Ricochet the surfing therapy dog is comfortable on the waves and a comfort to others
Ricochet started training to be a service dog when she was just a tiny pup. But at about 16 weeks old, the copper-colored golden retriever developed a habit that sidelined those efforts: chasing birds.
“I couldn’t guarantee she wouldn’t chase birds if she was with a person with a disability,” says owner Judy Fridono.
Fridono quickly learned that Ricki, as she’s called, was destined for greater things. At the beach one day in 2009, after a year without any real progress in her training, she jumped on the surfboard of a boy named Patrick Ivison, an adaptive surfer. Ivison was run over by a car when he was a toddler and became quadriplegic. Ricki ended up happily surfing wave after wave with him. It was then that Fridono realized what Ricki was on this earth to do: She became the first-ever canine-assisted surf therapy dog.
Thus began Ricki’s illustrious career as a “surfice” dog—perhaps the most famous board-riding pup out there, who has shredded waves with countless people with disabilities as well as pros like Encinitas local Rob Machado. Ricki’s surf career has even landed her a starring role in the new Imax documentary Superpower Dogs, showing at the Fleet Science Center.
And though Ricki may not have been cut out for a career as a service dog, for the past nine years she’s been able to help kids with special needs, people with disabilities, wounded warriors and veterans with PTSD in another way: as a therapy dog. She balances boards and lives!
She’s shown an uncanny ability to make immediate heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul connections with people. She detects the anxiety and triggers of military service members with post-traumatic stress disorder, children with autism, and many others. Ricki has worked with hundreds of people through local service dog program Paws’itive Teams and Fridono’s own program, Waves of Empowerment, among others.
“She has this powerful healing ability,” Fridono says. “It’s a gift, not something I taught her. I just nurtured it.”
Within minutes of meeting someone, Ricki can sense a person’s deep-seated emotions. She then reacts with actions that alleviate their stress, like making eye contact, mirroring emotions and even placing herself between a person and the cause of their stress. “She’ll stop and plant, which gives the person a chance to look at their environment and see what’s she’s alerting them to, so they don’t have an anxiety attack,” Fridono says. “There’s this whole other side to dogs. We often think they’re misbehaving when they’re actually trying to give us important information. Once we learn to interpret their behavior differently, they can teach us amazing things. Dogs are always communicating with us; we just have to listen.”