Karen B. London
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Whose Dog Is It?
A conflict that’s hard to resolve
Jordan Biggs and Bear

If you’ve taken in a lost dog, you’re not alone. Many of us have done so, and then made all attempts to contact the guardian so that the dog could be returned. Sometimes the reunion takes place within hours or days, but other times it can take weeks or months. At some point, many people have abandoned hope of finding the original family and simply accept the dog into their own.

That’s what Jordan Biggs did after months of searching for the guardians of a husky mix who came to her door in April 2011. Attempts to contact the people who had lost the dog she calls Bear through humane societies, animal shelters, craigslist, veterinary offices, posters, and going door to door failed. Once he had been with her for two months, she considered him to be her dog.

Since that time, Bear has become her service dog, having been trained to seek help if her asthma results in a loss of consciousness. They do agility together, which is one way she has invested in him in addition to providing him with veterinary care and having him microchipped and neutered.

Then, earlier this month, Sam Hanson-Fleming saw Bear, who he calls Chase, in the car in front of him, and was ecstatic that he had found the dog who had jumped his fence over a year ago, leaving him and his two young sons deeply saddened by the loss. When his dog was first lost, he posted craigslist ads and filed lost dog reports with several organizations. He wants his dog back, but Biggs refuses to give up her dog.

This is a tricky situation. Of course, there’s the possibility that the dog Biggs has is not the same one that Hansom-Fleming lost, and perhaps additional medical records can clear up the issue. But if it is the same dog, whose dog is it now? Do they both have a claim to this husky mix, or does he clearly belong to one or the other of these people? Obviously, they both love the dog. However, the question, from a legal standpoint, is not who loves the dog, but who OWNS the dog. What do you think?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

Photo by Amanda Cowan, courtesy of Corvalllis Gazette-Times

CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Anonymous | May 22 2012 |

The owner did not provide enough information to identify the dog when lost, e.g., tags, microchip. It belongs to the finder since she now considers the dog to be her own (if she did due diligence in finding the owner as this article states).

Submitted by Shannon | May 30 2012 |

If the finder contacted her local animal control office and nobody claimed the dog, typically the dog would have been made available for adoption within 5-7 days. So even if the finder had not kept the dog but dropped it at the county shelter, the dog would have either found a home or been euthanized. From just the details provided, I'd say the finder has the true ownership here.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 30 2012 |

Being the owner of a dog who was found and kept in a similar manner, I did my homework and found that after 14days the dog is considered abandoned and is free to be adopted(in my area at least). And considering its been a Year and that the man didn't have collar, tags or chip to prove that the dog was his in the first place.... the dog is hers. Plain and simple

Submitted by Anonymous | May 30 2012 |

Neither "own" the dog. But Ms. Biggs is now the dog's guardian and Bear should remain with her. Hopefully Hansom-Fleming can find happiness in knowing that the dog is well taken care of.

Submitted by Kat | May 30 2012 |

The finder now OWNS the dog. She did everything to find his previous owner. There should be a statute law--after 30 days of finding a dog and if no one comes to look for the dog, the new owner should have the right to own/keep the dog. Of course, they have to show proof that they did everything to find the prev. owner.
Why didn't the prev owner microchipped/neutered their dog in the first place?

Submitted by Melissa | May 30 2012 |

I completely agree with Anonymous, above, that the previous owner did not provide proper identification, nor did they have the dog neutered, all of these things a responsible dog owner would do. No one can say that the both the previous guardian and the current one did not love the dog, but the current guardian showed more signs of being a responsible dog owner, and she tried to find the previous owner through all possible channels. I'd say the dog is hers. Alternatively, let the dog choose....dogs will remember a person if they had a close bond....I'm betting that the dog is more bound to the person he's with now, who has clearly made him part of her life, not left him in a yard to jump over the fence and escape.

Submitted by Jennie | May 30 2012 |

Wow. I cannot even imagine the emotional pain this is causing both parties. However I'm inclined to believe the girl.

Submitted by Charlene | May 30 2012 |

As much as it hurts my heart to think of losing my beloved dog, finding her again, and not having the option to get her back, I believe the dog belongs to Jordan Biggs unless Sam Hanson-Fleming can provide genetic samples proving the dog is his. Even if he could, though, I think the dog belongs to Biggs. She has invested quite a bit of money into a rescued dog and a service dog is not easily replaced. Sam Hanson-Fleming needs to look for a new dog, preferably through the pound or humane society, and seriously consider a breed that is less likely to jump his fence and disappear.

