Through compassion and surfing, Ricochet changes the lives of everyone she meets.
Retired Staff Sgt. Randall Dexter returned home to San Diego in 2012 after two tours in Iraq as a combat medic. While living in a warrior transition unit, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on top of recovering from a traumatic brain injury. His unit had been hit by an IED while he was in Iraq, and then once he returned to the states, he suffered another head injury during a game of flag football. According to Dexter,
"It was brutal. I was contemplating suicide and was a hot mess."
As a husband and father, Dexter spent the next year working with a hospital therapy program toward recovery. And then he heard about Paws'itive Teams, an organization that pairs service and therapy dogs with adults and children that need them most.
Dexter applied for the program, and he was assigned a certified therapy dog that would be with him for six weeks to help determine if a permanent therapy dog really would be a positive step in his recovery. Dexter met Ricochet, an eight-year-old Golden Retriever that was no newbie when it came to helping veterans take back their lives.
When she was introduced to Dexter, Ricochet had already helped over 50 veterans and was renowned for her work. Therapy dogs help emotionally and physically disabled people in a number of different ways, but Ricochet is unique. Her owner and trainer, Judy Fridono, calls her a "SURFice" dog, because when she's on the job, Ricochet is known as Rip Curl Riki or Surf Dog Ricochet. She combines surfing with therapy to connect with people on a deeper level.
Ricochet's career as a professional surf therapy dog wasn't something Fridono expected. A smart puppy with a compassionate personality, Ricochet started training to become a service dog for the physically disabled when she was 15 months old. But the pup had other plans.
She stopped responding to Fridono's requests, and instead of fighting her, Fridono decided to give the dog a break. Ricochet spent the next year living the life of a normal dog. But then one day, they took a trip to the beach.
Ricochet plunged into the water and voluntarily jumped onto a surfboard with a boy with quadriplegia. The dog who had never surfed before chose the career path she wanted, and Fridono got the message.
Ricochet started working as a surf therapy dog where she helped people learn to surf and in turn, overcome their fears and anxiety. She had found her life purpose.
"She balances the board and adjusts her style to adapt to the disability, just like a tool. That way, the person doesn't have to worry about balancing so much, so they can stand or kneel."
Ricochet stands firm through the rolling waves giving her friends something to hold on to as they both smoothly sail toward the shore. This unique form of therapy has helped countless people, both adults and children with special needs, to let loose, forget about their fears and anxiety, and enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience. Ricochet basically helps adaptive surfing.
And that's exactly what she did for Dexter.
Throughout their six weeks together, Ricochet and Dexter formed a powerful bond. Dexter told Today;
"The minute Ricochet came up to me, my wife--who's also my caregiver--noticed a big change in me. Ricochet has this amazing softness in her eyes. It was definitely a turning point when I met her. "
As a therapy dog, she's trained to recognize psychological PTSD triggers that might cause anxiety or pain. Fridono tells about how Ricochet once saved Dexter from possible injury. The pair was walking through a big-box store when the dog planted her paws and wouldn't let Dexter pass. A large metal beam was swinging from the ceiling threatening to fall in front of them. Ricochet's sixth sense saved Dexter from a another possible head injury.
As their relationship progressed, Dexter and Ricochet hit the beach together. Dexter was introduced to the meaningful work Ricochet and Fridono do through an organization called the Waves of Empowerment program. The program pairs someone who has already surfed with Ricochet with someone who hasn't.
Dexter first started volunteering as a "Wave Warrior" in 2014 to help other adults and children overcome their physical and emotional difficulties. He enjoys working with the surfing dog on a mission to help others, while at the same time, she continues to help him make heart-to-heart connections.
"She game me freedom and gave me my life back. If you love surfing and you love dogs like I do, it was the perfect match!"
After spending those six weeks with Ricochet, Dexter was paired with his own service dog, a rescued Labrador-blue heeler mix named Captain. Fridono and Ricochet helped Dexter raise the funds he needed, and he has since formed a powerful bond with Captain.
With help from both Ricochet and Captain, Dexter now hosts his own radio show and earned straight As this semester at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Ricochet will also be featured in the upcoming film, "Superpower Dogs," playing the hero dog that she is.
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