Project 2 Heal The Carolinas Equestrian 01 Project 2 Heal is on a mission to heal the world, one Labrador puppy at a time.  While this mission sounds charming, and is accomplished with undoubtedly, the most adorable furry accomplices, the work of this Waxhaw, NC, nonprofit is serious and is saving and changing lives.  

It all began when Charlie Petrizzo was young and faced with a series of painful, life altering experiences.  As he navigated through these challenges, Charlie realized that dogs can help heal emotional scars and serve as a positive catalyst for physical challenges.  Throughout his life, he dreamed of one day, somehow, helping others through the healing power of dogs. Finally, in 2004, Charlie left his corporate career and with his wife, Sandy, purchased a 3-acre property in 2007 and built a home and kennel.

Project 2 Heal The Carolinas Equestrian 02 Project 2 Heal breeds Labrador Retriever puppies and then nurtures, socializes, and donates them to accredited service dog organizations across the country.  These organizations then take on the task of training the puppies for certification and matching them with a child or adult with physical or emotional needs.  While service dogs are often known for helping with visual, mobility, or hearing impairment, their skills are now more widely applied to serve a variety of needs, including assisting veterans with PTSD and children with autism, as well as serving as diabetic and seizure alert dogs.

As the variety of needs a service dog can assist with grows, so does demand for Project 2 Heal puppies, and they know that every puppy matters.  Earlier this year in April, Charlie and his Chief Operations Officer, Colene DeTullio, and volunteer Director of Puppy Development, Terry Sanborn, were assisting with a labor when they realized one of the puppies was unresponsive. Resolute and determined not to give up on this puppy, Charlie sprang into action and after 10 minutes of intense effort, resuscitated the puppy back to life to a cacophony of tears and cheers.

Project 2 Heal The Carolinas Equestrian 03 In July, this puppy, named ‘Seamus,’ was donated to BluePath Service Dogs in New York to start service dog training for a child with autism.  As was bestowed on him at birth, Seamus will change the future for a child in need by offering safety, companionship, and an opportunity for independence.

Not every puppy born at Project 2 Heal makes such a dramatic entrance, but every puppy is, however, born anointed with a purpose to help others.  The determination Charlie and his team demonstrated to save Seamus’ life is the same level of determination they apply to nurturing every puppy at Project 2 Heal.  With a staff of just 2 full-time and 2 part-time employees, and an army of dedicated volunteers, they welcomed 45 puppies in 2017 and 36 so far in 2018.

Project 2 Heal The Carolinas Equestrian 04 With these puppies, Project 2 Heal is reducing the time and cost it takes for a child or adult in need to receive a service dog.  The harsh reality is, it can cost thousands of dollars and several years to train and match a certified service dog with a veteran or child in need.  One of the challenges the industry faces is that even with selective breeding and intense training, less than 50% of dogs graduate to become fully certified service dogs.  Project 2 Heal puppies have an excellent reputation in the industry because, in part, they have an exceptional 75% pass rate, a percentage not achieved by accident.

Project 2 Heal puppies are specifically bred and nurtured for service work.  In addition to careful evaluation of bloodlines and temperament, Project 2 Heal puppies start socialization and senses stimulation from the day they are born.  It’s this science and dedication in the formative early months that contributes to Project 2 Heal’s high success rate.  Even more remarkable is that Project 2 Heal donates their puppies to organizations such as BluePath Service Dogs, Fidos for Freedom, and Continuing the Mission, significantly reducing the cost for those in need to acquire a service dog.

Project 2 Heal The Carolinas Equestrian 05 The effort to properly socialize and stimulate Project 2 Heal puppies for a life of service work is substantial.  On any given day, volunteers and staff shuttle puppies on field trips to offices, stores, health care facilities, charity events and even to their own homes to socialize with farm animals and other pets.  The more exposure these puppies receive to different sights, sounds, smells and environments, the better their chances of successfully achieving service dog certification.  It’s this reality, that a puppy’s ability to save and change a life can depend on their experiences in their early months, that fuels the determination of this organization.

Charlie and Sandy continue to dream about other ways they can share their passion.  They purchased a 50 acre parcel a few miles down the road from their current facility in hopes of one day expanding their current operations and building a sanctuary of sorts for those in need to interact and absorb the pure joy of being surrounded by dogs.  Big dreams like this require capital and Project 2 Heal relies mostly on donations and fundraising to fund operations. While they have started to raise funds through activities like summer camps and training services for the general public, most of their services, like office stress down visits and children’s on-site therapy visits, are free of charge. They simply do not want cost to be an obstacle for someone in need to access their services.

If you’re interested in supporting Project 2 Heal with a donation, or learning more about their organization, visit

Photographs courtesy of Kelly Anderson and Project2Heal