Judge Lifts Death Sentence on Phineas the Dog

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The story of Phineas the dog has been long and exhausting for everyone involved, but it has finally come to a happy ending for him and the Sanders family. Last Friday, after 16 months of controversy over whether Phineas would be euthanized or not, Judge Scott Bernstein ruled to lift the dog's death sentence.

Phineas The Dog Saved

That doesn't mean that Phineas can come home to his family, though. There are a lot of people who want him dead, no matter what the law says, and the Sanderses themselves no longer feel safe in their own home. The past year of controversy and legal battles have exhausted their financial and emotional resources, and they're looking to leave Salem, Missouri, behind. They say that they've gotten threats of retaliatation from the community, and have put up a crowdfunding appeal to help them move.

RELATED: Friends and Family Use Social Media to Fight for Phineas the Dog's Life

In the town of about 5,000 people, the fate of Phineas has been a highly divisive issue ever since Mayor Gary Brown declared the dog to be "vicious." Phineas had been accused of biting 7-year-old Kendall Woolman when she was on a play date with Lexie Sanders. At the most recent court hearing, the Sanderses brought in a dog-bite expert who testified that the marks couldn't have come from a dog.

A brief look at the Save Phineas Facebook page will show how happy the Sanders family and their supporters are to finally have prevailed. But the extreme tension and hostility that's built up around this issue isn't going away soon, and that lends a bittersweet quality to the victory. It's also why some of the elements of the story took a nosedive right into the bizarre near the end.

As we reported before, Phineas was stolen from the veterinarian's office where he was being held, just before the court hearing that resulted in his freedom. Everyone, including the family lawyer, was sure he was dead.

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In fact, it turned out that he'd been taken by one of the family's unknown supporters. First, they received a letter that mixed a pets-rights manifesto with reassurances that Phineas was safe. When their mysterious ally reunited the Sanderses with their beloved pet, it started to head right into X-Files territory.

According to the New York Times, Phineas's rescuer showed up at the Sanders house wearing a baseball cap and a fake beard the day after their court hearing. He told them that he wanted to bring them back together with Phineas, but that they had to establish a "safe house," just as though they were making arrangements to debrief a foreign defector. He didn't trust cell phones, so the Sanderses had to get a land line in their house and post "I saw a dog today that reminded me of Phineas," on the Facebook page when they were ready. When they posted the sentence a week from last Monday, he called back on a prepaid cell phone, just like happens on your favorite spy show.

RELATED: Puppy Doe Case: A Man Is Held on 11 Counts of Animal Cruelty

Of course, at this point, the ruling that saved Phineas hadn't been made, so technically the dog was still a fugitive from the law. Even so, secret codes and burner phones seems a little extreme.

But maybe not. Phineas is legal now, but not safe. As of this writing, the Sanders family is still keeping Phineas at his undisclosed location, away from the many who have threatened to kill him themselves. It will take a long time for the tensions around this case to die down, and the Sanderses don't seem to be waiting around to see that happen.

Via New York Times, Kansas City Star , and St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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This family needs to sue this kid's family for the lose of money they had to spend legally and for the kid's lieing about the bit. Time to burn that family's butt and hurt them in their pocket book and maybe when it hurts them enough to admit what they and their brat kid did to this family and their dog then all will be fine again. Then the family can move with their dog to another town or state and make sure they keep their dog away from all kids since they seem to be problems and have parents who are rotten enough to want a dog dead for a "supposed bite " that never happened at all. It took so many months just to compare the dog's teeth to the bite or wound on the kid???? What took so long.

November 02 2013 at 2:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a reply to Laz about the Loving, gentle Rottie. For some stupid reason, I cannot reply to you on your actual comment.

My husband & I are owned by one of those gentle, loving Rotties. This poor boy was left at the city dog pound, chained to the fence, during a holiday weekend when no-one was manning the pound. We will never know how long he was out there with no food or water, tethered with a 3-foot chain that didn’t even allow the poor boy to lie down! He was under a year old, and yes, he had some behavioral problems. But it was obvious that his “family” couldn’t be bothered to train him, or even spend any time with him!

