COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – An Army family and a Chattahoochee Valley animal rescue are now at odds over a 1-year-old American Bulldog mix named Spot.
Thomas Hoffman, of the Tri-County Animal Rescue located in Mauk, GA, said Blake and Ashley Lechner surrendered their young dog, Spot, to the nonprofit animal rescue on Nov. 7.
The Lechner family says they surrendered the dog, but quickly regretted it – but the animal rescue says the couple was not forthright with their reasons giving him up. Now the family, stationed on Fort Benning, and the family-owned animal rescue are offering differing accounts of the incident on social media.
On the surrender form, the family listed the reason for the surrender as not being leash trained and problems with their other dog, another bully breed. Hoffman said that Spot seemed so traumatized when he was dropped off, that he was shaking and needed to be carried inside their facility.
"His description of the dog's behavior in the home set off red flags," Hoffman said. "He feared for his children's safety and surrendering him was his only option left since no other rescues were willing to step forward to help him."
Hoffman said Blake Lechner's 2016 Permanent Change of Station was not listed as a reason.
The Furr Legal Group, the law firm representing the Lechners, confirmed what was reported to Atlanta TV station WAGA on Nov. 10 that the surrender was due to the family's Permanent Change of Station. A collection of social media posts surfaced allegedly written by both Blake and Ashley Lechner saying that the dog was surrendered because he was hyper and jumped on their baby.
On a GoFundMe page set up by Ashley Lechner, the couple lists their reasons for surrendering Spot was because of a 2016 deployment to South Korea. She writes that they were "panicked" and "thought…maybe us going alone would be best."
"We have two dogs, we decided maybe it would be best for us to get spot a new home," Ashley Lechner wrote. "My husband surrendered him to the Tri-County Animal Rescue and within a short amount of time we realized I would be able to move back home to Pennsylvania while he is in Korea. We called/messaged the shelter to get Spot back willing to pay anything they ask. They didn't even give us a chance with their grace period."
She says the family was not given their 12-hour window granted by the shelter to change their mind, and that the shelter refused to return Spot to them. The story continues that the family would do anything to get Spot back, and the fundraising would be used for legal fees.
Penny Furr, with Furr Law Group in Decatur, spoke for the Lechners when they were reached for comment. Furr said that Ashley and Blake, who are 23 and 21 years old, respectfully, were young and naïve in surrendering Spot, and the commitment of deployment and their young family left them overwhelmed.
"We were convinced that they are good, honest people and they really want this dog," Furr said. "Numerous families are overwhelmed with dogs and do the wrong thing. The Lechners did the right thing."
Furr said following the surrender of Spot, the Lechner's son was heartbroken that he was gone.
But Hoffman said the shelter did not return Spot because of the reasons the Lechner's listed on their surrender form. He said he would have given Spot back, but the red flags and the Lechner's dishonesty is what led to the shelter keeping him.
"Morally we are wrong returning an animal that could harm a child, when it was brought in for just that reason. We have to be the responsible party," Nadine Butler, Hoffman's sister, wrote in a Facebook post on the Tri-County Animal Rescue's page.
Hoffman said Spot is still at their animal shelter and will not be up for adoption until the results of a temperament test return. Spot is a young dog, Hoffman said, and will need strong training and development before the adoption process begins.
In a Google cache of their Facebook page for Fort Benning Animal Shelter, it shows that Spot was an "owner surrender" that was "adoptable" before the post was deleted; the page was also deactivated due to an outpouring of negative comments about their handling of Spot.
Hoffman also wants what's best for Spot, and wants to act on the best judgment for the dog.
As for the Lechners, Furr said they will file legal actions in the Superior Court of Chattahoochee County for fraud and breach of contract. Furr claims that the Tri-County Animal Rescue is also acting as the animal control on post, and they shouldn't be. Furr also mentioned the clear difference between a shelter and a rescue, and said the Lechners believed the rescue was acting as a "government shelter."
As of Monday, there have been no legal actions made on this matter.
But Hoffman clarified, saying the military police pick up stray dogs on Fort Benning and they are contacted as a result, per a contract. Hoffman further detailed their relationship on post, stating that the Tri-County Animal Rescue maintains the facility, but do not catch dogs.
Hoffman says Spot was surrendered to Tri-County Animal Rescue, as denoted on their surrender form signed by Blake Lechner.
On a post to their Facebook page on Tuesday, Tri-County Animal Rescue said that due to the amount of threats they've received on social media, they will not be disclosing Spot's location at this time.
Also of note, the U.S. military has strict guidelines on what types of pets are allowed on post. These guidelines are especially specific about breeds and on-post registration of those pets.
Those guidelines include breed restrictions, and banned breeds on post include pit bulls, including American Staffordshire Terriers, Rottweilers, Chow Chows, Doberman Pinschers, and wolf hybrids.