When pet parents accept and embrace their dogs as they are, those pups can blossom in unexpected and life-changing ways. I had the chance to talk with the owners of two incredible dogs: Naki’o the Bionic Dog and Surf Dog Ricochet. Not only are these dogs inspiring, but they are proof that every dog and their person can work together to make the world a better place.
Naki’o the Bionic Dog – Colorado Springs, Colorado
Naki’o wasn’t born bionic. When he was a puppy, he was found frozen in a puddle near his littermates and their mother. The dog family was stuck in a foreclosed house during a harsh Nebraska winter. The little mixed-breed pup lost all four paws, half of his tail, part of his nose, and a chip in his ear to frostbite. Animal control gave the puppies to a rescue group in Fort Collins, Colo. (at the time called A Puppy’s Voice), which gave them veterinary care and tried to find them happy, forever homes.
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As fate would have it, veterinary technician, Christie Pace, was browsing PetFinder.com when she saw a photo of Naki’o and read about his horrible start to life. Her heart broke for all he’d been through. “I knew I could give him a wonderful home and just love him for who he is,” she said. “So I went to meet him and he was the happiest puppy. He was perfect.” Pace, a native of Hawaii, promptly adopted the pup and named him after the Hawaiian word for “puddle.” When she and her husband adopted Naki’o, he only weighed four pounds, so he could run on his legs. However, as he grew heavier and his bones changed, he faced mobility issues. Even after surgery to help his situation, Naki’o lost the ability to walk.
Pace then learned about a Denver company called OrthoPets that makes prosthetic limbs for dogs. With help from the team at her veterinary practice, she raised money to buy Naki’o a prosthesis for his worst leg. When she went to buy it though, OrthoPets said that he needed a prosthesis for all four legs to support stability and avoid future back issues. They kindly offered to donate the other three.
“At the time, Naki’o was the first dog to use four prosthetic limbs, so we weren’t sure if he would do well with them,” Pace said. “He was a little unstable getting up – kind of like a baby deer walking for the first time – but once he did, all Naki’o wanted to do was go play and chase the ball! He really went for it.”
Inspired by her dog’s zest for life and knowing that she couldn’t adopt all those in need, Pace founded a non-profit rescue organization for animals with disabilities. Based in Colorado Springs, “Nakio’s Underdog Rescue” spreads the message that dogs with disabilities deserve another chance at life instead of automatically being euthanized. Naki’o proudly serves as the “spokesdog!”
“Our goal,” shared Pace, “is to educate the community about disabled animals and show that these animals can live wonderful lives, just in a different way.”
To that end, Pace wrote a children’s book called “Stubby and His Magic Boots.” She and Naki’o visit schools together to read the book and teach kids about compassion, unconditional love, and accepting those who are different. Her nonprofit also hosts an annual DisABLED Pet Rally each May with wheelchair races and a disabled dog agility course to show the public how dogs can thrive despite their disabilities.
Pace has heard from many people with amputated limbs that Naki’o the Bionic Dog has motivated them or helped them out of depression. “It’s been really, really amazing to see how many lives he’s inspired,” she said.
Visit Naki’o the Bionic Dog online at www.bionicdogbooks.com.
Surf Dog Ricochet – Escondido, California
Eight years ago, Judy Fridono was training a golden retriever puppy named Ricochet to be a service dog. The clever pup showed great promise, learning to turn on lights, tug open refrigerator doors, and perform other tasks to assist a person using a wheelchair. However, when Ricochet was about four months old, she lost her motivation for training and developed a love of chasing birds. Eventually, Fridono realized Ricochet couldn’t be a service dog because if she suddenly bolted after wildlife, it could put a person with disabilities in danger. While she was frustrated and disappointed, Fridono held out hope that Ricochet might have a future helping fundraise for good causes. As more time passed, she found a perfect fit to accomplish that goal and trained Ricochet to do something the dog loves: Surf!
Ricochet’s first fundraiser was for a 14-year-old quadriplegic surfer named Patrick who had a dream of being able to walk at his high school graduation. To help fundraise for his expensive physical therapy, Ricochet surfed next to the boy on her own surfboard. After a few waves, she did something unexpected: Ricochet jumped off her board and onto his. Amazingly, the dog intuitively knew how to counterbalance when sharing a surfboard!
“It was Ricochet’s idea to surf with the boy on the same board,” Fridono recalled. “They rode it in like they’d been surfing together forever. That day on the beach, Ricochet kept running back to do it again and again. It was like she was able to finally tell me what she was here to do.”
After Fridono’s pivotal realization, Ricochet launched a career as a “SURFice dog.” A video of the surfing adventure went viral and raised enough money to fund three years of physical therapy for Patrick and get him a service dog of his own. Since then, Ricochet has raised more than $438,000 in over 50 fundraisers for various causes and works as a therapy dog for veterans with PTSD, people with mobility issues and children with autism. “Sometimes I can see transformations right in front of my eyes,” Fridono said. “Ricochet bonds with people instantly and mirrors their feelings.”
Ricochet not only connects well with people but showcases incredible intuition. In one instance, she refused to lead a Navy veteran up a staircase. As it turned out, the woman was suffering excruciating back pain and climbing the stairs would have been terribly painful – Ricochet somehow knew it was better to take the elevator. In another case, Ricochet alerted to one of Fridono’s pet dogs because she detected cancer. Since treatment, the dog is now free and clear of cancer!
“I don’t know how she does it. I just know that she does it,” Fridono said. “The positive impact she’s had on so many people is beyond my wildest dreams.” Ricochet has over 250,000 Facebook fans and is featured in Fridono’s best-selling book “Ricochet: Riding a Wave of Hope with a Dog Who Inspires Millions.”
“Ricochet is the one who has the control, she is the one who has the magic. I just nurture it,” said Fridono. She hopes Ricochet will inspire other dog lovers to listen to what their dogs are communicating, and in doing so, allow their special qualities to shine.
Visit Surf Dog Ricochet online at www.surfdogricochet.com.