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One for All, All for One

Fort Worth Ranchers band together to fight cancer.

Founded in 2011, The Black Dog Foundation sometimes struggles to establish its identity in Fort Worth.

"At one point we called it, 'The Black Dog Shootout,'" laughs Lance Thompson, one of the organization's founding committee members. He's seated in Summer Moon Coffee in South Main with a fawn-colored cowboy hat on. "Someone called the cops on us that year."

Unfortunate marketing aside, the group is named after Cash, the first black labrador puppy auctioned on behalf of the organization during its first gala, skeet shoot, and dinner at Chula Vista Ranch.

Founders Ben Wallace, Brian Griggs, Harvey Miller, and Thompson's father-in-law, Johnny George, raised more than $25 thousand to help Ashley Dike Baganz, wife of the group's friend, Jason Baganz, fight leukemia. 

Ashley regrettably passed away after winning many battles against her cancer, and Wallace continues the Black Dog Foundation in her memory, with Ashley's parents remaining thankful for the organization's support during an incredibly difficult and confusing time.

"The weekly costs mounted quickly," explains David Dike, Ashley's father, during a 2021 impact video the group made for the gala that year. "Ashley's insurance did not cover her co-pays, but Black Dog immediately swooped in and took the financial pressure off her and the family. It's a horrible thing to be fighting cancer and also be worrying about daily stresses."

Today, the group has raised over $1.5 million, with proceeds staying local, benefiting the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, Leukemia Texas, Wings of Hope, Hope Kids, Wish with Wings, and Cook Children's Hospital.

"Ashley continues to help others through the work of her friends," finishes Dike.

Since Ashley's death, the founding members of the group have found themselves in many personal battles with cancer. Linda Wallace, the mother of founder Ben Wallace, was diagnosed with multi-myeloma, an incurable cancer, several years after Ashley. 

“Something they don't tell you is that your whole family gets cancer,” says Linda in the 2021 video. "It affects everyone."

To ease the burden on families, Black Dog has invested in LLS patient resource coordinators like Thompson's wife, Kelsey, who meets with patients and guides them through the cancer treatment process, whichever stage they are in. Care may include helping patients understand diagnostic information and find answers or resources. 

"If I don't have an answer, I'll find one," assures Kelsey. "Black Dog recently provided travel grants for our patients, which is a huge financial help."

In 2019, Kelsey would personally guide Brian Griggs and his wife, Cindy, through his cancer diagnosis and eventual death. 

"It’s something we never, ever thought we’d go through," said a tearful Cindy. "But cancer is a part of my story now."

With so many personal ties to cancer, it remains incredibly important to the board of Black Dog to keep donation dollars in Fort Worth, helping Fort Worthians.

"We are a nonprofit organization that not only keeps the money in the community, but we mostly give it all away," says Thompson earnestly after a sip of coffee. "We have been learning about the nonprofit world over the last few years, and that's not normal. Usually, it's 20 or 30% given back to the community.

"We can say, 'Your money's staying here, it's going to benefit the people that we know, and you're handing it to people you trust.'"

This year, the event is on April 26, and Wallace is getting another dog lined up: around 8 weeks old and purebred. 

The group outgrew the Chula Vista Ranch, swelling to nearly 700 people last year at River Ranch in the Stockyards. But they still look for volunteers and donations every year, seeking to grow their sponsorship base and reach new friends around Cowtown who might not yet know their story. 

"Whenever I start getting weary, I don't have to go very far to see the impact we have on the community," says Thompson. "It keeps your motivation going and helps you continue to do it."