Two people are squaring off for a legal battle over ownership of a dog
Multnomah County animal officials have determined that “Bear,” the dog Jordan Biggs of Corvallis has kept since last year, actually is named “Chase” — and he belongs to Portland resident Sam Hanson-Fleming.
Now Hanson-Fleming said he wants the 2-year-old Siberian husky mixed-breed dog back or else he will pursue theft charges against Biggs, a 20-year-old Oregon State University student.
Biggs, who had the dog trained to alert her when she’s about to have an asthma attack, has retained a lawyer to fight to keep the dog. Hanson-Fleming is just as adamant.
“If she refuses to give me my dog, an indictment will go through, and she’ll be facing theft in the first degree,” he said Wednesday.
For her part, Biggs had no comment Wednesday about the dispute, and her animal-law attorney, Georgie Duckler, couldn’t be reached by phone. At 3 p.m. Wednesday, however, Duckler filed suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Biggs’ behalf against Hanson-Fleming, asking that she be ruled the dog’s legal owner.
Multnomah County Animal Services Director Mike Oswald investigated the dog’s ownership under a county code that grants him the authority to settle animal-ownership disputes. Tuesday, he determined that Hanson-Fleming is the owner of the dog.
“After providing opportunity to both parties to submit information as to the ownership of the dog known as Chase,” Oswald’s determination reads, “I have received no information that disputes the fact that Mr. Hanson-Fleming is the owner.”
According to Oswald, Biggs didn’t respond to Multnomah County Animal Services’ request for proof that Bear is not Chase, so he made his determination solely on police investigations from Corvallis and Portland, and information provided by Hanson-Fleming. She also has the option of appealing the decision, Oswald said.
Hanson-Fleming’s dog jumped the fence and disappeared from his neighborhood in March 2011. The dog that Biggs said she found was about six or seven blocks from Hanson-Fleming’s house.
Hanson-Fleming’s efforts to find his dog about that same time were widely documented. He posted pictures on Craigslist, filed lost animal reports with Multnomah County Animal
Services and Oregon Humane Society, and hung fliers at local businesses. Though Chase didn’t have a microchip, he did have a collar with tags and a listed phone number at the time he went missing, Hanson-Fleming said.
In a May interview, Biggs said that she had canvassed the neighborhood, posted fliers, called local animal shelters and checked Craigslist and other websites. She didn’t, however, contact the Oregon Humane Society nor the Multnomah County Animal Services.
Hanson-Fleming said he has doubts that she tried to find the owner.
“If she’d have gone door-to-door, she would have come to our house,” he said.
After a while, Biggs figured the dog was hers, and she took Bear to OSU with her.
In an amazing coincidence more than a year later, Hanson-Fleming recognized Chase’s distinctive facial markings. The dog was in a vehicle that was behind him while he was idling in line at a coffee stand in Portland. It was Biggs and her dog, who were in Portland visiting family. She told Hanson-Fleming the story of finding the dog, and the two exchanged phone numbers.
Two days later, however, Biggs told Hanson-Fleming over the phone that she wasn’t giving up the dog.
Since then, Hanson-Fleming has been in constant contact with Corvallis and Portland police departments, Multnomah and Benton County district attorney’s offices, and the Multnomah County Animal Services — pleading with agencies to get him his dog back. He has called and emailed Biggs and her attorney, but he said that he has received no answers.
He expects the police to step up to the plate now that animal services has determined the dog is his. Multnomah County code states that found animals must be reported, and she didn’t report it, Hanson-Fleming points out. Though he considers Chase his child, for the purpose of the law, the dog is property, and she is guilty of theft, Hanson-Fleming said.
There are questions of jurisdiction, however. The alleged theft occurred in Portland, but the suspect resides in Corvallis. The district attorneys from Multnomah and Benton counties that have been in contact with Hanson-Fleming were out-of-town this week and unable to comment. However, discussions of jurisdiction could be seen in the Corvallis Police Department theft report.
A Corvallis officer writes that on May 17, a Portland officer informed him that the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office said the case is in the jurisdiction of Benton County and the Corvallis Police Department. The decision, she said, was made with the reasoning that “since the dog is in Corvallis along with the suspect, the case was (Corvallis police’s) to investigate and resolve.” Of course, Corvallis police said that “jurisdiction clearly belongs to Portland Police Bureau … with the assistance of the Corvallis Police Department.”
There also is the fact that Biggs said she has trained — and now relies on — Bear as her service dog.
In the same Corvallis theft report dated June 13, Corvallis police said that the investigating Portland officer, “believes the dog belongs to Fleming, but understands that seizing what now may be a service dog could cause addition issues for all involved.”
Police and attorney’s offices also will be discussing whether the dispute is a criminal or a civil matter, especially since Biggs filed a lawsuit.