Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A Developing Story:  Ark Valley Voice publishes six days a week, but we do occasionally take a weekend day off, as we did Saturday afternoon and we don’t normally work on Sunday. Given the intense public response to our Friday feature article about Shawn and Sophia Vrooman and their attempts to provide a voice for the dog named Echo, we are doing this Sunday update, and a companion article allowing the Vroomans to respond to the claims of not one, but two Ark-Valley Humane Society (AVHS) press releases posted over the weekend, after AVV attempted unsuccessfully to talk with them and after the Vroomans took a legal step.

The dog has been in bite quarantine since soon after he was delivered to the shelter on February 2, and according to AVHS Executive Director Amber van Leuken, Echo is due to be put down Tuesday, February 14.

Echo, wearing the harness that the Vroomans say is what he is used to wearing. Photo by Sophia Vrooman.

The giant dog’s original owners, Shawn and Sophia Vrooman, are on record that the reason for taking the steps they have was to find Echo a home where his new family could spend more time with him than they could, and where he could get more training.

On Thursday, February 9, as Ark Valley Voice (AVV) was working on the original feature, several friends of the Vroomans, their lawyer, as well as AVV called AVHS, but the staff stopped answering the phone. Executive Director van Leuken wasn’t present when Ark Valley Voice Managing Editor Jan Wondra went in person to the shelter on Friday. She was told there was no one available to answer any questions, left her business card and asked for van Leuken to call her.

On Saturday afternoon, and again Sunday morning, February 11 and 12, the Ark-Valley Humane Society put out press releases explaining their actions and offering justification for their decision to euthanize a Great Dane-Mastiff named Echo. Readers can read the first full release here.

The first AVHS release laid out a set of circumstances from the point of view of AVHS, including the 10-day quarantine:

“The kennel Echo was originally placed in, and is currently housed in, is 5 foot by 12 feet, and is 6 feet tall, where he has had ample space to walk, move and lay down. During the quarantine period, no staff handling is permitted.”

It goes on to dispel the prevailing community perception of being a no-kill facility:

“AVHS is a minimal euthanasia facility with an Asilomar live release rate of 98.26 percent in 2022. However, in rare instances, we humanely euthanize animals for severe medical conditions and behavioral issues when considered dangerous to public safety.

“The decision to humanely euthanize a dog based on behavioral problems considers both the quality of life of the dog, and the relative manageability of the unsafe behaviors that are either reported by a surrendering party or observed at the shelter, or both.”

“In considering a euthanasia decision, AVHS assesses reported and observed behaviors related to:
● Territorial guarding
● Generalized guarding
● Unpredictability
● Known triggers
● History of human-directed aggression
● History of animal-directed aggression, and
● Any other notable behaviors of concern such as history of escape.”

“AVHS also consults with a veterinarian before making the determination to euthanize. Sadly, Echo has exhibited dangerous behaviors in all categories and would pose a clear public safety risk, as his owners stated he is wary of children, shows aggression when meeting other dogs, and has escaped their premises. The public places its trust in AVHS to make decisions with these safety concerns in mind, and as an animal welfare organization, we could not in good faith allow Echo to be returned under these current conditions with potential to harm children, adults, or other dogs. AVHS exhausts all resources and options before coming to this conclusion, as it is one of the most difficult decisions we make as an organization.”

The three-page release goes on to inform the public that:

“AVHS engaged a lawyer for further review of the situation. After reviewing the information, the lawyer counseled that AVHS should not return Echo to the previous owners because he poses a clear public safety risk, and allowing him back into the public, with his aggressive behavior and potential to escape his premises, would be negligent on the part of AVHS to do so.”

So this apparently answers the question posed by AVV — ‘who has made the decision to euthanize Echo?’ The AVHS decision appears to have included an unnamed veterinarian (who may or may not have seen the dog) and an attorney, (rather than the PACFA-designated county sheriff), whose counsel could have been based on assessed risk of liability.

The second release indicates that AVHS has received two reports of incidents with Echo. The first related to an incident in 2020 when Echo was a year old. Sophia Vrooman was in Germany and couldn’t come back because of COVID-19 pandemic border closures; “The first report states that Echo bit a child while his owners were in Europe, and the dog was being cared for in Salida. The child was bitten on the arm, leaving bruises on his skin.”

According to the press release, the second incident was an incident with a dog on a roadside, three days before he arrived at AVHS:

“Echo was being exercised off-leash on a dirt road near Salida while his owners were driving in their vehicle next to the dog.  The reporting party saw the vehicle approaching and stepped to the side of the road with their dog. While the reporting party’s dog was sitting obediently next to its owner, Echo approached them, lunged at the dog and bit it, causing a laceration on its ear. Echo’s owner immediately stopped the vehicle and ran out to retrieve Echo and put him in the vehicle. Echo’s owner then exchanged contact information with the reporting party and offered to pay veterinary expenses for the injured dog.”

The Vroomans say they have no idea what an incident is with a child to which AVHS is referring. They add that they are the ones who told AVHS staff about the incident with the dog on the road.

See the companion article where the Vroomans are allowed to respond to the information in the AVHS releases. When AVV went in person to the AVHS facility, we asked that van Lueken please call us, but so far all we have received are the press releases.