Feeding barking dogs and cleaning numerous litter boxes does not sound like anyone's idea of a dream job, but Judy Hallmark, who was honored Thursday for 25 years of service to the county's animals at the Erath County Humane Society, said while those aren't her favorite parts of the job, she wouldn't want to do anything else.
"I don't know if this is a dream job, there are lots of hard days, but I'm here and it's what I love to do," she said. "I think it's so important to match owners with animals that are meant for each other and helping the ones we can."
Hallmark began her career with Erath County as an animal control officer and made the move to the Humane Society about five years later.
"I was at the animal shelter all the time, dropping off animals, and I guess they just decided to let me stay and run the place," Hallmark recalls.
She was later trained by Dr. KD Dorris to euthanize animals when the county realized it was more cost effective than having a local vet come and do it. And while it is by far one of her least favorite parts of the job, Hallmark said sometimes it is a necessary evil. She said she hates to "put down" animals but sometimes it is the only way.
"People think that if an animal is brought in here and the owner is not found there is some kind of countdown to save them or we kill them all," Hallmark said. "But that's not the way it is. Yes, if they are sick or injured beyond the point of help, or if the animal is very aggressive then sometimes we don't have a choice. But that's not our go-to answer for animals."
Hallmark works tirelessly to help animals stay healthy and socialized so that they are quickly adopted. But even if it takes months, she does not give up on them. City employees recalled a time when Hallmark kept a small dog for nine months until it could be adopted.
There are also other solutions including rescues and other counties. However, more times than not, it's Erath County taking on animals from other counties because Hallmark is known as one of the best.
She is a big advocate of spaying and neutering animals, and the shelter even offers a coupon to help offset the cost of the procedures to owners who adopt from the shelter. Hallmark said this was one project she has focused on because it is so important in helping control the animal population.
"I think it's one of the biggest things we've done since I've been here," she said. "I've noticed that the number of animals brought in by the animal control officers or by residents that are truly strays has gone down dramatically since I've started here. I think it is in large part due to the push to have animals spayed and neutered."
Hallmark said she has seen some extremely bad cases of neglect and abuse over the years, but one of the worst was a dog that was tied outside in the summer sun for a number of months. She said the sun had, for lack of a better word, cooked the dog's back.
"I worked with him for months, cleaning the skin and keeping medicine on him," she remembered. "I think after about two months, when all his hair grew back and he was healthy again, we were able to match him up with a great family who loved him."
She said matching animals with owners who will love them for a lifetime are the most rewarding moments of the job.
"When you know you've placed an animal with someone who will make them part of their family and who will always love and take care of them, that I think is the best part of my job here," Hallmark said. "This is a hard job and it's not for everyone. Some people think because they love animals they should get into this business, but it's a hard job. You have to deal with the public and with hard cases. But the good times will always outweigh the bad."
She said the reason she has been able to do the job so long is because she's learned to not take the job home with her.
"You can't let this be a job you take home with you, you can't go home every night and focus on every single case," Hallmark said. "I know some people don't like me, but what would this town be without the humane society? I know my job makes a difference and I see it when I see someone who has a dog or a cat from us and it's changed their lives for the better."