Retired Staff Sgt. Randall Dexter, a U.S. Army veteran who served as a combat medic during two tours in Iraq, came back from the war with post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, while back home in the United States, he suffered a traumatic brain injury after he took a hit to the head during a flag football game. Dexter was in such bad shape mentally that he contemplated ending his life.
It was all brutal, Dexter told Today. “I was contemplating suicide and was a hot mess.”
Dexter needed a lot of help. After Dexter applied to the Paws’itive Teams program, a nonprofit that places service and therapy dogs with those in need, he was assigned to Ricochet, who changed his outlook. Ricochet has worked with more than 50 veterans, and is also known as the SURFice dog because she can ride tandem on a surfboard with the folks who she is assigned to help.
“The minute Ricochet came up to me, my wife — who’s also my caregiver — noticed a big change in me,” Dexter told Today. “Ricochet has this amazing softness in her eyes. It was definitely a turning point when I met her.”
Ricochet is trained to “alert” to such human conditions and anxiety or pain in others, as well as imminent danger, according to her trainer and owner, Judy Fridono. She told Today that Dexter, Ricochet and herself were shopping in a big box store and Ricochet stopped and planted all four paws to the ground, forbidding Dexter to move. Fridono took several steps forward and saw a loose metal beam swinging from the ceiling above them. Ricochet was able to sense the imminent danger and act accordingly.
Not only can Ricochet surf and sense danger, she can also open the door to a refrigerator, can help a person pull down a zipper and can drag a laundry basket (no, she can’t fold laundry). All these tasks can be attributed to her early development, as she spent some time when she was a puppy with a group called the Puppy Prodigies NeoNatal & Early Learning Program. She did well in the program until her instinct to chase birds kicked in, Fridono said, so she removed her from her service dog training. That left surfing as something that she did well.
The 8-and-a-half-year-old Golden Retriever hits the waves of San Diego, California, with Dexter and with children and adults with disabilities and special needs. Dexter couldn’t be happier with his four-legged surfing buddy.
“She gave me freedom and gave me my life back,” he said. “If you love surfing and you love dogs like I do, it was the perfect match!”