Waxhaw man trains dogs to help disabled children
As the saying goes, dog is man’s best friend. If that’s the case, Waxhaw’s Charlie Petrizzo is helping dogs realize their full potential as a buddy.
Working from his home, and with the help of his wife, Sandy, and daughters, Melissa and Kristen, Petrizzo gets to spend every day doing what he loves: playing with dogs. Though playing might not be the best way to describe it. Petrizzo, who gave up a life in the fast lane of business and finance, now trains Labrador puppies in hopes of preparing them to be service dogs to children in need.
“All the money in the world isn’t enough to buy the gratitude that I receive from the people I help,” Petrizzo said. “I am driven by doing good for others in hopes that they will pay it forward.”
Growing up on a horse farm, Petrizzo has always been an animal lover; but after facing two serious injuries that left him severely burned and partially paralyzed, he knows firsthand what it is like to face both physical and emotional pain. He remembers how significant his own relationship with his childhood dog was to him, and how he was able to overcome his difficulties with the amity of his lovable friend.
“I know from my own personal experiences how dogs can help psychologically,” he recalled. “It is scientifically proven that petting a dog can make a person’s heart rate and blood pressure go down; this along with constant companionship is one of the many ways that a dog can have positive effects on a child, and I want to share that with others.”
With that in mind, the Petrizzos started work on “Project to Heal,” a nonprofit aimed at breading and training Labradors to donate to children with special needs.
Conquering his own personal obstacles helped him to realize his passion for contributing to others who may also be going through difficult times. In 2004, Petrizzo began online schooling to learn animal behavior and K9 development, and continued learning until he knew everything he needed to know to successfully run his own project.
Using several acres of land he owns in Waxhaw, Petrizzo starts a puppy’s training at two days old, continuing until they are top service dogs. He not only gives to children with mental disabilities, but also children who are at risk or who have been abused. Petrizzo feels that having a dog in your life can help in many different ways, and wants to be able to reach out to any child or family who could benefit from the joys that his labs have to offer.
No two children are exactly alike, Petrizzo says, so he takes deep thought and consideration when matching a child with a dog that is compatible to their needs. He first assesses the characteristics of the child’s disability and then matches their personality with the dogs.
“At the end of the day, your dog is a constant companion,” said Petrizzo, who finds the most gratifying part of his work in the responses he gets from his recipients. He’s grateful to receive all the calls and letters from parents who have noticed vast improvements in their children.
These dogs may not only affect the child, but the entire family.
“Every dog I donate to a family has its own reward, and that reward is the outcome after placing a child with their new friend,” Petrizzo said.
But, his vision for Project to Heal is not complete. Petrizzo plans on expanding his facilities and hopefully gaining more volunteers to help with the dogs. He intends to establish a stronger volunteer program and hopes to be able to reach out to more families while also continuing to travel as a motivational speaker, sharing his story and guidance with his community.
“I hope that my story will be able to touch the lives of others, and more and more people will experience the reward that I feel everyday by helping those in need.”
For more information about Project to Heal, visit the organization’s Facebook.com page or go to www.Project2heal.org/.