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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?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

Photo by Amanda Cowan, courtesy of Corvalllis Gazette-Times

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