Via Facebook @SurfDogRicochet Ricochet The Surf Dog

Randy Dexter drank. He called it "self-medicating." But after four years, he realized booze wasn't helping anymore. And he asked for help.

That was in 2009. Four years later, after learning he suffered from PTSD, a result of being hit by an IED and "seeing some things" as an Army combat medic, Dexter got help.

Ricochet The Surf Dog

From a dog.

Today, Dexter is a senior at UNLV majoring in communications. He says he went from "not talking about anything to someone who just wouldn't shut up." He had isolated himself. But when he met Ricochet, a therapy dog most well known as a surf dog, Dexter's life changed.

"In the first moment I met her, she saw me and we made eye contact and she made a beeline for me," Dexter said. "She chose me."

It's what Ricochet does. Dexter is just one of the many physically and mentally disabled people that the dog, a deep red-brown golden retriever, has touched. But that wasn't the path her owner, Judy Fridono, originally chose for Ricochet.

"She was supposed to be a service dog, but that didn't work out," said Fridono, a service and therapy dog trainer in Escondido, California. "She likes to chase critters" and that doesn't work for a service dog.

Fridono always knew Ricochet was special. She just wasn't sure what to do with her misfit student. Ricochet is smart – so smart, Fridono says, that the dog was able to flip a light switch at eight weeks old. But service-dog training bored her furry friend. One day, on a beach in Southern California, Fridono found Ricochet's calling.

"When I knew she couldn't be a service dog, we started playing around," Fridono said. "We played on a boogie board in a pool and she had great balance. … We knew a boy who was disabled and wanted to do a fundraiser, so we thought we'd put Ricochet on a board and the boy on a board and have them surf. But Ricochet jumped onto his board."

The boy, Patrick Ivison, then 15, had been injured as a baby and was wheelchair bound. His goal was to gain independence, but the physical therapy required was prohibitively expensive.

Ricochet The Surf Dog

"We both got in the water and I was on her board and I was on my board," said Ivison, a recent USC grad living and working North Hollywood. "After a couple of waves, she trotted over and got onto my back and everyone kind of had the same thought at the same time … let's try to do this on purpose. I don't know how to describe it, it was a whole new experience."

That day in 2009, a star – and an opportunity – was born. The fundraiser netted $10,000 for Ivison's therapy and a private donor stepped forward to pay for the rest.

"Now I'm strong enough and independent enough to live on my own," Ivison said. "I have my own apartment (with roommates). When you track it back and trickle it to the source, it's because of Ricochet."

Ricochet went on to surf with dozens of autistic children and veterans with PTSD. All the while, her owner, Fridono, was on her way to raising $500,000 (they hit that goal on New Year's Eve 2016) for myriad organizations benefitting veterans and autistic children. Most of the money was raised through Ricochet's Facebook page. She also has an Instagram account.

Throughout the journey, Fridono has been constantly amazed at her dog's ability to connect with people.

"It's really a spiritual journey," she said. "She's able to bond with people very quickly and I call it on a ‘soul to soul' level. The connection, it's not really describable."

Ricochet The Surf Dog

Fridono may not have the words for what she sees, but Dexter does.

"I have an amazing support system, but in some ways, I feel like I am alone," Dexter said. "A dog's unconditional love, devotion, it made me feel that I wasn't alone, not just that I was loved, but that there was someone out there who knew what I was feeling. She just got it."

Dexter's experience with Ricochet – which included visits to local stores and parks – was through a program called Canine Inspired Community Integration, a six-week program during which veterans can spend time with a therapy dog to see if having a service dog would be useful. Dexter's experience was so positive that he had additional sessions with Fridono and Ricochet before getting his own service dog, Captain Dexter, through K9s for Warriors.

"He saved my life," Dexter said. "Ricochet was great, but she wasn't my dog. Captain gave my freedom back, my life back."

Though Dexter didn't meet Ricochet at the beach, the two did get a chance to surf.

"Up to that point, I had never been to the beach with her, my relationship wasn't based on that," Dexter said. "It was great to be in her element."

Ricochet The Surf Dog

The surfing, Fridono says, isn't the bulk of what Ricochet does, but it is a critical piece of her work. During that initial fundraiser, it was Ricochet who jumped onto Ivison's board so they could surf together instead of side-by-side and that, Fridono, points to as Ricochet's magic.

"There is a healing that goes on with the surfing, but it goes way beyond that," said Fridono, who freely admits she doesn't have the connection that Ricochet has with others. "There is healing through the ocean and through the dog."

As Ricochet ages, Fridono says she will continue to surf. But they are also exploring paddle boarding as a less strenuous way to keep Ricochet in the water with people she can help.

Years after trying to get Ricochet to play the role of service dog, Fridono is grateful that she "listened" to her dog and found her calling.

"I wanted her to help one person," Fridono said. "She wants to help millions."

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