Ricochet, a world famous golden who combines surfing with therapy has changed the lives of countless people with special needs.
She may look like an ordinary golden retriever – friendly, good-natured, and of course, gorgeous. Ricochet is certainly all these things, but she’s also much more, according to her guardian Judy Fridono, and the millions of people worldwide who have come to know and love her.
Like most goldens, Ricochet adores water. But she and Judy have taken this love to a whole new level. She is a world famous “SURFice dog”, a therapy dog who surfs with people who have special needs or life-threatening illnesses.
Judy’s serendipitous journey with Ricochet began when the young golden was training to be a service dog in San Diego. But the pup was rejected as a candidate because she got bored and had a habit of chasing birds. It seemed she needed more interest and challenge in her life, so Judy started working with her in a kiddie pool, using a boogie board to fine tune her coordination and balance skills. “She was good at it,” says Judy. It seemed Ricochet had found something she enjoyed doing – surfing.
Getting on “board”
Ricochet was just 15 months old when she was invited to a dog surfing competition in 2009. She won third place. It marked the beginning of a whole new career for the affable golden, and Judy began to wonder if perhaps they could combine surfing with therapy work. The duo tested the waters, literally, with their very first fundraiser “Paw-abunga for Patrick”. Patrick Ivison is a young man who was disabled as a baby after an uninsured driver pinned him underneath a car. He suffered a serious spinal cord injury that confined him to a wheelchair. When Patrick reached the age of ten, he created Project Walk, an intensive physical therapy program that helped him increase his strength and range of motion. The project costs $30,000 per year, but Ricochet raised $10,000 from the fundraiser, while her sponsor, The Rose Foundation, awarded Project Walk a grant for an additional three years.
During “Paw-abunga for Patrick”, things took an interesting turn that brought Ricochet another step closer to her life’s mission. Initially, Patrick and Ricochet were surfing on separate boards. Suddenly, she leaped onto Patrick’s board, signaling to Judy that tandem surfing might be the golden’s forte.
As Ricochet began the next chapter of her life as a “SURFice dog”, Patrick began the next chapter of his by walking across the stage during his high school graduation in 2012, and then attending college with his own service dog.
A wish fulfilled
The more Ricochet surfed, the more she attracted attention from people who wanted to hit the waves with her. For example, 15-year-old Caleb Acosta, who had stage four brain cancer that spread to his spine, had just one wish – to meet “this cool dog (Ricochet)… that surfs with kids who are disabled or have special needs.” His wish was granted earlier this year. “When I heard Caleb’s story, there was no question – Ricochet would surf with him no matter what,” says Judy.
The experience was exhilarating for Caleb. “It felt really good to be free,” he said, adding that his pain dissipated while he was surfing with Ricochet.
Caleb’s surfing session with Ricochet epitomizes her and Judy’s mission – to bring happiness and healing to others. “Ricochet always looks very serious in photos, but when she was surfing with Caleb she was smiling and happy, mirroring Caleb’s joy,” says Judy.
A battle buddy
Besides being a “SURFice dog”, Ricochet also does therapy work with military veterans. She and Judy have embarked on combating the alarming rate of soldier suicide by creating the PTSD Battle Buddy Initiative.
In fact, Ricochet was credited with saving the life of retired Staff Sergeant Randall Dexter when she was partnered with him during Paws’itive Teams’ six-week Canine Inspired Community Reintegration (CICR) program last year. Randall’s time with Ricochet gave him what he needed most – a connection. “It was on a very deep spiritual and soulful level, probably something he hadn’t felt before,” says Judy. Randall was inspired to use his experience with Ricochet to help others and let them know they’re not alone.
Ambassador for anti-bullying
Yet another part of Ricochet’s platform is her anti-bullying campaign. Judy hopes that the campaign’s message – “We really believe people are perfect the way they are” – will reach children before they start to engage in bullying. “Our approach is to celebrate the differences among people; those differences make you special. Children will be less likely to bully by accepting differences: ‘I might not like who you really are, but it doesn’t matter, as long as you like who you are’.”
As part of the anti-bullying campaign, Ricochet teamed up with surfing partners Patrick Ivison and Ian McFarland at a San Diego Padres game last summer. Ian has a brain injury caused by a car accident that claimed both his parents, and says that surfing with Ricochet reminds him of surfing with his dad. At the game, Patrick and Ian threw the first ceremonial pitches to symbolize Ricochet “raising awareness to strike out violence.”
A spiritual journey of discovery and purpose
“My journey with Ricochet has been very intense, life-changing, yet also very simple,” says Judy. Part of it involved Judy releasing some of her control. “I wanted her to help one person, but she wanted to help millions.” To date, Judy and Ricochet have held over 50 fundraisers, and have raised money (over $300,000!) and awareness for over 150 causes, both human and animal.
Now six years old, Ricochet continues to help and teach people to embrace their differences and individuality. Whether through surfing, therapy or both, she gives people who spend time with her the opportunity to discover the things they are capable of – things they may not even have imagined possible. Whether it’s a child with special needs, a veteran with PTSD, a bullying victim, or a professional surfer like Guy Takayama, who designed a Surfah Dog surfboard especially for her, Ricochet has touched the lives of countless people.