Charlie Petrizzo was working a successful corporate job when he felt the need to do something more. Despite his success, Charlie felt discontented with life in the financial world. His experiences had given him a perspective on money and materialism that didn’t fit his life’s calling. When Charlie was a boy he almost died – twice. With the help of the family’s Labrador Retriever Charlie was able to heal. He’s intimately aware of the healing power of these amazing animals and he wanted to give back. He left the financial world.
He made a decision to follow the purpose that was born into him as a boy: He would breed dogs. And not just any dogs, labs with a bloodline carefully selected for the traits required for the best service dogs. He would provide early training to the best pups in every litter so they could become valued service dogs and companions. Then he would donate them to service organizations that would train – and ultimately place – with children he understood: those who were wounded or disabled.
This mission, along with a desire to be true to their Catholic faith, led Charlie and his wife Sandy to start Circle of Life Labradors, today known as Project2Heal, a non-profit 501(c)3. The organization is a way to honor the memory of Charlie’s mother Carolyn by emulating the love she exhibited in serving Charlie and so many others throughout her life. Project2Heal started out as an organization that bred Labrador Retrievers of the best health, temperament and intelligence so that it could donate them to service dog organizations that would train them for children with special needs.
The original dogs for the organization were obtained from one of the top Labrador Retriever breeders in the country, Sally Bell, the owner of the Labradors of Borador.
As news about Project2Heal spread, Charlie and Sandy received an increasing amount of inquiries about their dogs. They began doing even more for the community. They started training the dogs for local children. They allowed families with special needs children to come and have therapy sessions with the dogs. Charlie and Sandy also visited special needs schools and assisted living homes with the dogs. They’ve never charged a dime.
Approximately half of each litter is donated to a service organization. The other half are sold as a way to raise money to support operations. Project2Heal has become one of the most respected Labrador Retriever Breeders in North Carolina and they are just getting started. Charlie’s vision includes a facility on more than 50 acres that will draw people from around the country. The facility will be much more than a venue where service dogs and skilled companion dogs will be bred and trained. It will be a focal point for visitors of the Carolina Piedmont region. It will be a place where the community can work together with man’s best friend to make the world a better place. It will be a place where children with special needs can come for therapy and where neuro – typical children will come to understand the challenges faced by children with special needs, using the dog as a “social lubricant” in order to create a bridge of acceptance.
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Charlie Petrizzo should have died twice. Instead, he healed.
At life’s tough crossroads, Charlie Petrizzo discovered the intersection of puppies, children, and purpose.
By the time he was 16 years old, Charlie had run into the kind of roadblocks that would make it easy to give up or grow bitter. Twice he had faced down death, each time paying a steep price: disfiguring scars, physical limitations and chronic pain.
Charlie Petrizzo was hit by a car when he was five years old. People who saw it said he flew through the air like a rag doll. The accident resulted in a massive brain trauma, a comatose child and the challenges of recovering from paralysis. The doctors told his parents their child might not ever walk again.
The Petrizzo’s took their son home to take care of him. To keep Charlie from being so lonely, his parents brought home a puppy. That puppy became Charlie’s best friend. Charlie Petrizzo started to recover.
When he was 16, life threw up another roadblock.Working at a summer job, Charlie Petrizzo moved an extension ladder and struck a live electrical wire. Knocked to the ground, ladder seared into his left side, Charlie again spent months recovering – this time from third-degree burns, a process that meets every definition of hell.
In addition, damaged muscles in his left torso had to be removed, leaving extensive scar tissue and undermining the stability of the infrastructure that supported Charlie’s body. Chronic pain that continues to this day resulted as muscle and bone on the right side of his body over-compensate for the loss on his left side.
If anything is more resilient than the human body, it must be the human spirit.
Charlie Petrizzo recovered physically and emotionally. Although he asked “Why me?” more than once, eventually Charlie awakened to the miracle of his recovery. He chose to live in gratitude instead of bitterness or self-pity. He saw himself as a lucky man, a blessed man.
After college, Charlie married the love of his life, Sandy, a woman who loved him exactly the way he was. He launched a financial career during the boom years of the American economy and moved to the Wall Street of the South, Charlotte, NC. Together, he and Sandy adopted two little girls and created Project2Heal.
He intimately understands the healing power of a labrador and now he can give back. He’s simplified his life and put himself in a position to serve others with his passion.
Charlie Petrizzo knows first-hand what can take place when special needs cross paths with a special breed of animal that is trained to heal. In 2012 a documentary film “Charlie’s Scars” was made about Charlie’s life and his effort to help others heal.
My name is Bean, I am a Fox Red Labrador Retriever in Charlotte, NC. I was born from one of Project2Heal’s litters.
When I was a very young puppy I wasn’t growing as fast as my brothers and sisters. I was having a hard time eating and walking. My owner Charlie was worried about me so he took me to some doggie doctors to try and help me.
We found out that I had some things wrong with me that were very hard to pronounce. A Mega Esophagus and Myesthenia Gravis, a muscle disorder.
The doctors told Charlie that I might have a hard life and that it might be better for me to be put down. But Charlie said no. Charlie had some injuries in his life too so he understood what I was going through.
I wanted to live to be an old and happy dog. So I did everything I could to fight the diseases.
Today I take medicine three times a day and it helps me walk better. I have a special chair that I sit in to help keep me upright. I can only eat liquid foods.
But I love to play and one of my favorite things to do is swim! I get tired faster than the other dogs so I have had to learn my limits. And Charlie is great at taking care of me!
I am a very happy dog today despite my limits. I even have my own Facebook page and have made a ton of new friends. I have even had a book written about me. Charlie says that my story helps children understand that they can still lead a happy life even if they have a disability or are different in some way.