By Kelly Burch
Judy Fridono was in her early 40s when she began training dogs. She never could have imagined that the first litter she raised would produce a dog that would become an international sensation. In her new book, Fridono talks about raising Ricochet, the surfing golden retriever who has become famous for helping people of all abilities spend time on a board. For Fridono, Ricochet’s story is about more than catching a wave. Kelly Burch caught up with Fridono to discuss about following your heart and accepting people as they come, and to learn how a dog trainer who doesn’t surf produced the most famous canine on the waves.
Renew: You moved from the corporate grind to the puppy play yard. How did that transition come about?
Fridono:I left the corporate world and wanted to know that I left the world making a difference in at least one person’s life. I had been at a pet expo and saw the opportunity to puppy raise for an organization that trains service dogs, so that’s kind of how I started.
Renew:You got an Associate’s Degree in dog training, and then founded the Puppy Prodigies training program. I hear you got lucky with the very first litter.
Fridono: Ricochet was part of the first litter that I whelped through that program. Basically I knew I wanted to keep a girl. I knew there were going to be ten puppies and we were up to puppy nine. I turned to the mom and said “make the next one a girl, and make her have a piece of white fur on her chest.” It was just a statement; it was meaningless. The next puppy was girl with white fur on her chest. My jaw dropped when I saw the white fur on her chest. It was a cosmic type of experience.
Renew: It sounds like Ricochet was special from the beginning. And at the start she was very successful with the training program, but then I hear things started to change.
Fridono: I first started formal training with her when she was 13 days old. By eight weeks she was turning light switches and doing service dog tasks, so she was doing really well. But somewhere around 16 weeks, she shut down. She wasn’t interested in training anymore and would walk away from a session. We struggled for a good year with me trying to get her back to the enthusiastic dog that she was as puppy. I was pretty much trying to make her into something she wasn’t.
Renew: When did you know that Ricochet might have an alternative career path?
Fridono: At eight weeks [old] I started inviting her up on the boogie board. We played around a bit with the surf board, originally in the pool, then going into the bay. She had really good balance, but she was a puppy and was distracted pretty easily.
When she was 15 months old she was invited to participate in the Purina Incredible Dog Competition’s Surf Dog Contest. She entered, and came in third place. I thought that she did really well with it, and after struggling with her for so long and being frustrated, when she won I was like “oh wow she’s actually good at something!”
Renew: You thought that maybe Ricochet could fundraise through her surfing, but she took the surfing even further…
Fridono: She jumped on the board with a boy who I would never have thought of as a surfer because he was disabled. She chose what she wanted to do once I finally listened to her. All those months of struggling, she was trying to tell me “I don’t want to be a service dog. I want to surf.”
Renew:How does Ricochet help disabled surfers catch a wave?
Fridono: She adjusts her surfing style based on the disability. That’s something she just innately does. Sometimes she’ll surf on the front of the board, sometimes on the back of the board. It just depends on what the person needs and how they utilize her. It just depends on the person and disability and what they may want to try to do. If somebody needs to use her to try to stand up, they will surf behind her to hold onto her back and steady themselves. If they’re lying down she’s typically in the back to counterbalance.
Renew:Ricochet has surfed with people with an array of physical, developmental and emotional disabilities. Has there been a particular person that has touched you?
Fridono: I see the most transformation in the people who have autism or veterans with PTSD. Both those populations pretty much live in their own world. We can never know what someone with PTSD is feeling. We just don’t know. Same with Autism. We want them to live in our world. Ricochet doesn’t have that expectation of them, she goes into their world and is able to communicate with them with obviously no language. I see transformation happen in front of my face because whatever is going on is on such a deep level and it’s just so powerful. There are big changes in people she’s interacted with.
Renew:Why do you think dogs are able to connect so well with people who are hurting or in recovery?
Fridono: There are dogs in general, and then there’s Ricochet. Typically the animal-human bond is very strong because the dog and the human are together. They live with you, and get to know you. Ricochet can develop that bond instantly with strangers and with everyone. She’s a little bit different from the average.
Renew:And yet, when she’s not at work, we hear that Ricochet is just a normal canine… What is a typical day like for her?
Fridono: I like to say she’s an ordinary dog with an extraordinary spirit. She gets in trouble. She likes to chase squirrels, cats. She will dig holes. She’s just a regular old dog who’s got this special quality about her.
Renew: What can people learn from Ricochet’s story?
Fridono: So much. Basically what I’ve learned is to let go of expectations. What the person possesses in their own self can be way better than what you want them to be. Let go of control and just let life be and to live life as it happens and not try to control it.
Each person who reads [the book] will take whatever they need at that time, and it’s going to be different for everyone. There are so many lessons that Ricochet has. It depends where you re in you life when you’re reading the book and what will resonate with you. But something will.
Renew: One last question: I’ve got to know where her name came from.
Fridono: I was thinking of naming her something more cosmically like “Que Sera Sera.” But one day she came running through and she was literally bouncing off the walls in the puppy play yard, so that’s where the name came from. Now people say that she has ricocheted across the world, so I guess the name fits.
For more information on Ricochet, visit www.surfdogricochet.com