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Owners barking mad in fight over dog
Owners barking mad in fight over dog

When you finally stumble across the dog that ran away from home a year ago in the loving arms of his new owner, who gets to keep the dog?

That's the difficult question currently being played out in the courts in the US.

Sam Hanson-Fleming couldn't believe his luck when he spotted his beloved pet pooch Chase sitting inside an idling car outside a coffee shop in the US state of Oregon.

Only the 2 1/2-year-old husky-shepherd mix wasn't called Chase anymore; he was named Bear, and for the last year he'd been in the care of 20-year-old student Jordan Biggs.

None of that mattered when Mr Hanson-Fleming stumbled across Chase, he was just happy to see his best friend after a year.

"Chase instantly jumped out of the car and into my arms," Hanson-Fleming told local media. "He was licking me and loving me - all excited like he gets."

Feeling some sympathy for Ms Biggs, Mr Hanson-Fleming gave her a week to bid a fond farewell Chase/Bear, before returning him to his former owner and his two young sons.

That's where things get messy.

A week later, Ms Biggs said she wouldn't return the dog.

According to Mr Hanson-Fleming, Ms Biggs hung up the phone and cut off all contact with him. Ms Biggs hasn't returned media enquiries.

The difficult task of determining the dog’s rightful owner has fallen to Mike Oswald, from Multnomah County Animal Services.

Mr Oswald told the Oregonian it's not the first time two parties have tried to claim one animal.

"People believe or want to believe it's their animal," he said. "These are gut-wrenching decisions. They're difficult decisions."

Presenting photos of the dog on holidays with his family, Mr Hanson-Felming showed there's no doubt the dog had once belonged to him, and should be returned to its original owner.

Ms Biggs claimed the dog couldn't have been properly cared for if it was able to jump a fence and escape for a year.

She argued she had successfully cared for it for over a year, and should be allowed to keep doing so.

After months of agonising back-and-forth legal maneouvering, the authorities ruled on Mr Hanson-Fleming's side, arguing Ms Biggs hadn’t taken the proper steps to try to find the dog’s original owner.

Mr Hanson-Fleming made regular calls to the local animal shelter, posted flyers around town and posted lost dog information online, to no avail.

Ms Biggs failed to file a found report, which would have given her ownership of the dog after 180 days.

Surrounded by friends and family this week, Mr Hanson-Fleming was overjoyed when he read the finally ruling giving him ownership of Chase but his joy was short-lived.

Ms Biggs has already filed a civil suit, asking a judge to grant her custody of the dog.

In her suit, she claims that Hanson-Fleming has "threatened to impair (her) full enjoyment" of "her own dog."

She alleges Mr Hanson-Fleming was negligent in allowing the dog to run away.

The case continues.

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