Judge returns dog in middle of custody fight to original owner

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) A judge has given a Portland man custody of a dog lost in early 2011 and then claimed by an Oregon State University student, leading to a highly publicized custody dispute.

The dog has been at a Humane Society shelter, but Benton County Judge Locke Williams said Thursday that Sam Hanson-Fleming had a valid claim to the mixed breed, husky-Siberian he calls Chase.

That followed testimony from Benton County investigator John Chilcote about Hanson-Fleming's visit to the shelter in August, The Oregonian newspaper ( reported.

He called out "Chase, Chase, Chase!" and the dog pulled so hard on the leash the handler stumbled several times, Chilcote testified.

"There was recognition, happiness, excitement, hopping, yipping, yelping maybe," he said.

Hanson Fleming lost the 45-pound dog in the spring of 2011 when it leaped a fence. Jordan Biggs found him and took him to Corvallis when she couldn't find the owner. She named him Bear and trained him as a service animal for asthma attacks.

More than a year later, she was with the dog at a Portland coffee hut, and Hanson-Fleming saw them.

He tried to reclaim the dog, and the director of Multnomah County Animal Services determined he was the rightful owner.

She wouldn't give up the dog. Her lawyer, Geordie Duckler, said Hanson-Fleming abused the dog. Hanson-Fleming denied it. The Multnomah County district attorney's office concluded prosecutors lacked evidence to charge him with abuse or neglect.

At Thursday's hearing, the judge rejected Duckler's arguments the dog should remain in the locked kennel, 4 feet by 6 feet, with two daily walks, until the criminal trial.

Williams said he hadn't expected the dog's confinement to last so long, hoping, "perhaps foolishly on the part of the court, in the vein of King Solomon, the parties might resolve the case."

Hanson-Fleming and Chase were to be reunited later Thursday.