OSU student loses bid to keep dog she found in Portland, but the dispute isn’t over
A Portland man embroiled in a lengthy dog custody dispute with an Oregon State University student was awarded the dog in a motion hearing Thursday in Benton County Circuit Court.
“I have a flood of emotions going on right now,” Sam Hanson-Fleming said in a phone interview about being able to take home the fluffy husky mix he calls Chase. “I’m really excited, I can’t wait. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out.”
OSU student Jordan Biggs, 22, was arrested July 20 on a first-degree theft charge for allegedly taking ownership of a dog she found in Portland and later named Bear. She refused to return the dog when, a year later, Hanson-Fleming claimed he was the dog’s rightful owner. She said that she had trained the dog to help her manage her asthma.
By chance, Hanson-Fleming spotted the dog in line at a drive-through coffee stand when Biggs was visiting Portland in May. He immediately recognized its distinct markings when he saw it in Bigg’s vehicle, and he confronted her. After initially agreeing to return the dog, Biggs refused, and the dispute began.
A Multnomah County Animal Services administrator performed an investigation on Hanson-Fleming’s request and determined that the dog was his. He lost the dog when it jumped his fence in March 2011.
Corvallis police charged Biggs with theft and seized the dog. But before it could be released to Hanson-Fleming, Biggs’ attorney, Geordie Duckler, filed allegations that Hanson-Fleming had abused his dog. The dog was intercepted July 21 and taken to the Oregon Humane Society in Portland because the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office didn’t want the dog returned until it could investigate those allegations.
After Hanson-Fleming was cleared of animal abuse, the dog continued to be held at the Oregon Humane Society because Benton County Circuit Court Judge Locke Williams granted Biggs’ motion to hold the animal in protective custody as evidence in her criminal case.
“Somewhat in the vein of King Solomon, the court thought that the parties might resolve this case in a manner that would allow the dog not be kept in a cage for two and a half months,” Williams said at Thursday’s hearing.
Deputy District Attorney David Amesbury, with the help of Hanson-Fleming’s attorney James McCurdy, called two witnesses from the Oregon Humane Society and questioned them via telephone. They also called an investigator for the district attorney’s office.
McCurdy argued that there was no dispute that the dog belongs to Hanson-Fleming, and that there was no evidentiary purpose to hold the dog. He accused Duckler of legal maneuvering for the purpose of keeping the dog from Hanson-Fleming.
“It’s interesting to note that Mr. Duckler’s arguments weren’t focused as an evidentiary necessity of the dog, but rather keeping the dog from Mr. Hanson-Fleming,” he said in closing arguments. “Actually, the purpose of this whole thing for six months now is, ‘How do we best create hurdles for Mr. Hanson-Fleming in hopes that he’ll just give up?’”
Duckler pointed out that the dog’s ownership is being disputed in two different proceedings. His client is appealing the Multnomah County Animal Services’ decision, he said. In addition, a civil lawsuit his client launched July 11 in Multnomah County Circuit Court is ongoing.
Though Duckler hadn’t yet taken the opportunity to inspect the dog as evidence in the case, he told the judge that he planned to.
“I just got state’s witness list yesterday,” he said. “I’m still preparing my defense.”
Judge Williams granted ownership to Hanson-Fleming with the condition that the dog is available for reasonable purposes in the pending civil and criminal cases.
But the decision meant that Hanson-Fleming could have a joyous reunion with the dog that he never stopped trying to get back after that chance sighting last spring.
Hanson-Fleming was reunited with Chase on Thursday at the Oregon Humane Society in Portland.