Caring for the thousands of animals brought to the Erath County Humane Society every year is a tough, and sometimes painful job. It’s one that requires tough decisions that not everyone understands and are not always popular.

No one knows this more than Judy Hallmark, who has been the director of the ECHS for the past 21 years. Hallmark said she receives anywhere from 10 to 20 animals a day and finding homes for all of them is an impossible task.

“Not too long ago, one lady brought in 17 kittens,” Hallmark said. “She told me she’d have another litter for me soon. People don’t understand that we already have too many animals - we don’t have the space.”

In 2005, 3,102 animals were brought to the shelter, and 2,500 of them were euthanized. In 2006, 2,883 were brought in, and 2,259 were put down because homes for them could not be found.

Those daunting numbers have forced Hallmark and board president Gail Johnson to

implement a policy that some object to, while others support. In 2004, the shelter adopted a policy that all pit bulls brought to the shelter would be put down.

The women say the policy is based on what they believe is sound research indicating that pit bulls are a particularly aggressive breed, and given the national hysteria over the increased number of pit bull attacks, Hallmark and Johnson decided that keeping pit bulls in the shelter and trying to adopt them out is a risk they were not willing to take.

“We’re concerned with the liability,” Johnson said. “When an owner brings in a pit bull, there’s a reason for it. And usually that reason is that they are too aggressive for them to handle. We won’t take the chance of adopting them to a family with children.”

Over the years, Hallmark and Johnson have attended schools and taken numerous classes to learn more about the different breeds of dogs, but funding makes ongoing education difficult.

Hallmark said the shelter receives $17,000 a year from the city and $18,000 from the county, but it takes nearly $60,000 annually to keep the shelter ticking. They rely on private donations to make up the difference.

“There are a lot of generous people who help keep us going,” Hallmark said. “Wal-Mart donates all the dog food, which helps out tremendously.”

The Erath County Humane Society is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, contact the shelter at 254-965-3247.

Sara Vanden Berge covers courts, law enforcement, and business and political issues for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at sara.vandenberge@empiretribune.com. Her work number is 968-2379, ext. 240.