Ricochet apparently always knew her mission in life, but it took her partner in philanthropy, Judy Fridono, a while to figure that out and to learn that if she paid attention to the Golden Retriever’s behavior, she could accompany the dog on her path.
That meant giving up on the puppy becoming a service dog in the traditional sense. The young dog had been socialized and trained since birth to become an aide to someone with an emotional or physical need. She wouldn’t, however, follow that calling, initially because she was too much of a bird dog, but ultimately because it simply wasn’t right for her. “At 16 weeks, she kind of shut down as far as service dog training,” Judy says. “Obviously she wanted nothing to do with my expectation of what I wanted to do with her.”
But Judy had noticed that when she put a boogie board in a kiddie pool Ricochet was able to balance it quite well. That’s pretty much how the Golden Retriever found her calling to bring joy, comfort and resources to people and children in need. But again, she almost didn’t get there. When Judy eventually took her out to try surfing in the ocean near their home in Escondido, Calif., Ric, as she’s known to her friends, would only ride a wave or two, then go visit people on the beach. But when she met a teenager named Patrick Ivison, who, at the time, had no use of his legs and little use of his arms due to a spinal injury, Judy couldn’t keep the lovable Golden out of the ocean. Ric loved to surf with Patrick, straddling him and balancing the board so he didn’t fall off. And when Patrick did fall, Ric was by his side to keep him safe.
Judy, who has had arthritis since childhood and also lives with an autoimmune disorder, couldn’t physically manage the growing dog as her surfing skills developed. So, other people handled Ric for surf competitions, as well as her outings into the waves with kids and adults through Wheels 2 Water and Ocean Healing Group.
Ricochet’s first official surf contest was part of the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge. At 15 months of age, she took third place. A video of Ricochet surfing with Patrick went viral, Judy says, and they were able to parlay that into a platform to raise money for the teen. “It wasn’t something that we planned. It just happened. She raised over $10,000 for him, plus one of her sponsors gave [Patrick] a three-year grant for his ongoing therapy. We ended up having a platform for awareness.”
Judy officially gave up her plan for Ricochet. Today she says, “When I look back on it, I totally see the purpose that was meant to be.”
Thanks to videos, Facebook, sponsors and lots of supporters, Ricochet has raised about $300,000 in her four years of surfing. The list of projects she’s contributed to is impressive: food for dog rescues and animal shelters, funds for the Helen Woodward Animal Center near San Diego, medical care for a dog that was shot in the throat and money for animal oxygen masks for fire departments, to name just a few. Through her network of nearly 140,000 people on Facebook, people have received surfboards adapted especially for their specific needs, children of military families have gone to camp, and wounded soldiers have been helped to transition to the civilian workforce.
Ricochet’s mission goes beyond surfing for good causes, however. Way beyond.
She’s a certified therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International, training through Paws’itive Teams to work in goal-directed therapy that uses dogs in ways tailored to a particular patient’s needs. Ricochet and Judy also work with military personnel diagnosed with PTSD one day each week. One segment of the six-week reintegration program helps soldiers become comfortable in various community settings with dogs by their sides. In addition to surfing, Ricochet spends time on the beach with special needs kids through the Best Day Foundation.
Sounds like a lot of service for a dog who couldn’t become a service dog, but Judy is careful to protect Ricochet’s zest for helping others.
“She definitely needs to de-stress,” Judy says. “I make sure she gets to run and burn off the energy.” If Ric doesn’t seem to be bouncing back “right way,” one of Judy’s friends does reiki on her. Judy says that it doesn’t matter where she and Ricochet go, the dog always identifies people who need her “services,” so to speak. “It happens whenever we’re out.” Judy follows a particularly busy day – for example, Ric might interact with 50 people and surf with four – with a day of just being at home. On average, Ricochet works at least one day each week.
A day at home is truly a break for Ricochet because Judy has a service dog of her own, Rina, a 10-year-old Golden-Lab mix. Plus, Judy says, her famous Golden Retriever “doesn’t give me what she gives to everyone else. I’m more connected to my other dog than I am to Ricochet. I always say that Rina is my dog, and Ricochet is for everyone else.”
Nonetheless, Judy finds joy in watching Ric at work. “You can’t not be happy,” she says, “because it’s so contagious.”
Judy isn’t quite sure what it is about Ricochet that attracts people and helps them heal. Part of it is that both the ocean and dogs are healing, she says. By combining them, people are able to be “out in the ocean and be free and feel like everyone else.” Another part is that “she’s just a regular old dog who gets into trouble, and chases birds and squirrels.” Perhaps her biggest draw, though, is that “she’s pure,” Judy says, and even people who have never met her “want to be part of that.”
That’s why Judy says Ricochet doesn’t belong to her. “She belongs to everyone. I really believe that. I just feel that I am so blessed to be her guardian.”
A big part of that guardianship was letting go of the initial plan of turning Ric into a service dog. “Once I let go, she was able to flourish. It’s a good lesson for anybody,” she says. People want their dogs to do this or that. “We kind of force our agendas on our dogs.
“If we just listen, they have so much to teach us.”
Judy admits that the last four years have been a “whirlwind journey.” After letting go of her goal for Ric, she says she doesn’t make the plans. “I just facilitate. That’s all part of this journey of agreeing to just be, to allow life to happen. As long as the universe and Ricochet and whatever power there is are directing this journey, I will continue with it. She’s five now. I’m surprised that it’s gone on this long. Whenever she’s done, it’s done. I’m not going to try to make something happen.”
Apparently, Ricochet has no trouble making things happen for herself.
If you’re in Southern California on June 22, you can see Ricochet in action. She’ll be in Imperial Beach for the Loews Coronado Bay Surf Dog Competition. She’ll be making everybody on the beach feel good and raising more money for one of her many causes.
You go, Ricochet!