Submitted by BorderWars | May 30 2012 |

It's the original owner's dog. It's really not even close legally.

What makes this case compelling is the emotional investment that Jordan Biggs put into the dog, but that in no way changes ownership of the dog.

"Due diligence" in trying to find the previous owner does not change ownership any more than such efforts would make a child yours should you find them on the street or an unattended car yours should you put it to good use.

That Jordan had the dog operated on is actually troubling. If we side with Jordan legally, then we open the door to all sorts of well meaning but illegal activity. You think your neighbor's dog is too fat? "Rescue it" and rehab it, and then claim it's yours.

Think that the guy down the street is stupid and ignorant for having a dog that still has its balls, well open that gate and you can take him to the vet and have him desexed.

Without a specific law that grants adverse possession rights to the "rescuer" ... and this would most likely require licensing like a real shelter ... then Jordan is a good samaratan, but she doesn't own the dog.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 30 2012 |

I agree 100%

Submitted by Anonymous | May 30 2012 |

The finder owns the dog. That is because in most states, there is a 7 day stray hold. If the dog had not been claimed within that time period, the shelter could legally place him for adoption.

He has NO WAY of proving that he ever owned the dog, and did not claim him when the finder was advertising the dog that she had found.

Submitted by Basil Brown | May 31 2012 |

Where will the dog be happier? It sounds like he has a 'job' with Jordan, and is doing agility with her, which is great. I wonder did Bear react to the old owner, the old owner's kids? I would side with Jordan on this, since she is giving Bear a good life. This story really shows the importance of microchipping!

Submitted by Anonymous | June 2 2012 |

Geez!! I can't imagine this EVER happening to me! I myself have a rescue from a shelter. A wonderful dog I have had for 5 years now! If his previous owner came forward now I would be absolutely devastated! He is MY dog!! But.. now imagine ... if I were to somehow lose this precious animal and someone else took him in. Someone else fell in love with him and after all efforts to find me failed they decided to keep him only for me to find him a year later... how would they feel? How would I feel? This is such a hard hard case. I have never lost an animal I have never found but I would NEVER stop thinking about them, I would never stop missing them and I would certainly never stop loving them. It would be like losing a child. This dog is a member of my family. I will be devastated when his life comes to an end but I would be equally devastated if I lost him only to find him only to be told I can't have him back. I just don't know what the right thing is here.. I just have no idea and I can't imagine how either family would cope!

Submitted by Anonymous | June 2 2012 |

This isn't even about a law! Who cares what the "law" says. Why should there even be a "law" where a family member is concerned. This is about someone's heart. I understand the bond Jordan has BUT if they can determine that this dog belongs to Sam.. it is his dog!

Submitted by Cheryl Ann | June 22 2012 |

She owns the dog. The former owner (if he really is) should just be glad he knows what happened to the dog and that he is happy and well taken care of. She has all the proof....he has none. I wonder what would happen if he had "found" the dog after it was adopted out through a shelter?

Submitted by Anonymous | July 11 2012 |

No she STOLE the dog. If she really looked on craigslist why didnt she see the actual owner's post.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 12 2012 |

"I wonder what would happen if he had "found" the dog after it was adopted out through a shelter?"
If the dog were adopted out of a shelter it would have been adjudged as abandoned or stray and eligible for adoption. Once the papers are signed and fees paid the legal title of the animal transfers to the new owner. The old owner loses any claim or ownership claim thereby.
It would not, however, relieve the new owner of the moral responsibility to return the pet.

Submitted by samuel hanson-f... | July 10 2012 |

ok first of yes chase is my dog when ms. Biggs found him on sun the 27th of march she took him down to corvallis the very next day yes he is my dog and he will be comming home soon i have diffinitive proof that yes it is my dog chase due to the distinctive marking of an arrow that goes up his snout i also have DNA evedance from the litter of puppies he had in december of 2012 ms. biggs has lied overrrrrrrrr alllllllllll of this she did not look on cl or she would have seen my post that i posted for almost a year if she needed a service animal she shoulda registered 1 of her few other dogs that she has or got a new 1 she lied in every artical to alll of u the public to try an gain sympathy to creat a public spectical thinkin that she will get to keep him ... Well shes NOT going to keep him and as for her beimg her service animal for her asthma boyyyyyy thas really so sevire that she can go on hiking trips to yosemmite and played soccor for ryenolds high school , if she did truly spend alllllll the money she says she did i dont CARE she shoulda got her own dog and she had noooooooooo rite taking my family and doing anything with him , she says she contacted alllll the shelters in portland well theres only 1 and no there is records that prove she never did such an act if she woulda walked round the neighborhood an knocked on doors like she said she did she woulda knocked on mine seems how she found chase rite behind my house across from the school the point is she never shoulda took him to corvalis the next day after finding him and she shouldn have brought him back to the same neighborhood she stole him from if she didn want to get caught, i mean come on if u steal a bike would u go ride it around in the area that u stole it from REALLY !!!!!!!! and also the fact that the day she aggreed to return him she decided she wasnt going to and she went an registered him that same day why wait a year to do so really any ways im done ranting an if u think she made a public spectical juuuuuuust wait i havent even started yet but the oregonin is on this like white on rice

