Cora Richter sat in a suite at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, watching the Kansas City Mavericks play hockey, and was in awe of her surroundings.
Cora, who wants everyone to know that she is 6½ and a first grader at Sni-A-Bar Elementary in Grain Valley, was the guest of Mavericks owner Lamar Hunt Jr. and team president and general manager Brent Thiessen at last Saturday’s game.
When they learned that Cora was the victim of a Jan. 5 dog attack at a park in Blue Springs, Thiessen immediately contacted her mother Rosalind and offered the youngster a night she would never forget.
“This is the coolest thing,” said Cora, who heard about a youngster in Grain Valley with a brain tumor, 7-year-old Brayden Williams, so she made sure he was on the guest list for her suite. “I don’t know Brayden that much, but I want him to have a fun night like I’m having.”
“I don’t want him to think about his cancer and I’m not thinking about my dog bite. This is just a night of fun! And we have chicken fingers! We have all the chicken fingers we can eat.”
It was comforting to see that the bright-eyed, vivacious youngster was able to forget about that nightmarish afternoon when she tried to make friends with a dog in the park, who wanted nothing to do with a new friend.
“Cora loves everyone – people and animals,” said Rosalind, who works at OOIDA in Grain Valley. “Her dad took her to the park, and from what I have heard, there was a bird dog on point. Cora approached the dog and was attacked.”
Cora and her dad were at the parking walking her new puppy, Bella.
“All Cora wanted for her birthday was a best friend,” Rosalind said. “So I got her Bella. And she loves Bella and Bella loves her.”
On the day of the attack, Cora walked away from the park and into a wooded area, where she saw the bird dog.
“He looked lonely,” Cora explained. “No one was around him, and I just wanted to make him my friend – but he bit me.”
The youngster had a deep gash under her right eye, a cut near her mouth and the force of the attack knocked out one front baby tooth, loosened another that had to be pulled and split her palette.
“It was bad,” said Rosalind, who showed photos of her daughter’s injuries. “After it happened, we couldn’t find the owner, so she had to have a rabies shot, too.”
While the painful nature of the attack has subsided, the psychological aspects still remain.
“Cora was afraid to go back to school, because she was afraid kids would tease her, because of her stitches and all the bruising,” Rosalind said. “That’s when I turned to Ms. Val.”
Ms. Val is Valerie Palecek, the Sni-A-Bar School before- and after-school coordinator.
“Tonight, we’re calling this suite the ‘healing suite,’ because a lot of healing is going on inside here,” Palecek said. “It’s wonderful to see Cora so happy. She and Brayden and all the kids she invited are having the best time.”
“She’s talking about going down on the bench with the players and all the special things she got to do, and I know Rosalind and I can never truly express our thanks to the Mavericks. What they did for this little girl is amazing.”
And what Palacek did when Cora returned to school might have been a game changer for the youngster and her mother.
“I got all the kids together and told them what happened to Cora and that when she came back, she was going to have some stitches and some bruises and that they should be extra nice to her. She was worried and didn’t want to be teased, and for the most part, that never happened.”
“After the attack, Cora would wake up screaming in the middle of the night,” Rosalind said. “She didn’t even want to be around Bella. But, slowly she is back to sleeping through the night.”
“She is not worried about being teased and she wants to be around dogs again. At first, if it’s a dog she does not know, she will not go near it, but if she knows the dog, the she is the same loving Cora she was before the attack.”
Cora holds no grudges against the dog that bit her.
“I hope he finds some friends,” Cora said. “He didn’t want to be my friend, but I hope he finds friends because he looked so lonely.”
At Saturday’s game, Cora and her family and friends sat on the team bench during warm-ups, she rode in a car onto the ice between periods, and Hunt and his wife Rita and Thiessen visited with her.
“Everyone here is so nice,” said Cora, who often writes letters to neighbors and delivers them to their front doors. “Can you believe I got to go down on the ice?”
She paused for a moment, and added, “When I got bit, I was afraid that I would be teased. But it only happened one time and everyone has been so nice to me. And Mommy loves me and gives me hugs and I love that.”
Mommy has also found a special way to communicate with her daughter with daily messages that appear out of nowhere on the bathroom mirror.
That comment brings a smile and a wink from Rosalind.
“I love those messages,” Cora said. “I don’t know who writes them, but Mommy and I go into the bathroom in the morning and there is always a special message. Isn’t that fun?”
This loving child, who has never met a stranger – man or beast – is a survivor.
She motions for a visitor to come close to her face and she whispers, “I’m so lucky to have my Mommy and so many people who love me. I don’t hate dogs – I don’t hate anyone.”
She then excuses herself, asks for a chicken finger and begins cheering for the Mavericks, which any 6 ½ year old should do when she’s “healing” in a suite at a Mavericks game.