Ricochet washed out as a service dog. But that didn't mean she couldn't find a way to serve.
Waves lapped the shoreline at Fiesta Island. I bent down, ignoring the ache in my knees, and set a boogie board at the water’s edge. “Ricochet, position!” I called. I was training Ricochet (Ricki, for short), a 15-month-old golden retriever, to be a service dog for the disabled. She’d been a puppy prodigy, quickly picking up tasks like opening the fridge, tugging zippers, even pulling Kleenex from the box without shredding it.
But lately? She was disinterested. Lackadaisical. I tried redirecting her attention, using a clicker, rewarding her with treats. Nothing worked. The only thing Ricochet really cared about obeying these days was her instinct to chase birds. She had amazing self-control and would never chase them while I was training her, but the way she darted after them when she played worried me. Service dogs can’t give in to instincts like that—even while playing—and if I couldn’t get Ricochet to curb hers, she’d be no help to anyone.
Two horses were trapped on an icy mountain. Would help arrive in time?
I’d brought her here to the beach, one of her favorite spots to learn, hoping it would motivate her. Ricki loved the water—when she was just eight weeks old I’d taught her how to navigate uneven surfaces by putting her on a boogie board in a kiddie pool. Her balance was extraordinary! Of course she’d been an eager-to-please puppy then.
“Ricochet, position!” I called again. She trotted over. I patted the board. She hopped on. She walked down to the end, turned around and walked back, nimbly adjusting to the motion of the waves. “Great work, girl,” I said stroking her fur. So far, so good. Then I took off her training leash so she could play.
Suddenly a seagull swooped down, squawking. Ricochet bolted, chasing the gull down the beach. Nooo! Here we go again, I thought, sitting down in the sand, my knees aching.
Five years earlier, at age 46, I’d had to go on disability because of rheumatoid arthritis. My neck, shoulders, wrists, knees and ankles throbbed constantly. Maybe even worse than the pain was the fatigue. If it weren’t for my service dog, Rina, a golden/Lab mix, I wouldn’t have had the energy to get out of bed.
I longed for a way to feel useful again. One day I was petting Rina when the answer came to me. Before my RA got debilitating, I’d volunteered with canine organizations. I’d even gotten certified as a dog trainer. What if I raised a service dog in my home? I wouldn’t have to expend energy going anywhere.
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Ricochet was born to parents who came from a long line of service dogs. I knew she was going to make a brilliant service dog too. Our first months together she mastered the basics and moved on to advanced cues. It made me feel good knowing one day Ricochet would help someone the way Rina helped me.
Now, watching Ricochet race after the seagull, I wasn’t so sure. I couldn’t place her with a disabled person. It was too risky. What if she was helping someone in a wheelchair cross a busy street and took off after a bird? The gull flew off and Ricochet came back to me panting. “Let’s go, Ricki,” I said.
Of course Ricochet would be a wonderful companion to me, but I had a feeling she was meant to do more. I’ve put all my energy—and hopes—into this dog. For what, Lord? I prayed, frustrated. What else can Ricki do? You’ve gotto help me figure this out!
Back home, it hit me: Dog surfing is a popular sport here on the West Coast. People have their dogs hop on small surfboards, they push the dogs out into the water and the dogs ride the waves back to shore. Ricochet was so skilled on the boogie board. What if she could surf too?