COAST CITIES — Surf Dog Ricochet, the “SURFice” dog is usually seen providing a lifeline in the Del Mar waters as she surfs with people with disabilities.
But recently, she’s been credited with saving the life of retired Staff Sgt. Randall Dexter who suffers from combat related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“I definitely feel that Ricochet saved my life. Before I met her, I was very isolated, and became depressed and suicidal. But, when I met Ricochet, I finally had a new sense of hope.” Dexter said.
Dexter and Ricochet met through Paws’itive Team’s six-week Canine Inspired Community Re-integration (CICR) program. The program helps service members reduce their PTSD symptoms through canine therapy. The certified dogs accompany the service members to places that evoke anxiety such as busy stores. The program also gives them insight into what it would be like to have a service dog of their own.
Dexter served two tours in Iraq as a U.S. Army combat medic. On April 5, 2005 his squad was hit with a very large improvised explosive device (IED) and he suffered a traumatic brain injury. He served for another 27 months.
In April of 2009, Dexter was formally diagnosed with PTSD, and began his long journey into treatment. He has been active in many different therapies, individual counseling and physical activities. But, he had a hard time functioning in day-to-day activities and looked at most things as potential threats. He couldn’t find anything to stop the substance abuse, rage outbursts, nightmares, panic attacks, and all around feeling of hopelessness. Statistics indicate 22 veterans a day die by post-deployment suicide.
When Dexter first met Ricochet, they bonded instantly. She gave him what he was looking for, and he felt fully alive for the first time in years. She was sensing subtle changes in his body, detecting, alerting and re-directing his pain, anxiety, panic attacks and other symptoms, even before he knew they were happening. Through Ricochet, he found the strength he needed. He no longer needed medication, drugs or alcohol. His suicidal thoughts subsided.
Dexter finally had the security of a battle buddy again. In the military, a battle buddy is your battlefield partner. Battle buddies are always ready to assist one another. Wherever they go, whatever they do… they watch each other’s backs. Ricochet was his second set of eyes when they went out into crowds. Without any training, she would stop him from going down aisles that had a lot of people or perceived threats because she intuitively knew it would cause him more anxiety. Dexter is also able to position her in front of, or behind him to create a physical barrier between himself and other people. In addition, when he faces one direction, she is next to him, facing the other direction so she can see anything that may be happening behind his back.
“I didn’t train Ricochet to do this,” said Judy Fridono, Ricochet’s guardian. Four years ago, when Fridono released her from the role of service dog due to her propensity for chasing birds, it never dawned on her that Ricochet could be a service dog to an able bodied person who has PTSD. Just as she had the natural ambition to jump on a surfboard with disabled surfer, Patrick Ivison, she is again making her own choices and is now extending a lifeline to service members and veterans.
Of course Fridono thought of giving her to Dexter as a service dog. But, after much thought, both Dexter and Fridono realized Ricochet is meant to help many people in her own unique way. Plus, she’s going to be six years old next month, which is too old to place as a service dog. So, instead Ricochet raised $10,000 to fund a service dog for Dexter which he should be receiving in several months. Until then, Ricochet will continue assisting Randy.
After the six week CICR program was over, Ricochet and Dexter took things to another level and created the PTSD Battle Buddy Initiative For details, visit surfdogricochet.com/ptsd-battle-buddies.html. The goals of the PTSD Battle Buddy Initiative are to raise awareness of its symptoms, remove the stigma associated with it, provide support to veterans and their families and most importantly reduce the suicide rate. Ricochet and Dexter are also committed to helping veterans work their way through the process of getting a service dog, as well as determining the type dog that would best suit them; pet, therapy, emotional support, service or volunteering at an animal shelter or other dog-related entity to experience the healing power of dogs before making a long term commitment.
For more information, please contact Judy Fridono at firstname.lastname@example.org or (707) 228-0679.