Believe it or not, the most amazing thing about this Golden Retriever named Ricochet isn't that she is an award-winning surfer. (Yes, that's surfing as in surfboard and ocean, not browsing the Internets.) The thing that makes this dog so special is her ability to give back. That's right, she's a surfing therapy dog, empowering countless children and adults with disabilities and helping them heal. We were lucky enough to snag an interview with Ricochet's human and trainer Judy Fridono to hear this special pup's unlikely tale.
OLLIE: Have you raised and trained other service dogs?
JF: I have a degree in service dog training and founded the Puppy Prodigies Neo-Natal & Early Learning program, which was formed to raise and train service dogs for people with disabilities. Ricochet was born into the program, and she took her first breath in my hands. I have raised and trained numerous service dogs, but my passion is working with puppies from the moment they are born until seven weeks of age. I created the early learning program to focus on the different stages of brain development during that time.
OLLIE: Ricochet's path to service had some detours. What happened?
JF: Ricochet was slated to be a service dog from the moment she was born. She was a brilliant puppy and learned many tasks such as turning lights on and off, opening doors and retrieving items by the time she was eight weeks old. But somewhere around 14 to 16 weeks of age, she lost interest in training and shut down. I tried to re-motivate her for over a year, but she just didn't respond. When she first surfed with Patrick Ivison who is quadriplegic from a car accident, it was like she was born again. She was so excited to keep running back in the water to surf again and again. The most interesting thing about it is, it was her decision to jump on a surfboard with Patrick. Once I allowed her to be who she is, she flourished. From that day forward, I nurtured her natural talents and purpose in life.
OLLIE: It's not exactly common for dogs to surf—how did you discover this talent? And how long did it take Ricochet to learn?
JF: Along with the developmental program I have for the puppies, I also create environments where they have to walk through, around, under things, balance on things, etc. All to get them ready for life in the big world. One day, Ricochet was in a kiddie pool and there was a boogie board nearby. I invited her onto the board, and she climbed on. She had such good balance, I kept offering her more challenging situations with the board. She went on to win many surf dog contests, and was inducted to two surf dog halls of fame.
OLLIE: Ricochet works with a lot of different people in and out of the water. What do you observe in these interactions?
JF: The segments of the population that she works with that I see the most transformation in is kids with autism and military with PTSD. She's able to connect with them on a soul-to-soul, heart-to-heart level. There is a lot of healing that goes on without any words spoken.
OLLIE: Ricochet's story seems to be a lesson in letting go of our expectations for others. How do you see this play out in her service?
JF: She accepts people for who they are. She has no expectation for what they should be like. By doing so, they let their guard down and start to accept themselves as well.
OLLIE: OK, now tell it to us straight: which is harder, house training a dog or teaching one to surf?
JF: House training!