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Family Fights to "Save Phineas" After Dog Deemed Vicious

SALEM, Mo. -- A dog debate must be decided in court on whether to deem a yellow lab vicious.

SALEM, Mo. -- A dog debate must be decided in court on whether to deem a yellow lab vicious.

Phineas, a 3-year-old dog in Salem, Mo., bit a 7-year-old girl last summer.

The dog's family and a New York organization called The Lexus Project are trying to save Phineas.

The Sanders family says Phineas loved playing with their four kids and they believe the bite was way out of character. The couple says their guess is the dog was being protective of their children.

In accordance with the City of Salem, a dog that bites three times is considered vicious and is ordered to be put down.

"He was just a loving dog," says Patrick Sanders. "He'd follow our kids everywhere and play with them. It was hard on all of us when we went to say goodbye. We were all bawling and I don't cry about just anything, but he means a lot to us."

The Sanders family is hopeful that their dog will be able to stay alive.

"I just hope morals come out and the truth comes out," says Sanders. "We've been telling the truth this whole time."

Phineas bit a 7-year-old girl on the side of her stomach last June.

"He was outside the fence, but still restrained," Sanders says.

If a dog bites three times in Salem, it's automatically ordered to be put down, which is why the mayor of Salem deemed the dog vicious after a public hearing.

"At that hearing, I was given a report saying the dog bit three times -- this being the third," says Salem Mayor Gary Brown. "And with those three bites, to me that was an automatic put-down."

Phineas' owners say they aren't aware of any bites happening prior to the one last June and wonder why they were not reported before the hearing.

"I'm just going on the written part of that," says Brown. "Kids weren't there to testify at my hearing. All we did was go on written reports we had."

When Phineas' owners took this to court, a judge there also ruled the dog as vicious.

"Even if he can't come back to us, as long as he gets saved that's fine," Sanders says. "He's a good dog."

The family says they'll continue fighting for the dog they love.

"If he doesn't have to be euthanized, that's winning to me," Sanders say.

There is a "Save Phineas" Facebook page that the Lexus Project has helped create. The Lexus Project is a group that tries to keep dogs from being put to sleep and helps families financially in these situations.

Right now, Phineas is being kept in an undisclosed location and the family isn't able to visit him. The next court date is scheduled for May 9, 2013.

Below is a letter from the Dent County Animal Shelter, written prior to Phineas being moved to an undisclosed location 

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

Phineas, a male yellow Labrador retriever, has been at our facility since June 22, 2012. In all that time, he has given us no trouble whatsoever. He gets along with everyone he meets and is always grateful for attention. He is obedient and walks well on a leash. When workers let him out for exercise, he enjoys the time and likes to play, especially running after a toy or ball that was thrown.

When he had been at the shelter 10-14 days, J.J. Tune, DVM, came out to see the dog and stated he was in good health and of mild temperament. The animal control officer instructed us not to give Phineas any vaccinations, etc. as is our practice, stating he was the city's dog and not the shelter's dog. For a long time, Phineas shared kennel space with another dog (not always the same one) and there were never any problems with them getting along. A couple of months ago the animal control officer ordered us to keep this dog in solitary confinement because the city could be sued if he got injured.

Phineas enjoyed the companionship of the other dogs and has been more depressed since having to be alone. It seems inconsistent that they were concerned with this risk of injury when they had ordered he not be protected against exposure to diseases such as distemper, parvo and kennel cough. Those who heard of the dog's situation and came to see him out of concern or curiosity have been amazed at how nice he is and all have expressed the opinion that this is not a vicious dog and that anything he did must have been provoked or feeling the need to protect himself. Although we at the shelter like dogs and cats or we wouldn't be doing what we do, we realize people come first and in no way would give an endorsement to a pet that would be a danger to society.

It is our understanding that if released he would not be going back to the same situation. From our experience with him, Phineas is quite normal, very much fitting the profile of the Labrador retriever which is known for being good- natured and patient. He seldom barks and never in an unfriendly way, has never snapped or growled. Having been a family dog, he has been quiet and depressed with an incarceration that has gone on so very long. The decision is not ours. We were asked to share what we knew of him and were glad to do so.

Respectfully yours,

Charlotte White
Director

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