Jason Gasparik didn’t jump into icy waters or run into a burning building. He simply stood on the side of a busy Charlotte intersection on two sunny weekend afternoons with a lost dog and a cardboard sign.
That was enough for the public to hail him a hero.
It happened almost two weeks ago, and people are still talking about Gasparik’s efforts to save a dog named Roxy. This week, the Hallmark Channel featured the story on their Home & Family weekday show, and it’s still running viral through social media and national websites.
“Thank you Jason Gasparik for showing us what love, compassion, and perseverance looks (sic) like! Roxy & Ed are reunited after a real HERO came to the rescue!” wrote Sherry J. Bell on a Ballantyne community Facebook page.
“The world revolves around because there are people like this young man,” posted Zehra C. Birsan.
Great works happen all over our city every day. Someone collapses, and a stranger is there to breathe life into them. Meals are served to the hungry by volunteers who could easily be elsewhere.
But sometimes, it’s not the great act, but the simple gesture, that stirs our hearts.
Here’s how this one happened:
Gasparik was driving home from grabbing a late-night burger with a buddy around 10 p.m. a couple of Fridays ago, when he saw a car parked on the side of Ballantyne Commons Parkway. A family was trying to corral a dog that was clearly lost and confused. He decided to lend a hand.
Before he knew it, a police officer had joined in the effort. A woman driving home from Harris Teeter stopped and opened a pack of turkey meat to try to lure the dog closer. Someone finally got their hands on the dog’s loose collar, but she slipped her neck right out. Everybody laughed.
The dog was playful and not aggressive, so Gasparik, a triathlete, decided to run laps around the post office parking lot to see if she would chase him. It worked. Gasparik ran around and around, so many times, that the dog finally laid down in exhaustion. Gasparik grabbed her by the back of the neck and ushered her into his Yukon Denali.
At midnight, he took her to a 24-hour vet in Matthews to check for a chip.
The good news: She had a chip.
The bad news: It wasn’t registered.
He stayed up past 3 a.m., posting photos of the dog on social media, and when he decided to turn in for the night around 4 a.m., the dog jumped into bed and laid on top of him.
First thing Saturday morning, a dog tracker from Monroe reached out to try to help. She used the chip number to locate the dog’s original breeder in Pennsylvania, who passed on the name of a woman who may have owned the dog, who had connections in Charlotte.
Gasparik, who travels weekly for his sales job with a shipping container manufacturer, was desperate to find Roxy’s owner before he had to fly out on Tuesday night. He cut up a box he found in his garage, wrote the words “Do you know this lost dog?,” taped it to a tiki torch and drove around to pet stores and apartment complexes looking for a lead.
When that didn’t work, he parked at the Stonecrest shopping center and walked the dog and his sign across busy Ballantyne Commons Parkway to the sidewalk in front of St. Matthew Catholic Church.
“I was talking to myself: ‘Just go back to the truck. People are going to think you’re a scammer,’ “ Gasparik laughs.
For the first few minutes, passers-by seemed to look at him funny, he says. Then, he noticed drivers taking photos and videos.
One woman was so moved, she stopped her car on the busy road to ask about the dog. People offered him water and hamburgers. He collected more than a dozen phone numbers from people pledging to help if the dog’s owner wasn’t found.
At noontime Sunday, he took the dog and the sign back out to the same spot in front of St. Matthew church and about 45 minutes later, a woman messaged him on nextdoor.com: I have the dog’s owner with me. Call me.
It turns out, the dog’s name is Roxy and she had gotten away from her owner, Ed, a senior citizen with a bad back. Ed immediately came to meet Gasparik and claim Roxy, and it was clear the two belonged together.
“Her ears twitched and her tail started wagging,” Gasparik said. He verified the chip number and Ed showed him photos of Roxy on his cellphone, and the two parted, with Gasparik promising to come by and take Roxy for a walk now and then.
Gasparik bristles at the praise he’s gotten as a result of the rescue.
“People are saying, ‘You’re a hero,’ “ he says. “I’m not a hero. Maybe to this dog I am, but soldiers are heroes. Police officers are heroes.”
He has used the attention, though, to launch a gofundme account to raise awareness for pet owners to register their pets’ chips, and to help low-income families pay for chips.
Charlotte licensed clinical social worker Monique Cox-Waithe says there’s nothing surprising about the public’s obsession with Gasparik’s act.
Witnessing acts of kindness, even through social media, she says, “activates certain chemicals in our brain. ... It can release those feel-good chemicals – dopamine, serotonin, they get released in the brain, not just by people who are doing the acts of kindness, but by people who are witnessing the acts of kindness. It makes us feel hopeful and optimistic.”
“I think that’s what people are searching for, is meaning. His act of kindness actually promoted empathy in people, compassion in people, which led to a sense of interconnectedness and belonging,” said Cox-Waithe, of Novant Psychiatric Associates. “That one simple act brought about a big chain reaction.”