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Black Dog Club provides hope for endangered animals

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SMITHFIELD- - Dawn Herron said her work in animal rescue began 20 years ago when she and her husband rescued a black dog. 

While her nonprofit Black Dog Club takes in most dog breeds along with cats, horses, goats, chickens and other animals, Herron said black dogs are at a disadvantage when it comes to adoption.

"Because of 'black dog syndrome,' black dogs aren't as easily adopted as lighter-colored dogs," said Herron. "They don't photograph as well as other dogs and people think they're more aggressive."

When it comes to dog rescue, Herron said the Black Dog Club's philosophy has always been "one dog at a time." After rescuing dogs on her own for several years, the Black Dog Club was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2016.

The animal rescue is located at 1000 Freedom Road at a 6-acre site purchased from a farmer. The group has purchased an additional 5 acres in hopes of expanding the operation.

"We've grown tremendously in the past two or three years," said Herron. "We have two paid part-time staff and over 100 volunteers from Smithfield, Clayton, Cary, Raleigh and other areas."

Herron said students from the North Carolina State University School of Veterinary Medicine help with special events. The past school year, Herron said 30 students and adult volunteers from Johnston County Public Schools' Innovation Academy also lent a hand. 

"They washed the dogs, groomed the horses, emptied the water buckets and other chores," said Herron. "They also  made a nice donation of pet supplies and food."

The Black Dog Club also partners with Johnston County Industries, which helps train workers with disabilities and provides job placement services. One of the rescue group's paid employees is a JCI client.

At the Black Dog Club, there is an indoor room with 15 dog crates where the dogs rest at night. At 7 a.m., dogs begin their day in outdoor runs with doghouses for shade and kiddie pools for play and cooling off. The indoor kennels and crates are thoroughly cleaned each day while the dogs are outside. 

People who've adopted dogs at the Black Dog Club bring them back for free boarding once a year.

"We offer them once free week of boarding," said Herron. "The dogs seem to enjoy coming back for a visit."

One popular dog at the club is Mr. Pickles, a 9-week-old Basset hound-Siberian husky mix. Mr. Pickles and his five remaining siblings are up for adoption. One has already been adopted. 

The organization rescues dogs from public animal shelters where they could otherwise be euthanized if they're not quickly adopted. The Black Dog Club received three Great Pyrenees from Dunn Animal Control. They've been with the rescue group for a month and are ready for adoption. 

Herron said the club receives many of its animals from Rowan County and from Dillon, South Carolina. One dog from Dillon is recovering from one of the worst cases of abuse Herron said she'd ever seen. 

"It took three weeks sitting with Lance in his dog run pen to get him used to me," said Herron. He's still very shy around people and won't walk on a leash. He's not aggressive, just terrified. Whoever owned Lance really did a number on him. There were two couples interested in adopting him. They spent hours with him, but it didn't work out."

The Black Dog Club has strict adoption procedures, said Herron.

"The biggest thing is that potential client must have a reference from a veterinarian," said Herron. "People who have a standing relationship with a vet have a record of keeping their dog's vaccinations and treatment up to date. Our goal is to find them good homes."

In addition to a veterinarian's recommendation, prospective animal owners must participate in an on-site meet and greet with the animal.

"We need to see if there's a chemistry between the dog and the family before we permit adoption" said Herron. "That's essential."

The group also rescues horses from slaughter.

"We've pulled two horses from feed lots where they would eventually end up overseas and slaughtered for meat products," said Herron. "We also have two goats destined for slaughter where we outbid others to save them."

Herron said in 2018, the Black Dog Club spent $90,000 to maintain its operation.

"Our budget is growing as our operation expands," said Herron. "We appreciate our volunteers, but we need more paid staff to ensure our animals' needs are met."

The group holds adoption events at Fortnight Brewing in Cary and the Raleigh City Market. 

Herron said the local Food Lion donates eight to 12 pallets of dog food every six weeks.

The Black Dog Club is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays during the summer months and on weekends by appointment. Call 919-437-5084 or email for more information.

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