Photos and text By Eric Heinz

Trained service dogs rode waves on Sept. 16 at Linda Lane Beach with children of the Special Fishies: Aquatic Freedom and Education program in San Clemente.

Dogs plus the ocean can equal a memorable experience for children with disabilities, and for the Special Fishies attendees, smiles were abundant as the participants were pulled ashore by their canine friends.

Special Fishies works with children with disabilities by helping them swim and enjoy the water. These sessions are a form of therapy for the children, especially those who have a difficult time relaxing.

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“I was out there with a kid in my lap, and I thought he had fallen asleep,” said Ali Cali, who works with Special Fishies. “He was so calm and it was so peaceful. It was amazing to see. A lot of the children will get on the board with Ricochet (a service dog) and she’ll be their security blanket.”

Cali said it’s been shown that children who may have auditory difficulties or who have never spoken a word will start to speak up a little.

Saturday’s event was the first ocean-based event the program has hosted.

“We’ve done boogie boarding, we did surfing, we have these Kicksliders donated by a local company in town,” Cali said. They also used a chair-board that was donated by Infinity Surfboards from Dana Point.
Cali said they’ve also worked with Best Day Foundation and Sandy Feet Initiative in San Clemente, which helps bring children to the beach for a day.
“The goal is to let these kids do things that other kids can,” Cali said, adding the children at the Saturday event were primarily local and therefore comfortable riding the small waves.

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