From Service Dog to Surfing Dog

Judy Fridono sees the positive side in many situations. Diagnosed with a degenerative disease, Judy doesn’t focus on her constant pain; instead, she turns her energies toward training service dogs. Ricochet, her 2-year old Golden Retriever, was slated to become a service dog, but didn’t make the cut. Ricochet now works as a surfice dog.

Judy with Ricochet, her Surfice dog.

From almost the moment she was born, Judy worked with Ricochet. She was so proud of the progress Ricochet was making.  She learned how to fetch, how to turn on and off light switches, how to zip a jacket, and other tasks taught to service dogs.

Ricochet also loved chasing birds. “She would be in a field, and as soon as she saw a bird, she would run after it,” says Judy. “I was disheartened. She was doing so well with her training, but you can’t have a service dog that chases birds.”

Making the Cut

Any number of factors can disqualify a dog from becoming an assistant to a person with disabilities. Judy is well aware that all dogs don’t make the cut. It was eight years ago that she started Puppy Prodigies, a neo-natal and early learning nonprofit program that trains puppies for service work. “Most of us would agree that it is difficult to predict the adult personality of a puppy,” says Judy. “Since that’s not possible, Puppy Prodigies focuses on the puppies’ early weeks which are crucial to their later success in training, and in life. We specialize in early learning and development from birth to 7-12 weeks of age. This gets the puppy ready for the next phase of their training by learning to learn.”

Ricochet came close, and Judy didn’t want to give up on her. “I was frustrated and knew that she wouldn’t be able to assist someone who was blind or deaf, or had some other disability,” says Judy. “Then I thought about her surfing abilities.”

Ricochet loves the waves.

As part of her training, Judy would place Ricochet (and the other service dogs she trained) in a kiddie pool with a wooden plank. She put Ricochet on top of the plank, and she would balance. “Not all dogs like the motion of an unsteady surface,” says Judy. “It’s a good idea to get service dogs to feel comfortable in all sorts of situations. Not all grounds are steady, and if a blind person is walking with a service dog on a wobbly sidewalk or even an escalator, the dog should feel confident guiding the person who can’t see.”

Surfing Dog

It turns out that Ricochet has incredible balance, and a love for the water. Judy would take Ricochet to the beach near their home in San Diego. She entered Ricochet in a local surfing contest, and she won.  Since then, Ricochet has entered several contests, and won most of them.  She just loves surfing.

Judy turned this love into a way to raise money for people with disabilities. “Ricochet became a surfice dog,” she says. “And I started Surfin’ for Paws-abilities,” a nonprofit assistance dog program.

People make tax-deductible donations to specific charities, and Judy searches for sponsors. Ricochet’s first fundraiser was to help 15-year old Patrick Ivison, a quadriplegic surfer. Ricochet would ride tandem with Patrick. When he fell off his surf board, Ricochet pulled him back on.

Judy was able to raise $10,000 for Patrick’s therapy, and her sponsor, the Rose Foundation awarded a grant to cover three years of Patrick’s physical therapy. In addition, the donation covered enough for Patrick to get a service dog of his own.

Judy and Ricochet continue to raise funds. As of this date, they raised a total of $20,000 thanks to a video Judy made about Ricochet and his surfing abilities.

Judy, who is a certified dog trainer, trains other service dogs. She is looking into training shelter dogs for her program. “We don’t need to breed more dogs,” she says. “The shelters are filled, and I’m sure that there are many dogs that would greatly benefit from this program.”

Lessons Learned

“When I stopped focusing on what she couldn’t do, and focused on what she could do, everything fell into place,” she says. “By listening to Ricochet, and letting her do what she does best—not what I wanted her to do—she accomplished amazing things.”

She is still winning the hearts of all who meet her, and working hard to raise awareness and funds for people in need.

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