Animal Law

Woman Who Says She Found and Trained Stray Dog Lawyers Up, Files Declaratory Judgment Action

Updated: Is Sam Hanson-Fleming the lawful owner of Chase, a mixed-breed dog who jumped the fence of his Portland, Ore., home a year ago? Or does the German shepherd-husky mix belong to Jordan Biggs, who found him, named him Bear, and got him trained to be an asthma service dog?

Ordinarily, there’s a lack of humans seeking to adopt such pets, let alone multiple humans disputing ownership of a stray dog. But a chance encounter between Hanson-Fleming, 30, with Biggs, who was driving by a coffeehouse with the animal in her lap, led to a hard-fought legal battle that is now in the hands of a state-court judge, according to the Oregonian.

The 20-year-old Oregon State University student clearly loves the dog, too. However, Multnomah County Animal Services director Mike Oswald, to whom authorities in both Portland and OSU’s home base of Corvallis turned for a ruling, said he belongs to Hanson-Fleming, who was able to prove his prior ownership. Meanwhile, Biggs wasn’t able to prove that she had followed procedures set forth in the the county’s animal code for attempting to find the owner of a lost pet.

Although state lawmakers in recent years have clarified that felony first-degree theft can encompass taking, or refusing to return, a dog or cat, prosecutors in Multnomah and Benton counties, at this point, haven’t opted to pursue a criminal case. And it appears that the ownership issue is likely to be resolved in a civil action: With the help of animal-law practitioner Geordie Duckler, Biggs has filed a state court suit asking for a legal ruling declaring her to be the owner of the dog.

Another Oregonian article links to the declaratory judgment action filed by Biggs last week in Multnomah County Circuit Court, as well as other documents related to the dispute.

At last report, Biggs had been criminally charged with theft. However, there isn’t yet a happy ending for Hanson-Fleming either in the dog-custody dispute: Chase is being held in an animal shelter, while the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office looks into allegations that his original owner abused him, as a subsequent post details.

Additional coverage:

Corvallis Gazette-Times: “Pair spar over lost dog”

Corvallis Gazette-Times: “Chase or Bear?”

Oregonian: “Many readers irate over story of Northeast Portland man fighting for return of dog”

Updated on July 23 to include information from subsequent post.

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