Last fall, the story made its way around the media fish tank to the North County Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Orange County Register, Orlando Sentinel, Honolulu Advertiser, and Anchorage Daily News, to dog websites, surfer websites, surfer magazines, to PetLifeRadio.com, Huffingtonpost.com, to countless blogs, to foreign newspapers (Kuwait’s Arab Times), to San Diego’s KFMB-TV and KUSI-TV, to The Today Show, Animal Planet, ABC News, CBS News, and all ships at sea.
It is an irresistible story, how Escondido’s Judy Fridono, a certified professional dog trainer, acquired a golden retriever puppy to train as a service dog for people with disabilities. But, puppy Ricochet washes out because she likes to chase birds. Trainer has an epiphany, accepts dog for who she is — a natural surfer. Dog is hooked up with Patrick Ivison, a 15-year-old quadriplegic boy. Ricochet enters dog-surfer events, finished second at Del Mar, placed second in the large-dog category at Huntington Beach. Dog trainer uses teenage surfer dog to raise money for quadriplegic boy. Trainer and dog raise $10,000 for Patrick, and WebMD Health Foundation donates three years of physical therapy.
Which brings us to the homemade video. Shots of Ricochet as a pup, shots of Ricochet growing up, shots of Patrick surfing, Ricochet surfing, Patrick and Ricochet tandem surfing. Shots of Patrick struggling, fighting, learning to use a walker. The video slams you in the stomach like a rifle shot (go to YouTube, type, “SURFice dog” in the search box).
And then life moves on. Ricochet has since raised money for children in hospitals and is currently working for a young boy with a traumatic brain injury. Patrick got a Labrador retriever service dog, Kona, and vows to cross the stage in a walker at his high school graduation.
I’ve wondered how things went for the trainer, Judy Fridono. What follows is culled from two telephone interviews.
“I can’t talk about it without shedding tears,” Fridono says. “That’s how emotional it is. Pretty much every single person that left a comment [on YouTube], talks about how they’ve cried watching this video.”
“How many people?”
“It’s 1,246,550 views right now. And that’s just on YouTube. The video went viral: most views have come through people sending emails to each other.”
Fridono says, “During the time I was training Ricochet not to chase birds, it was frustrating because she lost interest in training. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. We struggled. I wasn’t always accepting. But, when I finally let go [of wanting her to be a service dog] and stopped trying to control, then all these amazing things started happening. The fundraising was so successful, the video went viral. Things bigger than life started happening. I wanted Ricochet to make a difference in one person’s life as a service dog and instead she’s made a difference in tens of thousands of lives through the video.
“I’ve made new friendships. The closest ones are Patrick and his family. I don’t have family here, so holidays and such, I’ve usually been with my dogs. [Patrick’s family] invited me for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They’re having a birthday party for Patrick’s service dog today and invited me to come. Another friendship would be Robbie Nelson, who is Ricochet’s surf coach [and owner of Happy Barrels Surf Instruction in Encinitas]. He helps Patrick surf, but when we wanted to try tandem surfing, he was right there, no questions asked.”
We chat for awhile, then Fridono volunteers, “I have a disability, but I can still help people — I can still do something meaningful with my life.”
Hate asking this... “What is your disability?”
“It started with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when I was 16 years old. I’m 51 now. I’ve been in pain my whole life. It never goes away. And then I developed degenerative joint disease, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
“I can walk okay. I do have some issues in one of my feet. I have an artificial joint that’s broken and a torn tendon and some dislocations and things like that, but I think I get around relatively well. I don’t have much strength. If I do something, I’m going to hurt myself. I can’t manage to be in the water with Ricochet and a surfboard. I need someone to help me. That’s where Robbie plays such a big role in our lives. He’s building a bond with Ricochet in order to keep me out of the water. He really loves her. That’s where I was yesterday — we went to the beach. Ricochet heard [Robbie’s] voice and just flew to him.”
Send money, offer help. Judy Fridono can be reached at 707-228-0679 or [email protected] Ricochet’s Facebook page is: tinyurl.com/ydat25x. Her website is: ripcurlricki.com.