Spirit of St. Louis – Pick Your Charity, Pick Your Car

The story of the dog ‘Bear’ and the mystery over who owns him

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

LINCOLN COUNTY, MO (KTVI) - A mystery over who owns a black lab mix, comes with lessons about what you should do if you find a lost dog. A Lincoln County family said it tried everything possible to find the owner, then finally implanted a microchip. That`s when the dog`s owner showed up to take the dog back.

The story began May 6th, in rural Lincoln County. James Chesser was walking one of his dogs when he found the lab mix wandering. Chesser said, 'We named him Drifter, figured he`d been kind of drifting around for a little while and figured that was a pretty good fit.'

Chesser and his parents posted photos on Facebook and Craigslist. They also took him to a veterinarian. Chesser said, 'He was actually anemic and you could tell his tongue, lips had inside of his mouth was pale because of all the ticks that he had.'

They spent more than $500 on the vet bill, partly to treat a tick born disease. The vet didn`t find a microchip, so he implanted one. Felicia Chesser explained how the vet said, 'Here`s your new dog and kind of thought that was the end of it, didn`t really think much of it after that.'

After 19 days, a man claiming to be the dog`s owner called the Chessers. James took the call. 'I explained to him the vet bills and he was like oh man I don`t have any money. You know I can understand that, but the options are you can give us the money and take the dog home or he stays here.'

Instead, Donald Woodson showed up with his vet records and a sheriff`s deputy. He took his dog back.

Woodson said, 'At first I thought he might have crossed the highway, or something of that nature, but come to find out you know he`s just a quarter of a mile away from us.'

Woodson says his dog`s name is Bear. They live on the same rural Lincoln County road, on a secluded 22 acres. He says he`s been out of work and can`t afford the $500 vet bill. He said, 'I`m grateful because they were actually taking care of my dog, but at the same token you know, I didn`t feel like I was obligated to pay it back because it was a lost dog.'

Woodson says he can still give Bear a good life. He said, 'I`m from the country and my dogs you know, they get a sniffle or something like that they don`t need to see a vet but yeah, if it`s something serious enough, yeah they go.'

Bear roams the land, sometimes living up to the name the Chessers gave him, Drifter. Woodson says he never drifts long. He explained, 'He doesn`t go very far and he eventually comes right back.'

People may have different ideas about what makes a good pet owner, but attorney Toni Meyer says the law is clear and it`s on Woodson`s side. Meyer said, 'Just because the dog gets out of the fence or gets out of the yard doesn`t mean the owner at that point loses all ownership rights. It doesn`t work that way with children, you know not trying to equate children and dogs, but if it`s yours it`s yours.'

Meanwhile animal control can euthanize an animal in less time than the Chessers held onto bear. So if you find a dog, fall in love with it and want to keep it, take it to a shelter. Tell them not to put it down and that you`ll come back to adopt it after their required window to find an owner. Then the animal will be legally yours. Unfortunately that wasn`t a great option in this case, because the closest viable shelter is almost an hour away from where the Chessers found the dog.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisHayesTV