A small California charity rang in the New Year celebrating a fundraising milestone thanks to its most valuable volunteer: a service dog named Ricochet, who is a talented surfer.
On December 31, the lifetime fundraising total for the silky San Diego golden retriever topped $500,000.
"It seems like it’s taken a long time, but it’s also a huge accomplishment," says her owner, Judy Fridono. Ricochet, who turns 9 this month, was not available for comment.
When Ricochet was born, Ms. Fridono was training service and emotional-support dogs informally and hoped to place her with someone who was disabled.
"She was a brilliant puppy," says Ms. Fridono, but she was also easily distracted and quickly developed a keen interest in chasing small animals.
After inviting Ricochet onto a Boogie Board in a kiddie pool, Ms. Fridono realized the pup had unusually good balance.
A Star Is Born
In August 2009, Ricochet went to the Pacific Ocean to ride a wave with a teenage quadriplegic surfer named Patrick Ivison to raise money for Patrick’s therapy and a service dog being trained to live with him.
Each was on a separate board. But then Ricochet decided to jump on Patrick’s board with him, and a star was born.
"It was like this is what she was born to do, and she’s been surfing with people who are disabled ever since," says Ms. Fridono.
Ms. Fridono made an inspirational video to showcase Ricochet’s talents.
"That blew everything up," says Ms. Fridono. It went viral, and today a video called "From Service Dog to SURFice Dog" has gotten more than 6.4 million views.
Ms. Fridono formalized her dog-training program in 2012 by founding the nonprofit Puppy Prodigies. Ms. Fridono started using Ricochet’s social-media star power — her Facebook page with more than 259,000 followers and an Instagram account with more than 104,000 — to raise money for her nonprofit and others. Ricochet has raised money for bout 250 human and animal causes, including rescue groups and shelters and organizations supporting veterans, people with autism, and children with cancer.
Her latest holiday fundraiser, which brought in around $12,000, will support Puppy Prodigies’ own program, which brings together people who have previously surfed with Ricochet to help new veterans who come to surf with her.
For an organization with no fundraising staff, the surfing dog has been a godsend.
"My intention when she was born was for her to help one individual," says Ms. Fridono. "Ricochet wants to help the masses."