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Hero for Sale

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Since joining the Coatesville, Pa., school-security squad in 1999, Ricky the bomb-sniffing German shepherd has more than earned his kibble: He has tracked down two missing children, helped nab a bank robber (while on loan to local cops), sniffed out bomb threats (all false alarms) and earned 70 commendations. “This dog,” says local veterinarian Jerry Godfry, “is worth its weight in gold.”

The school district, it seems, would rather have the gold. Faced with a budget shortfall of nearly $13 million, administrators came up with a series of cost-cutting measures last spring that included slashing the security budget and laying off Ricky’s handler, police officer Curt Martinez. Then they announced they would be taking sealed bids for Ricky. That brought yelps of protest from the 4-year-old canine’s many fans, who believe he’s being made a scapedog for the district’s fiscal woes. Says parent Mark Kadel, 41: “They’re treating Ricky like a desk or chair.” No one feels the bite more deeply than Martinez, 37, with whom Ricky lives. “This is my partner,” he says. “It would be like taking a part of my family from me.”

Dismayed that the schools might lose the highly trained dog, bought in the wake of the Columbine massacre, two grassroots groups have raised more than $8,000 to submit a bid, due Sept. 18. Godfry has offered to provide free veterinary care for Ricky and an animal-rescue group has offered food. “We’re willing to relieve the district of a $3,500 problem, when they have a $13 million problem,” says Godfry.

Actually, the district’s problem could be even larger. Board president Karen Allison Schmidt, who has served the district since 1997, says she has long suspected financial mismanagement. “There are suggestions that perhaps some misconduct is responsible for the big shortfall,” adds Chester County D.A. Joseph Carroll. “There is an ongoing investigation.” If his office needs a dog with a nose for trouble, he doesn’t have to hunt very far.