WAXHAW – Charlie Petrizzo understands why dogs get the title “man’s best friend.” That’s why he hopes this weekend’s Waxhaw Pub Crawl goes a long way toward helping make a few new best friends for people in need.
The Waxhaw Social Club is hosting the crawl Saturday, April 28, at 5 p.m. While the event should give some well-deserved attention to area businesses, it also will raise money for the local nonprofit Project2Heal. The group, started several years ago by Petrizzo, provides trained Labrador retrievers to special-needs children and adults.
Petrizzo, a former Wachovia annuity executive and Waxhaw resident, is no stranger to adversity. He’s never had a child with special needs, though he knows how hard it is for parents to care for one.
Petrizzo was 4 years old when he was hit by a car and paralyzed on the left side of his body. Through extensive therapy he was able to regain movement on the left side of his body, but he was never really the same.
Then at 16, he was electrocuted by 36,000 volts of electricity which left huge burn scars all over his body and head. He also now has irreparable liver damage caused by a bad blood transfusion following his second injury.
During both injuries, Petrizzo said his mother and his family were always by his side.
And when he began to sink into depression, his parents allowed him to have a dog.
“I lost all the muscles on the left side of my body and I couldn’t play football anymore, and I lost a lot of friends,” Petrizzo said. “Until my dog became my best friend.”
Petrizzo and his wife Sandy moved to Waxhaw in 2000, leaving all of their family behind so he could take the job with Wachovia.
In 2003, his father-in-law died from lung cancer, and around the same time Petrizzo got the call from his mother in New Jersey that she’d been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. She died a year later.
Petrizzo again found himself in a deep depression and took disability and left work.
That’s when inspiration struck and Petrizzo decided it was time to do something that really mattered.
“My mother had taken such good care of me, and in memory of her – she was the epitome of serving others – I said I want to serve others instead of worrying about making so much money,” Petrizzo said.
Petrizzo already believed in the healing power of dogs, so he and his wife decided to breed therapy dogs, train them and offer them at no cost to people with disabilities.
“We want to help local kids,” Petrizzo said. “These dogs bring peace and happiness to families. When people come out here, it’s about the kid, but we see peace in the parents. I guess it’s because they see their kids happy.
“To me the unconditional love of a dog is magic. They don’t care what you look like. Me, I’m badly burned, but my dog didn’t care what I looked like if I had bandages. He just accepted me and 16 in high school, kids didn’t. It’s not easy to deal with, but now I deal with it.”
Until 11 months ago, the Petrizzo’s were funding the organization out of their own pockets.
“I didn’t want to bother anyone; I was afraid to ask for money,” he said. “I was in sales all my life and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I want to create services I can provide that will raise money to do what we do.”
So now they sell some of the puppies from their litters, pet sit and train dogs. He also wrote a book, goes to speaking engagements and sells T-shirts with the organization’s logo that benefit the nonprofit 100 percent.
To help the nonprofit, Lisa and Matt Freeman dedicated this year’s pub crawl to Project2Heal.
The pub crawl will begin at 5 p.m. at Ice House Saloon/Main Street Grill, where there will be a live bluegrass band, barbecue on the pit and beer from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. Then the group will walk to Rippingtons, Maxwells, Southsiders and end at the Stuffed Olive where there is karaoke all night long.
Lisa Freeman, who’s lived in town for seven years, said the pub crawl started as just a way to get more people out and about downtown.
“My husband Matt and I were surprised to find that a lot of people didn’t know Waxhaw had cool little restaurants and bars, even people in this area,” Freeman said. “So the primary reason for this was to drive awareness of Waxhaw’s Main Street bars and restaurants and show people there’s fun, cool things to do here in Waxhaw without having to go into Charlotte.”
There’s no fee to attend the pub crawl, but T-shirts and koozies will be for sale to benefit Project2Heal. All purchases in the restaurants and bars will support the businesses and the rest of the fundraiser will be a result of individual contributions made to the nonprofit.
Last year’s pub crawl drew about 55 people and raised $700 for a local family with a sick child, but this year Freeman said she’s expecting 75 or more people.
To learn more about Project2Heal, visit the organization’s website at www.project2heal.org. To learn more about the pub crawl, visit www.waxhawsocialclub.com or just meet your neighbors at Ice House Saloon/Main Street Grill at 5 p.m. Saturday.