Trained to be a service dog from the time she was a pup, Ricochet the retriever made it crystal-clear that she preferred life on the beach.
Luckily, she was still able to put her special set of skills to good use as the world’s first SURFice dog.
Based in California, Ricochet builds confidence in kids with autism and restores calm to combat vets with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by riding the waves with them on a surfboard through the Waves of Empowerment program.
“What Ricochet does is pretty unique, and she pretty much chose her life’s purpose,” said Ricochet’s trainer, Judy Fridono, who runs the multi-functional nonprofit Puppy Prodigies.
From the day Ricochet was born, Fridono had been conditioning her to become a service dog for people with physical disabilities.
“Ricochet was brilliant as a puppy, until she was about fourteen weeks old and started walking away from training sessions out of boredom,” Fridono said.
By that time, the dog had already shown an interest in something else: surfing. At eight weeks old,while cooling off during training, Ricochet climbed onto a boogie board floating in a kiddie pool. A year later, Ricochet instinctively jumped on the board of one of Fridono’s friend’s children, a fourteen-year-old boy who was quadriplegic.
“At that moment, I realized that’s what she’s here to do, surf with people and serve in that way,” Fridono said.
Ricochet is able to counterbalance a surfboard so people with physical disabilities won’t easily fall off, and kids with autism can hold onto Ricochet as she balances the board so they can stand up.
“That gives them such a sense of empowerment,” Fridono said.
Marine Corporal Brandon Messina was introduced to Ricochet through U.S.
Naval Medical Center San Diego’s canine inspired community reintegration program in conjunction with Paws’itive Teams, where the therapy dog works to help service members like Cpl. Messina who are living with PTSD. Ricochet would calm him in stressful situations, like walking around in crowds.
“Ricochet just gave me something to focus on way more than the people,” he said. ‘She kept me preoccupied away from everything going on around me, so it was pretty cool.”
The first day he was paired up with Ricochet, she calmed him as they approached an obstacle course, where the retriever realized he was about to have a panic attack before he was even aware one was coming on.
“The shape I was in when I first arrived at the hospital was not the greatest,” he said. “Just having a dog around rebuilt my confidence.”
Outside the program, he went surfing with Ricochet as part of Fridono’s Waves of Empowerment program. Though he’d never surfed before, Messina was able to stand up on the board on his first try with the help of his SURFice dog.
“That was the crazy thing,” Messina said. “Everybody said, ‘Wait, you really just got up on the first wave — with a dog, no less?’”
After working with Ricochet for just a matter of weeks, doctors treating the young Marine determined he was fit enough to return to work and rejoin the fleet.
“Doctors and therapists are limited in communicating with patients through words,” Fridono said. “But kids with autism and people with PTSD often don’t feel like talking. Dogs hear us even when we are silent.”Share this article: