Walton County Animal Control Officer Ruth Henthorn continues with her “heart's calling” despite being bitten last year while on call.

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County Animal Control Officer Ruth Henthorn continues with her “heart's calling” despite being bitten last year while on call.

On any given day, Henthorn can be found responding to calls, checking wild cat traps and loving on adoptable animals throughout Walton County. No one would guess that one year ago she was lying in a hospital bed with an inch-deep laceration to her face after she was bitten by a dog that was killing goats.

“I wasn’t attacked by a dog; I was bitten by a dog,” Henthorn said.

While putting a catch pole on the dog, Henthorn said other dogs came out and started to attack it. She then picked up the dog to defend it and put it on a leash. Five feet away from putting the black mixed breed in the truck, the owner of the dog put her hand on Henthorn's shoulder, causing the dog to react and bite her. 

"When that happened I turned, the dog turned and that’s why I got bit," Henthorn said.

Henthorn said she immediately dropped the dog and saw it run away before she started to apply first aid to her lacerated lower face. She radioed for backup and was taken to North Okaloosa Medical Center in Crestview. She was later transferred to a plastic surgeon to care for her injury.

“Recovery was interesting,” Henthorn said. "I had a really good surgeon that they found. He did the actual surgery and first stitched it together. A week later we had to redo it because all the tissue in that area had died. I was out for a month and was chomping at the bit to be back."

One month later on her second day back, Henthorn found herself at the same house she was bitten.  Although she was wary, she said her love for animals got her through it.

“My love for animals runs strong and it runs deep,” she said while stroking a recently rescued Doberman. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else other than care for animals in any capacity I can. Now the Sheriff’s Department is allowing me to be an officer, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Tina Barker, Animal Control service manager, said it takes a special person like Henthorn to do this job successfully. 

“The animals don’t realize we’re helping them, and unfortunately sometimes we get the blunt end of their aggression,” Barker said. “It’s really amazing to me that she (Henthorn) loves the job even though bad things happen. She doesn’t hold it against them at all. She always comes to work with a smile on her face.”

Henthorn said all she wants to do is care for the 15 dogs, two snakes, one lizard and two horses of her own while continuing her work to give a voice to the voiceless. 

"In this county, animals are looked at as property," she said. "It’s sad, but it’s true. They get beat, abused, and nine out of 10 times when we find an animal who’s being abused, we find a child who’s being abused. It goes hand-in-hand. I’ve loved animals since I could walk. It’s what they call a heart calling. It’s what I do. I’ve tried other jobs and nothing was as satisfying as working with animals."