N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Bennie Grady loves horses.
When he and wife, Pamela, were building their new home in the northern end of the county, the intent was to build a house and use the land for the couple's animals -- three quarter horses, four ponies, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits and a cow named Sampson.
But then came an unexpected opportunity to provide an equine home for the N.C. Troopers Association Caisson Unit.
Formed in 2007, the Caisson Unit -- six muscular jet black Percheron horses that accompany the processional at funerals for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty -- had previously been stationed in western North Carolina.
It is one of only three in the nation, moving to Wayne County in July 2017 when Grady offered up a portion of his land.
The only thing he could promise, he says now, is that the horses would receive the best care he could offer. The Gradys hadn't even closed on their property yet.
"Pamela and I had to go back and borrow the money," he said. "We had exhausted all our means. We had to come up with $20,000.
"The only way we could do that was to pull our entire driveway out and cut things on our house. But we sacrificed, until we gathered up that $20,000 and that allowed me to build that barn just to house those horses."
The building plays a critical role, he explained, because of the unique situation with the horses -- they have to stay inside to keep their coat its rich black color.
During the three weeks it took to build their stable, the horses had to stay outside.
While the N.C. Troopers Association owns the animals and partners with the N.C. Highway Patrol to provide their services at funerals, there is no state funding to support the care and upkeep.
"We travel wherever to peform a funeral," Grady said. "Once we're activated and approved to work to do a funeral, at that moment we (troopers) all get paid, until the funeral's over with. "The everyday work, taking care of the horses, I don't get paid for that."
With 16-plus years amassed in his career, Grady works his 40 hours a week with the Highway Patrol, but everything else is done on his own personal time. He is, essentially, a one-man operation, he says, before correcting himself and giving credit to his generous wife for supporting the effort.
But as anyone with animals knows, there will always be needs that pop up.
Grady does not ask for money or donations. Instead, he has been creative, opening up the property to school groups and field trips.
He also makes presentations around the county to raise awareness about the Caisson Unit.
"Without people's generosity or whatever, there's no way we can carry that much out," he said. "I want everybody to come out. I want them to learn about the team, learn what the cause is and what we do.
"It's a very special thing. But man, it takes the involvement of a lot of people."
One such presentation was made to the Golden K Kiwanis, which wound up being fortuitous, as several members took Grady up on his invitation and came out to see things for themselves.
"No matter who I go and put a presentation on for, it's not the same as seeing it firsthand," Grady said. "The day they finally came, it was 10 o'clock in the morning and on this particular day, it was really hot outside.
"During this time when all the gentlemen were standing in the barn, Mr. (Ray) Porter said, 'Man, do you deal with this kind of heat all the time?' He asked about insulation."
Grady said having the stable insulated would make all the difference in managing extreme temperatures, but he and his wife had simply run out of money to do that.
Porter recognized the sacrifices already made and decided to do something about it.
"I saw a need and I just wanted to connect the dots," Porter told the News-Argus this past week.
He paid a visit to Tommy Herring of Hog Slat, who was very receptive to the notion, offering to help with the project.
"They helped finish the insulation, if we can get somebody to help install it," Porter said. "So then, I talked with Rhonda Campbell at Smithfield Foods and the business finished up the project, helping with the cost."
Workers completed the effort this past week, ensuring the animals are no longer struggling with the triple-digit temperatures. The collaborative effort from the community means a lot, Grady said, as it definitely takes a village for the Caisson Unit to keep rolling along.
"There's no way we can carry that much out. I'm glad Mr. Porter got to be there in person that day," he said. "It's an incredible blessing and this is just one moment that you got to witness.
"It involves so many people out of the community. It's a true blessing. The more that we can get this out there, the more other people can get on board."
For more information on the local unit, there is a Facebook page for the NCTA, or N.C. Troopers Association.
To schedule a presentation or field trip, call 919-921-1546.