Surf Dog Ricochet, the SURFice Dog is usually seen providing a lifeline in the water as she surfs with people with disabilities. But recently, she’s been credited with saving the life of retired Staff Sergeant Randall Dexter who suffers from combat related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“I definitely feel that Ricochet saved my life. Before I met her I was very isolated, and became depressed and suicidal. But, when I met Ricochet, I finally had a new sense of hope.” Randy said.
Randy and Ricochet met through Paws’itive Team’s six week Canine Inspired Community Re-integration (CICR) program. The program helps service members reduce their PTSD symptoms through canine therapy. The certified dogs accompany the service members to places that evoke anxiety such as Walmart or Home Depot. The program also gives them insight into what it would be like to have a service dog of their own.
Randy served two tours in Iraq as a U.S. Army combat medic. On April 5, 2005 his squad was hit with a very large improvised explosive device (IED) and he suffered a traumatic brain injury. The carnage from the blast was just the beginning of the horrors he experienced during the twenty-seven months he served.
In April of 2009, Randy was formally diagnosed with PTSD, and began his long journey into treatment. He has been active in many different therapies, individual counseling and physical activities. But, he had a hard time functioning in day-to-day activities and looked at most things as potential threats. He couldn’t find anything to stop the substance abuse, rage outbursts, horrific nightmares, panic attacks, and all around feeling that he had no hope. His soul was shattered and suicidal thoughts were frequent. Twenty-two veterans a day die by suicide — that’s one almost every 65 minutes. Post-deployment suicides cause more deaths than combat!
When Randy first met Ricochet he was lost and broken, but they bonded instantly. She gave him what he was looking for, and he felt fully alive for the first time in years. She was sensing subtle changes in his body, detecting, alerting and re-directing his pain, anxiety, panic attacks and other symptoms, even before he knew they were happening. Through Ricochet, he found the strength he was lacking for so long. He no longer needed medication, drugs or alcohol. His suicidal thoughts subsided.
Randy finally had the security of a battle buddy again. In the military, a battle buddy is your battlefield partner. Battle buddies are always ready to assist one another. Wherever they go, whatever they do… they watch each other’s backs. Ricochet was his second set of eyes when they went to places like Walmart. Without any training, she would stop him from going down aisles that had a lot of people or perceived threats because she intuitively knew it would cause him more anxiety. Randy is also able to position her in front of, or behind him to create a physical barrier between himself and other people. In addition, when he faces one direction, she is next to him, facing the other direction so she can see anything that may be happening behind his back.
“I didn’t train Ricochet to do this”, says Judy Fridono, Ricochet’s guardian. Four years ago when Fridono released her from the role of service dog due to her propensity for chasing birds, it never dawned on her that Ricochet could be a service dog to an able bodied person who has PTSD. But, she’s proving to be quite capable. Just as she had the natural ambition to jump on a surfboard with disabled surfer, Patrick Ivison, she is again making her own choices and is now extending a lifeline to service members and veterans.
Of course Fridono thought of giving her to Randy as a service dog. But, after much thought, both Randy and Fridono realized Ricochet is meant to help many people in her own unique way. Plus, she’s going to be six years old next month, which is too old to place as a service dog. So, instead Ricochet raised $10,000 to fund a service dog for Randy which he should be receiving in several months. Until then, Ricochet will continue assisting Randy.
After the six week CICR program was over, Ricochet and Randy took things to another level and created the PTSD Battle Buddy Initiative http://www.surfdogricochet.com/ptsd-battle-buddies.html. Randy is very courageous in his battle and wants to share his PTSD experiences, and Ricochet has the platform to raise more awareness. Although sharing his hardships for the whole world to see will be difficult for him, he is committed to helping others fighting the PTSD battle.
The goals of the PTSD Battle Buddy Initiative are to raise awareness of its symptoms, remove the stigma associated with it, provide support to veterans and their families and most importantly reduce the suicide rate. Ricochet and Randy are also committed to helping veterans wade through the cumbersome process of getting a service dog, as well as determining the type dog that would best suit them; pet, therapy, emotional support, service or volunteering at an animal shelter or other dog related entity to experience the healing power of dogs before making a long term commitment as highlighted in this blog post http://www.surfdogricochet.com/1/post/2013/08/so-you-want-a-ptsd-service-dog.html
Our service men and woman fought for us, now it’s our turn to fight for them. They may be home from the war, but they’re still fighting a battle. Please help us raise awareness by sharing our story, videos and links. Thank you for your support.