How can we better serve the Americans who have served our country? It’s one of the most important questions we have to grapple with, especially when veterans’ stories are so common. As we turn to this difficult question, we can take comfort in knowing at least one unexpected source of strength some veterans can turn to: the whole love and companionship of a good dog.
Sergeant Randy Dexter was a man in pain. He was an Army member who served twice in Iraq, whose life was changed by an accident that occurred in April 2005 when his Humvee was detonated by an improvised explosive device. The trauma of the experience, and the guilt of not being able to save a local civilian that day, haunted Dexter. In search of a way to numb the pain, he turned to alcohol. A voice inside him told him to end his life.
After years of mired in depression, alcoholism, sobriety and relapse cycles, he sought professional help. He ended up doing a detox, and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. But his struggle persisted, and after another relapse and another detox treatment, one Army therapist suggested trying something new: six weeks of dog therapy, run by an organization called Pawsitive Teams.
It was here that Dexter made his new four-legged friend change his life.
Ricochet was a golden retriever trained from birth for service. But her boundless energy and penchant for chasing birds took away her chances of working as a service dog all the time. A frustrated but expert, Jodi Freidono discovered an incredible talent for balance and love of water. It wasn’t long before Ricochet built a unique legend as a surface dog, offering joy and companionship on the water to children with special needs and people with disabilities. Always looking for a new opportunity to provide support, Ric and Judy volunteer for Team Paws’itive.
As soon as Dexter met Ricochet, on the first day of the program, a real connection formed. She opened her mouth, grinning. A calm fell over me, a calm I hadn’t felt in a long time. My heart slowed. I caught myself smiling.”
For six weeks, Rick was Dexter’s inseparable companion. When Dexter went to the mall, Rick helped sense the presence of the crowd and helped Dexter prepare for or avoid situations that might trigger a panic attack. “I feel better when I’m with Ricochet. Anxiety, panic attacks, no big deal. Ricochet knows when I’m in a bad place,” says Dexter. “She takes care of me.”
After Dexter’s time with the program ends, he says goodbye to Rich. But he kept in touch with Rich and Judy, and even turned down an offer from Judy to take Rick on full time. “I knew Ric had a broader mission to help others,” said Dexter.
Together, Judy, Rich, and Dexter created the PTSD Battle Buddy Initiative, and the Judy fundraiser helped Randy get his own service dog, a Lab Lab mix named Captain.
Clearly, the love and support of a good dog changed Randy Dexter’s life, and perhaps even saved him. A mission Ricochet continues to this day, for Dexter and other veterans, all the while raising money and awareness so others can join her in the cause.
Learn more about Ricochet’s amazing story here:
And in this video, learn more about Sgt. Dexter and his experiences with Rick:
You can follow Ric on Facebook, on Instagram, and on her website.
Featured image via Surfing The Ricotta Dog. h / t guides
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