its time for a nap in the baseball coach's office or the janitor's room.

Rufus, the school district's beloved yellow Labrador Retriever, has spent the last 11 years wandering the Sperry campus.

Teams at this rural school district north of Tulsa may be known as the Pirates, but everyone from kindergarten through 12th grade identifies Rufus as the school's true mascot.

"People have said if I come back in (a second) life, I want to come back as Rufus. He's got the life," said Jana Bradley, the district's treasurer.

The Sperry student body raises money to pay for Rufus' vet bills and makes sure he has his own yearbook picture each year.

The dog spends most of his time at the administration building, one of his favorite places to nap is usually right in front of the main entrance.

"You literally have to step over him...he's not going to move," said retired baseball coach Bill Fisher, who discovered the stray hanging around the baseball field 11 years ago lying in one of the dugouts.

At first Rufus was scared of people and would run off when approached.

Fisher laid a rug out for the dog to sleep on and eventually started feeding him hot dogs from the concession stand.

Rufus warmed up. He started coming out to watch the baseball team practice every day.

He became a regular at games.

The dog often lay in the outfield or along the third-base line, until coaches started keeping him in the press box for games.

"All of the umpires know him...he's a fixture here," Fisher said.

Sperry senior Amber Inks said she first saw Rufus at a football game when he ran onto the field and play stopped while Fisher gently coaxed him to the sideline.

"Most people would have just kicked him off," said Inks, who was new student at the school at the time.

Fisher retired from the district a few years ago, but Rufus hasn't seemed to noticed.

Instead of sleeping in the coach's office, he started showing up in front of the administration building.

At first Sperry Superintendent Jerry Burd was against letting the dog inside -- but he was outnumbered.

"He just looked in with these sad eyes and all the ladies said, `Come on, Mr. Burd, it's cold outside. We've got to let him in,"' Bradley said.

Students at the school also help take care of Rufus.

This year, the high school raised about $100 in less than an hour to pay one of the dog's vet bills.

"He's like our mascot in a way. He's been around longer than most of us," said senior Mickey Ward.

But age is catching up with Rufus, Fisher said.

The dog lies around almost all day now, and Fisher said the veterinarian has told them Rufus' time is limited.

The school has decided to bury Rufus at the baseball field behind home plate.

The district should probably take the day off when Rufus dies, Fisher said.

"If we don't, it will be a tough day, I promise you," he said.