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The case of the Daniff mastiff named Echo, awaiting his fate while in bite quarantine at the Ark-Valley Humane Society (AVVHS) has captured public attention, following Ark Valley Voice’s (AVV) feature story last Friday. AVHS has scheduled Echo to be euthanized on Tuesday, February 14.

AVV has received quite a flood of comments; both for and against the dog, for and against the Ark-Valley Humane Society, for and against the Vroomans, and for and against our coverage.

Echo with Sophia and Shawn Vrooman. Courtesy photo.

It should be pointed out that AVHS’s first public response, when it finally did comment, has occurred over the weekend on Saturday, February 11, and Sunday, February 12, after the Vroomans took two legal steps:

  • On Thursday, February 9, the Vrooman’s offered a legal indemnification proposal to Amber van Leuken, outlining their offer to indemnify AVHS and take on all the liability for Echo’s behavior. The email message, sent at 10:10 p.m. that night, included the offer by Linda Cutrara with Happy Hound Happy Home, a local dog trainer specializing in dogs aggressive behavior towards dogs and humans, “who has agreed to work with us as soon as Echo is back in our care.”
  • On Friday, February 10, Vrooman’s lawyer filed a motion for an injunction in District 11 court asking to delay the scheduled euthanization so that Echo can be moved to a PACFA-facility where he would be less stressed. They say they remain hopeful the court can review this prior to the scheduled February 14 euthanization.

Questioned about the AVHS press releases, Shawn and Sophia Vrooman provided the following comments:

“This isn’t about us, it’s about Echo – we are speaking on his behalf. What’s important to us is that Echo has a voice,” said Sophia Vrooman. “We feel like Echo and the circumstances of the relinquishment are misrepresented [in those press releases]. They say we came to the shelter for the purpose of relinquishing him.”

“But our purpose was to find a new home for him… to bring him to the humane society and we thought they were on the same page as us,” said Shawn Vrooman. “We at first went there to have a conversation with them. We talked about these things. We honestly shared information before we brought him there.”

“For them to claim that he has been aggressive to children — I don’t know where they are getting that,” said Sophia Vrooman.” We have no clue what they are talking about. None. The first incident [in that release] is news to us and seems false. We know of no incidences during the time when Echo was in the care of a friend during our time in Germany. There haven’t been any incidences against children – reported or unreported.”
“Regarding the incident with the other dog on the road, we disclosed this information with the Humane Society that we have talked to the dog owners of any dogs that Echo encountered and resolved it between us if any display of worrying behavior occurred. The second incident mentioned in the press release did happen, but was resolved friendly and not reported with the authorities. We have agreed to cover the vet bill. Each scenario was dealt with lovingly and openly and a solution was found.”

As the Vroomans explain it, there is a difference between being aggressive and protective. “He is not an aggressive dog – he is a protective dog. They are bred to protect their family, they are very loyal, but no way was he aggressive.”

The couple is frank about Echo. “We have always been aware that Echo needs further training and never claimed we have always been perfect. To put a magnifying glass to each and every step of our lives with Echo is misrepresenting sensitive information we disclosed in good faith prior to his relinquishment.”

The Vroomans say that since having tried to give Echo a voice over the past couple of days, that four professional dog trainers (including one local trainer with 40 years of training experience), have been in touch with them offering their help to train him.

“One animal behaviorist got in touch with us, and through the conversations, we explained Echo’s behaviors and they understand them, and they know what training will work with him. The humane society labeled him unpredictable and said they don’t know why he is behaving that way. But the trainers say he is being predictable given the situation.”

“[The trainer] knows this specific breed,” added Vrooman.” All of them say [Echo’s] behavior isn’t unpredictable, it is part of what is known about the breed. It explains why he got fearful when we left – fear is not aggression.”

“The dog trainers all say his behaviors are trainable,” added Shawn. “We sent a proposal to Amber van Leuken the night of February 9 to assume all liability and went over the training offers. She hasn’t responded to us or to the professionals and the trainer families that have offered to foster.”

“If she’s not willing to talk with us – then can’t she at least talk with the professionals?” asks Shawn Vrooman.

“The owners of 12 of his siblings and the breeder who owns his parents have been in touch with us,” added Sophia. “There is nothing there genetic [about the breed] that is aggressive.”

“The animal behaviorist said [Echo] was brought there, he got scared, then put in isolation for 10 days. Then in a few days later they’re going to euthanize him? So in the last 12 days of his life he’s scared and alone — there is nothing humane about that,” said Shawn Vrooman. “There is nothing there about a professional assessment by someone who knows this breed.”

The couple both say they know that training help is needed from someone who knows the Daniff Mastiff breed (the Danifflovers Facebook group is quite large, and the Pleasantvalleydaniffs  group is popular in this region) and that these fellow owners and trainers inform their responses to AVHS.

While on the subject of giant dogs, the Vroomans pointed out that the AVHS press release notes the size of the kennel where Echo has been placed is five feet by 12 feet, or 60 square feet.

But PACFA regulations spell out a formula for kennel size as part of its licensing agreement, and the current kennel sizes regulations for a dog the size of Echo (his father Andre is 59.75 inches from the tip of his nose to the base of his tail), indicate he should be in a minimum cage size of 90 square feet.  Legally, the AVHS can’t keep holding him in a kennel that is too small.

“We need help from the community in any way that we can, first of all to stop his euthanasia and going into the future — We want to improve the quality of his life as well as carefully address his behavioral issues with professional trainers and experienced Daniff owners who can guide the process,” says Shawn. “We have always had Echo’s, as well as the community’s interests at heart.”
“We cherish open conversation with people of all kinds and are always courteous and respectful,” added Sophia. “The focus here is Echo, who cannot speak for himself, who loves life and people, and who deserves a voice and a second chance.”