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Dog reunited with Texas family after 7 years, but Wash. family says he's theirs

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A missing dog has finally been found after seven years, but his return to his original family leaves a Washington State family heartbroken. KHOU 11 News reported today that a Texas family who lost their Maltese seven years ago is delighted to finally be reunited with their dog, but a Washington family claims that it's their dog.

The Miller family of Tyler, Texas, lost their Maltese, Reese, seven years ago. The Millers were visiting family in Balch Springs, Texas, and searched tirelessly for the missing dog. As the years passed by, Dinah Miller of Tyler, Texas never lost hope that her missing pet would return.

“Every time you hear a bark, you think, that sounds like Reese,” explained Miller. “We drove. We searched. We looked over fences. We peeped everywhere we could without getting shot.”

This past weekend, the Millers received a call notifying them that Reese was found in Tacoma, Washington. His microchip helped locate his family over 2,000 miles away. Reese was flown to Dinah Miller on Monday night - and while she's ecstatic, another family states that this is their dog.

Kelli Davis of Spanaway, Washington, said that her family adopted the Maltese at a Mesquite, Texas, animal shelter. The dog had been marked as an owner surrender. The Davis family named the little white dog "Harley" and they took him along when they moved from Texas to Washington.

“Harley is my daughter’s best friend. That’s her little buddy. They do everything together,” said Kelli Davis.

According to Davis, Harley quickly became a part of the family. The Maltese escaped from the house recently and the family searched everywhere for the missing dog.

“We were running down the street trying to find him and she was crying my Harley ran away. Every day we have gone out and printed fliers and walked around the neighborhood several times a day calling his name," Davis stated.

After seven years, Davis feels that this dog is a part of her family - and she was devastated when the Maltese was flown out to Texas.

“I don’t know what to do. We just lost a part of our family," she stated.

According to Davis, she called the animal shelter that she adopted Harley from, asking if they'd checked his microchip, but the shelter purges its records every five years and Harley had been marked as an "owner surrender" when he was adopted out.

While Davis has asked to get the Maltese back, Miller said that she's not returning her long lost dog. Miller stated that the missing dog is finally back home with his family.

According to KHOU legal expert Gerald Treece, the dog legally belongs to Miller because she registered him first with a microchip. According to the Animal Legal and Historical Center, the true owner of a missing pet has a right to recover possession of the pet under common law if she can prove ownership in fact. Proof of ownership of a pet can include a description of the pet’s appearance, behavior, identifying marks or scars, permanent identification (such as a microchip), whether the pet responds to his or her original name, or corroborating DNA tests from the hair on a brush.

Earlier this year, a dog named Rafiki was adopted out from an animal shelter after she went missing from her California home. The Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy had gone missing and was held for seven days in a California Animal Shelter before animal rescue organization Karma Animal Rescue took ownership of the dog on Feb. 20.

The the dog, renamed Kami, was adopted the following day. Shelter officials did later admit that Rafiki's owner, Rosa Torres, left a voicemail for them hours later. In her message, she stated that she was the owner of the missing dog. "Had she been a little more diligent, we would have spoken with her," stated Karma Rescue's lawyer Susan Willis.

Rafiki was due to be microchipped before her disappearance, but the pet went missing before her family had a chance to provide that identifying information. Karma Rescue stated that local authorities had determined that Karma was legally allowed to transfer ownership of Rafiki to her new owners.

According to the Animal Legal and Historical Center, there's often little that pet owners can do if another family adopts their missing pet. They state: "There may be very little you can do if your pet was adopted by another family from a shelter. If the shelter complied with the local laws, it probably had a right to place your pet up for adoption because of your failure to reclaim the pet within the holding period.

"If you do think your rights have been violated, you will probably need to use legal processes to make the shelter disclose the identity of the adopter so you can ask the adopter to return the animal or sue them if necessary. The court will only order a shelter to disclose the adopter's identity only if it is relevant to your lawsuit and it will probably only be relevant if you allege that the shelter did not comply with the law."

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