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The Daniff Mastiff named Echo in a cage at the ArkValley Humane Society, taken on February 14 the day he was first scheduled to be euthanized. Photo by AVHS as submitted to PACFA.

In the end, the Chaffee County court case involving the Daniff Mastiff named Echo came down to Colorado property rights.  Which did not make the tears shed in the courtroom any less real, or the situation any less heart-breaking.

“This is a very emotional case in our community,” said Chaffee Judge Diana Bull. “The court has to follow the law and treat this under contract law. I know the property we’re talking about is not just a car or a house.”

The Thursday morning preliminary hearing addressed the motion for injunction filed by Shawn and Sophia Vrooman to attempt to stop the euthanization of the 145-pound Echo, which hinged on the constitutionality of the contract they signed when they brought Echo to the AVHS shelter.

“We agree the disposition of the animal is at the discretion of AVHS,” said Bull. “The court does not believe based on reasonable interpretation — I do not believe one can interpret this in any other way. AVHS can determine the disposition of the animal . .. this is an unambiguous contract.”

The court ruled that Echo is considered the property of the Ark-Valley Humane Society under Colorado statute CRS 35-80-106 and denied the request for injunction. An agreement was reached more than two hours into the preliminary hearing in which the Vrooman’s withdrew their motion for an injunction, and in exchange, they are being given the opportunity at 10:00 a.m. Friday, February 24, to see him and say goodbye to him.

The Vrooman’s attorney Ryan Drengler had alleged that the contract did not include the key policies that AVHS said it referenced and that the Vroomans had made it clear to the shelter that if a family couldn’t be found to adopt Echo, that they wanted him back. They provided statements that AVHS staff members had told them that was possible. Drengler raised the question of whether the contract was fully integrated or partially integrated; meaning that there were key words and euthanization policies that weren’t in the contract on which AVHS is now acting, of which the Vrooman’s weren’t informed.

During testimony, AVHS staffer Nicole Ritter admitted that the policies regarding euthanasia weren’t necessarily readily available, and weren’t on the contract, although she said she knew there were internal policies about the euthanization of animals at AVHS.

“There was nothing I could have provided,” she said from the witness stand. “I don’t have access to anything like that. I would have spoken to management about it.” Then she confirmed that there was one manager on duty that day.

Defense Attorney Randy Canney added to the emotions of the room, after his blunt comment “they give up a dog, AVHS accepts a dog”, by saying that attempting to say that contracts need to include everything that this is “leading to the ridiculous attorney over-writing of contracts.”

“It’s absolute legal nonsense just so you don’t come into court and argue those two items aren’t in the contract. This isn’t a services contract,” he added. “After the relinquishment  — it’s done…you give up all rights to [the dog] It’s A-B. It’s done. If that isn’t clear enough they say we don’t always have to tell you if it is transferred or euthanized.”

This leads directly to the press release put out by AVHS more than week ago, in which Executive Director Amber Van Leuken said that they were prevented from allowing the dog to go to another trainer because they couldn’t be released from liability for what he might do. The claim is that this is a state reality (which AVV is investigating).

It is assumed that unless AVHS relents and allows one of the now dozens of large-dog breed trainers and animal behaviorists from across the country and North America (including Save Rocky The Great Dane Rescue And Rehab Charity (‘SRGDRR’). The largest Great Dane rescue in North America), who have offered to take Echo and retrain him, he may be dead by Friday evening or soon after.

At the moment he remains in a cage that the Vroomans say does not meet his size, and he is being drugged with 250mg of trazodone twice a day to keep him calm.

Unless some statement has come out of which AVV is not aware, the board of directors of Ark-Valley Humane Society has not issued any kind of statement. No actual written policy related to AVHS euthanization policies has been produced. Given that AVHS has (according to their own record) put down 12 dogs in the past two years, this would seem to be a necessary policy that should be disclosed to the public.

UPDATE: The following statement arrived in AVV’s general mailbox and was not retrieved until after AVV’s 5:00 p.m. posting sweep. it comes from AVHS Executive Director Amber Van Leuken, not from the AVHS Board of Directors:

Ark Valley Humane Society granted ownership of relinquished dog
Salida, Colo. – Following a hearing at the Chaffee County Courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 23, the complaint against the Ark Valley Humane Society (AVHS) was withdrawn, and the injunction dismissed pertaining to ownership of Great Dane-Mastiff dog, Echo. Preceding the hearing, Echo was relinquished by his previous owners to AVHS on Thursday, Feb. 2 and has been in AVHS care since then.

Please reach out to AVHS Executive Director, Amber van Leuken, with any questions.

Editor’s note: AVV has learned that Echo’s correct weight was 145 pounds, not 170 pounds as we originally reported.