ESCONDIDO, Calif. (Circa) - When Ricochet is not playing with her fellow golden retriever sister, Cori, she's at the beach. But she's not playing fetch.
"Surf Dog Ricochet is a golden retriever who surfs with kids and people with disabilities [and] veterans with PTSD," said Judy Fridono, Ricochet's faithful owner for more than 10 years now.
Fridono was training Ricochet to become a service dog, but Ricochet wouldn't have it.
"One day, on the beach, she jumped on a surfboard with a boy who’s quadriplegic, and it was at that moment that I realized, 'Ok, this is what this dog wants to do, so I started nurturing that,'" said Fridono.
Through the nonprofit Surf Dog Ricochet, the service-dog-turned-surfice-dog has helped everyone from people with physical disabilities to PTSD and autism.
Lauren Chavez's son, West, is 12 years old and autistic.
She doesn't listen to what you're saying. She listens to what you're feeling.
"Ricochet's had a really big impact on West as far as his ability to interact with people, his social language skills," said Chavez.
"The way that she communicates how that person is feeling is always just so different and fun," said Fridono. "You know, she one time just climbed in a flower bed, and I said to the service member, Do you feel like going to bed right now? And he goes, yeah, I feel like I do after work, I just go home, not even take my boots off and pass out on the couch. And it was because she went in a flower bed.”
Judy estimates Ricochet has surfed with hundreds of kids and adults in the last 10 years.
"The thing with her is she doesn't listen to what you're saying. She listens to what you're feeling," said Fridono.
"It’s not very typical for kids that have autism to want to help other people," said Chavez. "West has sort of an ability to want to take people under his wing, sort of like Ricochet does.”
West Chavez is now Ricochet's junior water handler and has been doing so for the past year.
Now Fridono is hoping to help other dogs become surfice dogs, too.
“I have a whole program of teaching your dog to surf before you even get to the ocean," says Fridono. "Most people when they’re teaching their dog to surf, they go out to the beach, get a surfboard, get their dog on a board and push them in a wave. And a lot of dogs are used to go in the beach to play, so when you’re trying to get them to stay on the surfboard, and somebody throws a ball, it’s not that easy.”
For Fridono, what Ricochet has taught her extends far beyong the board.
"After these 10 years with Ricochet, I really believe dogs are magical beings," said Fridono. "I believe they live in a sphere that we don’t.”