For Charlie Petrizzo, a desire to serve, a deep faith and a love of dogs propelled him to launch Project2Heal, a one-of-a-kind program to breed and raise puppies specifically for use as service dogs.
Few service dog groups have their own puppy breeding program. Instead, most rely on dogs taken from shelters. But Charlie learned just 1 in 12 of these rescued pups become successful service dogs. A big reason for the failure rate: The most important phase of a dog’s development occurs during the first 12 weeks of its life.
“Two-thirds of what a puppy will become as an adult dog is determined by the nurturing, training, and socialization it experiences during this time,” he explains. With this new understanding, Charlie embraced what he calls his labor of love.
“Our mission is to reduce the cost and time needed to place a service dog with a veteran, child with special needs, or adult with disabilities,” he explains. Project 2 Heal accomplishes that goal by raising purpose-bred Labrador retriever puppies, which are ultimately donated to carefully selected service dog organizations.
Now in their 11th year, Project 2 Heal has lived up to Charlie’s vision. He reports nearly 75% of the non-profit’s pups become successful service dogs – a reality that enables Project 2 Heal’s partners to lower costs and reduce wait periods for a fully trained service dog. Taken together, Charlie says those benefits can save lives.
“For a veteran struggling with PTSD, a service dog can reduce night tremors, hypervigilance, outbursts of anger and cortisol levels,” he explains. “Those are the symptoms of PTSD that often contribute to a rate of 22 veterans per day taking their own lives.”
Volunteer Miriam Brown says Project 2 Heal puppies change lives when they become service dogs. That knowledge keeps her coming back, week after week, to clean the grounds, change the water and of course, play with the puppies. “Charlie says these dogs are special,” she states, “and they absolutely are.”