How can we best serve the Americans who served our country? It’s one of the most important questions we have to wrestle with, especially when stories of suffering veterans are all too common. When we linger on this difficult question, we can take comfort in knowing at least one unexpected source of strength that some veterans can turn to: the total love and companionship offered by a good dog.
Sergeant Randy Dexter was a man in pain. An Army medic who served two tours in Iraq, his life was changed by an incident in April 2005 when his Humvee was blasted by an IED. The trauma of the experience, and the guilt of being unable to save a local civilian that day, haunted Dexter. In search of a way to numb the pain, he turned to alcohol. A voice within him told him to end his life.
After years of sinking into depression and alcoholism, and cycles of sobriety and relapse, he sought professional help. He ended up in detox, and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. But his struggles continued- and after another relapse and another detox, an army therapist suggested he try something new: six weeks of canine therapy, run by an organization called Paws’itive Teams.
It was here that Dexter made a new four-legged friend who would change his life.
Ricochet was a Golden Retriever who had been trained from birth for service. But her boundless energy and propensity for chasing birds had derailed her chances of working as a full-time service dog. Disappointed but resourceful, her handler, Judy Fridono, discovered Ric’s incredible gift of balance- and love of the water. It wasn’t long before Ricochet built a singular legend as a Surf-ice dog, offering joy and companionship on the water to kids with special needs and people with disabilities. Always in search of a new opportunity to give back, Ric and Judy volunteered for Paws’itive Teams.
As soon as Dexter met Ricochet, on day one of the program, a genuine connection formed. “She opened her mouth, grinning. A calm fell over me, a calm I hadn’t felt in a very long time,” Dexter recalled. “My heartbeat slowed. I caught myself smiling back.”
For six weeks, Ric was Dexter’s inseparable companion. When Dexter went out to the mall, Ric helped sense the presence of crowds and help Dexter prepare for, or avoid, situations that might trigger a panic attack. “I feel better when I’m with Ricochet. The anxiety, panic attacks, they aren’t so much of a problem. Ricochet knows when I’m getting into a bad place,” Dexter said. “She takes care of me”
After Dexter’s time with the program completed, he said goodbye to Ric. But he stayed in touch with Ric and Judy, and even declined an offer from Judy to take Ric full time. “I knew Ric had a broader mission to help others,” Dexter said.
Together, Judy, Ric and Dexter created the PTSD Battle Buddy Initiative, and Judy’s fundraising helped Randy get a service dog of his own, a Lab mix named Captain.
It’s clear that the love and support of a good dog changed Randy Dexter’s life, and maybe even saved him. And it’s a mission that Ricochet continues to this day, for Dexter and for other veterans, all the while raising funds and awareness so that others can join her in the cause.
Learn more about Ricochet’s incredible story here:
And in this video, learn more about Sgt. Dexter and his experiences with Ric:
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