Army couple's legal team files suit against animal rescue for re - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Army couple's legal team files suit against animal rescue for return of Spot

The tale of two dogs: on the left, is Spot the day he was taken to Tri-County Animal Rescue. The photo on the right is nearly a week later of a smiling, happy Spot. (Source: Thomas Hoffman/WTVM) The tale of two dogs: on the left, is Spot the day he was taken to Tri-County Animal Rescue. The photo on the right is nearly a week later of a smiling, happy Spot. (Source: Thomas Hoffman/WTVM)
Nadine Butler, with the Tri-County Animal Rescue, handling Spot. Nadine Butler, with the Tri-County Animal Rescue, handling Spot.

TAYLOR COUNTY, GA (WTVM) – The legal counsel for the Army couple embroiled in a battle with an animal rescue for their surrendered dog has filed suit on Wednesday.

Ed and Penny Furr, of Furr Legal in Decatur, GA, filed a six-count civil action suit for an injunction to return Spot to Blake and Ashley Lechner, and for fraud, among other claims, in Superior Court of Taylor County – State of Georgia.

The documents name the defendants, Thomas Hoffman, his mother, Andrea Hoffman, and Tri-County Rescue Inc. The first hearing is scheduled for Dec. 8 at 9:30 a.m. in Taylor County. 

The filing says that because of the "impending military orders" of Blake Lechner, the couple made a "hasty decision to surrender Spot," on Nov. 7. After they left the rescue, the filings claim that the Lechners regretted their decision, and wanted to act on their 12-hour window to get Spot back, but calls on the following Sunday weren't returned. It wasn't until Nov. 9, when Blake Lechner returned to the animal rescue that he was told it was too late to get Spot back. 

The forms make many claims against the Hoffmans and Tri County Animal Rescue, including that the surrender form, that legally gave Spot to the animal rescue, was altered after Blake Lechner signed it.

The suit also claims that the Hoffmans have “absconded with Spot, in order to profit from his eventual sale or adoption-for-a-fee.”

“The defendants had already advertised Spot’s availability for adoption before the sun set over Fort Benning on Saturday evening, Nov. 7, 2015,” the documents said.

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.

The suit also is asking for punitive or exemplary damages for an undetermined amount. Penny Furr, one of the lawyers representing the Lechners, says the couple is stressed and overwhelmed with what's happened since surrendering Spot on Nov. 7. 

In previous interviews, Thomas Hoffman said based on what Blake Lechner wrote on the surrender form, that Spot was not leash trained and did not get along with their other dog, that it would not been safe to return Spot to the family. 

Thomas Hoffman also said that when he was taken to the facility as a surrender, Spot seemed so traumatized, that he had to be carried in. 

When reached for a comment, Thomas Hoffman said he and his family did not want to make one at this time. Nadine Butler, Thomas Hoffman's sister, has started a new petition on change.org, advocating for Spot's well-being with #SpotDeservesBetter. 

The Lechners started a GoFundMe page to help pay for their legal fees. 

Penny Furr made a statement, saying: 

This family does not now nor have they ever wanted to be a party in a lawsuit. However, this appears to be the only way they have a chance of getting Spot, their beloved dog, back. If there were other options they would be taking them.

It appears that the people who have Spot want to win even when it is at his expense. Spot has never been an aggressive dog. He has always been an exuberant, happy puppy. If the allegations that are being made by the Rescue are true the family is terrified with what is happening to Spot while he is out of their custody.

The family admits that their decision to relinquish Spot was the worst mistake they have ever made. It has devastated the family especially their young son who had an incredible bond with Spot. The family did not realize how strong that bond was until Spot was gone. This is why they immediately started trying to get Spot back.

The family believed they were turning the dog in to Fort Benning Animal Control and Animal Shelter. They had no idea they were really dealing with a rescue organization. The page that was placed on Facebook clearly stated the organization was Fort Benning Animal Control and Animal Shelter. Immediately after this happened that page was removed.

Mr.  Lechner has been called a liar regarding the reasons they relinquished Spot. He has never lied about that. There were a number of reasons they decided to give up Spot. They believed they would be relocating. Spot was very active and jumped up when he was excited. They were overwhelmed with all of the things that were happening in their lives.  There was not one reason but many that led to this error.

It is not the first time a family that is overwhelmed and stressed would have made a mistake. I am amazed at the lack of empathy and compassion for this family. So many people have attacked this family who know nothing about them. They are in pain. This hurts them more than most of you could know. Human beings make mistakes. The father's first post on the internet asked for forgiveness from God, his family, and Spot. He also said how much he loved his family and that includes Spot.

I feel certain that Spot would be the first to forgive. That is how dogs are. There is no doubt that Spot loves his family and wants them back. Why is it so hard for human beings to forgive?

This is not what rescue is about. Rescue is there for dogs who have no one to love and care for them. At least one dog is now suffering because Spot is not being allowed to return home. He is taking space where a dog with no one could be.

Having worked with rescue for many years I know that our first goal is to keep the family together. When the family is a military family there are many options available. Many shelters and rescues have arranged long term fosters and have kept dogs for the family for extended periods of time. There are even grants available to assist families in paying costs to relocate dogs to other countries. It is sad that none of the options were made available to the Lechners.

If there is going to be a Fort Benning Animal Control and Shelter I would hope they would offer every military family all of the options before breaking up the family. Had these options been made available Spot never would have been removed from his family.

The matter is now in the Court and the Lechners hope that can reunite their family. We are always open to resolution if the rescue is willing. If they are concerned about Spot the family will gladly hire a trainer to come to their home and work with Spot. We are entering the holiday period. Why not reunite this family and give his place at the rescue to a stray dog who has no one?

Through interviews, both sides have advocated for the best interest for Spot.

On Tuesday, the Tri-County Animal Rescue posted that due to social media threats, they are no longer releasing the location of Spot, but that Spot is still under the care of the rescue. Thomas Hoffman said that Spot is not up for adoption at this time. 

RELATED: Army family, animal rescue in tug of war for surrendered dog

You can read the full civil suit by clicking here.

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    The Lechners
    50%
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    50%
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