LEARNING & TRAINING

Expert tips and behind-the-scenes looks at the service dog industry.

Updated: 5 days ago


The following is a message from Project 2 Heal Founder and President, Charlie Petrizzo.


Dear friends of Project 2 Heal,

I’m writing this note to ask for your immediate help. Despite our growth over the past 11 years, our nonprofit cannot accomplish its mission unless we have a firm foundation across four important pillars:

  1. Donations

  2. Volunteers

  3. Chaperone Homes

  4. Board Members

As the founder of Project 2 Heal, I would like to address each of these topics. But let’s begin with our big picture.

The Need for Our Work is Only Increasing.

The need for our work is increasing dramatically and as the only organization in the United States performing this type of work, our inability to keep up has a very detrimental effect on our veterans with PTSD. I think you'd agree with me that our veterans have sacrificed a lot and we should do what we can to help those who have come back different people as a result of what they encountered.


I would wager that across the entire country, there is no other nonprofit as underfunded as Project 2 Heal, relative to the need for our work. Project 2 Heal was founded as a result of my reading the synopsis of a longitudinal study tracking the success of shelter dogs utilized in service dog training. The study was conducted by one of the larger service dog organizations in the country, Paws with a Cause.


It found that only 1 out of 12 of the dogs taken from shelters were successful in completing service dog training. (That’s only 8.5%!)

Consider how this inefficiency impacts the cost, or more importantly, the amount of time a veteran with PTSD must wait for a service dog. Last week, I learned that it is currently taking the largest provider of service dogs to veterans in the country four years to place a service dog with a veteran in need. The organization started with a dual mission to save shelter dogs by training them for veterans with PTSD. This is just the latest proof that there is a lack of synergy between the idea of taking dogs from shelters and trying to place them as a service dog—one of the most stressful jobs a dog can perform.


A percentage of shelter dogs that did make it through training unfortunately begin to display aggression or anxiety after their placement and have to be recalled. Just last year this organization began calling on Project 2 Heal for the donation of our puppies. When I met with a few of their executives in April of this year, they expressed interest in receiving between 80-100 Project 2 Heal puppies next year!


Over the past eight years Project 2 Heal has bred, nurtured and donated puppies from 66 litters. Each litter averages about seven pups. Therefore, we have been able to birth close to 500 puppies in eight years. The majority of those puppies were donated to service dog organizations we serve across the United States. A percentage of the puppies are kept to be evaluated as future mothers and fathers.


While 500 puppies may sound like a lot, when one out of more than 20 plus organizations we serve needs 100 puppies, consider how many are needed throughout the industry when the majority of service dog organizations don't have a source for dogs to train other than what they can locate in shelters. Compound this with the fact that last August, the PAWS (Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members) Act became law. The act provides financial assistance to veterans in need of a service dog. It will allow many more veterans to apply for service dogs and will increase the already long wait for a service dog. What good is a service dog to a veteran four years down the road that is struggling with the symptoms of PTSD? We put a man on the moon in 1969—why in the world does it take four years to get a service dog to a person in need?


The answer is simple, a lack of supply of outstanding puppies.

COVID-19 taught us all about supply chain interruptions. The service dog industry has had a supply chain issue for many years and it has only gotten worse as we learn from research how much a service dog can benefit people with certain disabilities. Dogs from shelters are used because organizations really have no other choice than Project 2 Heal, if they want puppies bred specifically for service dog work.

"Project 2 Heal is the only nonprofit in the country breeding world-class Labrador Retriever puppies specifically for donation service dog organizations."

Since the majority of service dog organizations do not have a breeding program they have no choice but to use dogs from shelters. The tragic part in this is that a study conducted by Purdue University—the leading authority on research related to the human-canine bond—found that a service dog reduces hyper vigilance, night tremors, outbursts of anger, and cortisol levels. In other words, a service dog reduces or eliminates the very symptoms of PTSD that lead a veteran to suicide. Yet, while they are suffering right now, it's common for them to have to wait three years and now more for a service dog. Think about how that impacts a veteran looking for a solution. It's unacceptable and I am asking for your help.


Project 2 Heal exists to heal and or save those human lives. Additionally, we make a local impact with our puppies by visiting mainstream and special needs classrooms in the area, as well as local assisted living communities. Project 2 Heal also offers corporate mental well-being days (which we call, “Stress Down Days”), in addition to providing summer camps and junior training sessions for children. (We believe these activities help encourage children to take on the responsibility and discipline needed to care for a dog.)

It was our faith and desire to serve others through our love of dogs that led Sandy and I to found Project 2 Heal. In fact, Luke 10:2 states, “….the harvest is great, but the laborers are few…”. So it is currently with our organization. We simply do not have the volunteers, donations, or chaperone homes needed to come close to meet the national demand for our work. We have the dogs and the experience but we lack the funding to add more space and donate more puppies to more organizations.

Without our work and the puppies it allows us to birth, veterans waiting for a service dog will continue to wait longer and longer—meaning we are almost certain to lose more lives that could be saved by a service dog. A service dog won’t save all veteran lives, but if we could at least provide a dog to these brave men and women in a shorter amount of time, we could more quickly mitigate the symptoms of PTSD. Through your support, our work will result in not only healing these lives, but saving many who would have been lost to suicide.