Submitted by Anonymous | July 12 2012 |

I am a provider of a forever home for 3 rescue dogs so far. They are chipped and licensed and their health coverage is better than mine. This whole thing is right out of Lassie who while lost takes up with a crippled girl. The Lassie was placed between the two children and while being called from both sides went to one of them establishing ownership. Alas this test lacks a foundation in the law. I can clearly see why the young lady who found Chase/Bear feels she has a legal claim however there is no evidence in the articles about this dispute that she adopted the dog in question. She “assumed the dog was hers after some months of trying to find the owner. It is laudable that she did attempt to find the dog’s owner. I would have done the same. According to the article, the original owner spent a year trying to find the dog, and did license the dog. There should be a public record of that. Since a dog is considered property without an adoption on the part of the finder the title to the dog did not pass. The real issue here is if indeed the dog in question is in fact the same dog. The judgment of the people at animal control is that the dog is in fact Chase. The finder clearly invested in the dog but if it is not hers and she has not clearly established a title she is not the owner. He investment in training and service dog certification is not recoverable from the original owner because she lacks title. I suppose that it is possible there may be some DNA evidence(hair) at the original owners residence. If the finder and the original owner are willing to take the risk DNA would clearly identify the dog one way or the other. I expect the cost of such a test would fall to the finder who could pay for it. If she is going to fight this in the courts testing is significantly cheaper. Should such testing prove that it is not Chase then a lawsuit is not necessary and the claim of the original owner is without merit. I doubt the original owner can afford the cost of testing since he could not afford the chip in the first place. This is the kind of thing requires the wisdom of Solomon for a fair outcome. Unfortunately the evidence to date strongly supports the original owner. It’s not fair but there it is.

Submitted by Meg | July 12 2012 |

I find Jordan's actions since the original owner found his dog to be troubling. She alleged that she posted signs , contacted the shelter, posted on Craigslist, that she did everything that she was supposed to do to find Chase's owner. However when she and her attorney were contacted by Mike Oswald from MCAS to present evidence that she had followed her obligations, the request was ignored. The situation could have been resolved right then. But Insead her attorney filed suit against the original owner alleging neglect for allowing him to escape. Sadly, that is a standard I cannot meet nor can a good number of dog owners. My totally uneducated guess is that she is hoping to intimidate him into letting her keep Chase since I doubt he has the resources to hire an attorney.

Submitted by Jackie Washam | July 4 2013 |

"Bear" would have been either killed in a shelter or adopted by another family at the shelter if not cared for by the finder. All attempts were made to find the owner and one was not found. The only other choices for the finder would have been to take "Bear" to a shelter or keep "Bear" to save "Bear's" life. At that point, the finder takes responsibility to save the dog and becomes liable for the dog (in my opinion). Then you have to consider the money the finder invested to care for the animal. If the owner comes later and proof is found to be there dog. Money that was spent on the care of the lost animal should be reimbursed before the new owner is forced to give up an animal that is now part of their family. We need a law that will allow a finder of an animal to have the option of legally filing for ownership after a 6 month period. If abuse is found caused by the new owner and the prior owner is found. Then the rights of ownership should be returned to the prior owner, but only for the safety of the animal and in cases where negligence and abuse are apparent. I've thought of this before when our dog was lost. He returned in three days, but I could remember thinking he was lost for good and prayed he would be in the loving hands of a new owner. I pray "Bear" will be able to stay with his new owner and that the prior family could visit "Bear" in his new home. I know it's hard, but sometimes good things take sacrifice and "Bear" was lost a whole year. I couldn't even begin to imagine what would have happened if a new loving owner wasn't their to save him.

More From The Bark

More in Karen B. London:
Packing to Move
Movies and Breed Popularity
Matching Names
Circadian Rhythms
Amazing X-Rays
Back to School
A Dog in Front and a Dog Behind
Resembling Our Dogs
Favorite Facial Expressions
Handler Stress Improves Dog Performance