 

Strengthening Our Pillars.


Hopefully this provides you a good snapshot of where Project 2 Heal currently resides. To move forward with our work, here are the areas in which we need your help—not only for our veterans, but also children with special needs and adults with disabilities.

Donations. Don’t be fooled into thinking that unless you make a big donation you won't be making a difference. While every organization needs donors who can make large donations, every organization also relies on monthly donors as well. After ten years of trying to attract monthly donors, we have just 47.


I interpret this as meaning people just do not understand the power service dogs have in saving veteran lives. The fact is that Project 2 Heal is the only nonprofit in the country breeding world-class Labrador retriever puppies—each valued at an estimated $6,000-$8,000—and donating these pups to service dog organizations across the country. (The majority of which have no breeding program.)

"We must increase our output for the sake of our veterans. Don’t they deserve this after everything they went through for our country?"

Understand the power of large numbers. Currently our monthly donations from 47 people total $2,300 a month. That’s pitiful and I’ll take the rap for it as the President. However, all I can do is ask. Each of you must find it in your heart to determine if you can afford to give $10, $20, $50, or even $100 each month and join the group of donors providing us with the base level of operating income we need each month. My goal as President is to get our monthly donations from our current amount to $5,000 by the end of the summer. I ask each of you to truly consider being a part of our work and taking this to prayer if you are a believer.


Our veterans need you, as do children with special needs whose lives can be changed by our puppies. Parents are so thankful when they see the positive impact a service dog can make in the life of their child.


Volunteers. As the founder of this non profit my intention has always been to do as much as we can through the work of volunteers. Volunteer hours allow us to save money and do more with less. Sandy and I have chosen this work as volunteers ourselves, for the past 11 years. God has put us in a place where we can do so, which means more revenue can go to the actual breeding of more litters. Right now we have less than 10 regular volunteers that support us each week, despite having more than 100 on our volunteer list. We need volunteers, especially on weekday mornings from 8am-10am.

Ever wanted to learn how to train your dog to be a better pet? There is no better way to learn than from our puppy trainers. Our trainers take our puppies on “field trips” to public locations twice per day. With volunteers, we can give our puppies even more daily socialization. Our trainers typically leave our facility for field trips around 10am in the morning, then again around 1pm. If you’re available during these times, you’ll learn tons about handling dogs!


Additionally, we really need help on weekends. When we don't have volunteers on weekends, our puppies and mama dogs get very little one-on-one time with a person. This is a problem, as we want our dogs to get as much human interaction as possible. They are Labradors after all, which means they are true people pleasers! (That’s why they make such great service dogs!)


Sign up to volunteer today! We’d love to see you at our facility soon.

Chaperone Homes. Nothing bothers me more than having to house beautiful Labrador Retriever mothers from the top pedigrees in the world—each of which go through every possible health test for ailments specific to the breed—in kennels on our facility. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with our kennels. They are cleaned daily and provide a perfectly adequate living space for our mothers. Our mothers get out for exercise, training and or a field trip two times a day. However, there is nothing like a loving home for a Labrador. They want to share their love. Our girls are from among the best Labrador Retriever bloodlines in the world. In fact, the girls we currently have available for Chaperone homes are from a breeder whose dogs have won the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show twice. In addition, she bred the dog voted the best female Labrador Retriever of the century. These are outstanding dogs and we want these dogs to live in loving homes with families who want to help people in need.


We have no choice but to keep them in our kennels however, unless we find people willing to open their homes to them —each of which will give birth to our outstanding puppies. Our Chaperone Program allows families in the Greater Charlotte area to provide a loving home to one of these female dogs, and in doing so allow us to breed and donate more puppies to the many organizations calling on us.

By becoming a Chaperone home, you allow us to bring more mother dogs into our program. Chaperone homes are not foster homes. Once you acquire a chaperone dog, she is your dog unless for some unforeseen reason you can no longer take care of the animal. (However, our background checks allow us to make sure we have the right chaperone homes.)

Please open your home to a chaperone dog. If you get a dog from a shelter, you may have saved that dog’s life. But when you take in one of our mother dogs (which on average produce 7-8 puppies per litter), you’re allowing us to donate between 21-24 puppies and heal—or even save—veteran lives.

Board Members. Board Members are the leadership of Project 2 Heal. We are currently seeking eight additional board members. Our Board meets once per month for 90 minutes. Our Board Members are involved in strategic decisions, speak to members in the networks to educate them about Project 2 Heal, and hopefully become part of our growing donor base. Please reach out to me if you are passionate about serving our constituency of veterans, children with special needs, and adults with disabilities.

Project 2 Heal really needs help in each of these areas. We are the only provide of purpose-bred Labrador Retriever puppies to the service dog industry in the country and our work is in much greater demand than we can currently afford to provide.

Please help us spread the word about our work and consider joining our mission at any capacity to which you’re able.



Meet our Puppy Development Manager, Terry Sanborn! Beginning her journey with Project 2 Heal as a volunteer, Terry has been with the organization for almost a decade. We love her commitment, energy, and passion for this work.



Meet our Puppy Trainer, Claire Williams! Claire's love for animals and passion for our work of making service dogs more accessible to those in need make her an invaluable resource to Project 2 Heal.