We adopted this loving boy when he was approximately 8 months old. I will not deny that we had a lot of problems with him, but once he understood that we meant him no harm, and only wanted to give him the love he so deserved, he settled right down. It was terribly obvious to us that he had been abused, for the first few months with us; he cringed when we’d reach out a hand to pet him! But he eventually got over that.

He is now almost 14 years old, and is physically failing is many ways. He can no longer climb the stairs, and unfortunately, we live in a raised ranch. We spend as much time as we can with him downstairs, but it won’t be long until we have to make that ultimate decision. Quality of life vs. quantity of life.

It’s going to break my and my husband’s hearts when we have to say a final goodbye, but at least we know that we gave him the love that he so deserved. Hopefully, we have made him forget the abuse he received when he was a puppy, and he knows that we only want what is best for him.

November 02 2013 at 1:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How awful! There are so many "people" out there who are quick to accuse a dog of being "mean" when, in all reality it was their own "darling child" who provoked the situation. These children are BULLIES pure and simple. It doesn't matter if they are bullying a dog or another child, they are BULLIES and should be treated as such.

November 02 2013 at 1:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This involves a beautiful, GENTLE, LOVING Rottie....adopted by the WRONG family, spade one day later...brought back from vet the same day....put outside (RIGHT after surgery) kids came up to dog who was sleeping in the FENCED in yard. They began taunting, teasing then THROWING ROCKS @ her....she snapped @ one of the boys, barely grazing his hand, but did draw blood...back to HUMANE Society the next morning. Sentenced to death....she was dead the next day. NOTHING I could do could save her. They wouldn't let me adopt her even after I begged to sign a waiver. BASTARDS!!!!! And damn kids!!!! PARTENTS! TEACH your children how to interact with, treat & respct animals! PLEASE!!!

November 01 2013 at 6:54 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

P:S. I happened to come onto the "alleged" scene shorty after my dog was scolded and smacked by my husband, otherwise I can guarantee he would've never touched a hair on him!!

November 01 2013 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I too know what it's like to own a great dog that was blamed for biting a kid just out of the blue! I knew my dog hadn't done this as he had grown up with the kids as a little pup and they were tiny kids who used to play tea-time and dress him up. One day the kid comes running around the corner and grabs the dogs tail scaring my dog and he simply reacted by barely nipping her ankle. He didn't even draw blood or skin. Only scared her more than anything and she had a slight red mark. My gosh you would've thought he had ripped her ankle off and without even checking, my dog was hit and scolded and tied up and away from the brat. He was never the same years later this incident. She finally acknowledged years later that he "never really did bite me" and she confessed that she had "maybe pulled his tail which kinda scared him and made him want to bite me". I couldn't believe it took the kid over 7 or m ore years to finally confess. But by then, the entire family was always ready to pounce on my sweetie and would hold him at bay and scold him if he was ever in their vicinity. Needless to say, the "kids" couldn't figure out why my dog would never want anything to do with them. After the confession came out, their mom still wouldn't believe my dog hadn't done anything and my husband of course still wanted to blame our dog and wasn't ready to believe his granddaughter had lied after all those years. Anyway, long story short(yeah right) just goes to show that kids and parents DO LIE when it comes to dog bites or supposed blame of dogs when kids scream "he bit me"... My sweetie has been gone for over a year now but I can say that in the end, when the kids wanted to make up and play nice with my dog, it was too late as he could never trust them again. I can't say I blamed him...

November 01 2013 at 3:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sounds like this kid who claimed Phineas bit her, had encouragement from an adult to say that. If it was a 'bite/ by another dog, or human, why are these low life people in this town threatening this family and dog? I'd move somewhere else, too! who wants to live around such ignorant shameful people!

November 01 2013 at 3:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tracy Scharibone Cra

We Know Phineas Is Innocent, My Question Is Why Isn't Anyone Finding Out What The Bruise Was On The Child. If They Are Real Pictures Something Happened To Her. Why Aren't They Trying To Figure It What It Was? To Busy Trying To Put An Innocent Dog To Death. It Is Ridiculous. Glad Phineas Is Back Where He Belongs! That Mayor Should Be Fired!

November 01 2013 at 2:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tracy Scharibone Cra's comment

I said the same thing. Sounds to me like the mother & the child were trying to place blame on the dog in an attempt to cover something else up.

November 01 2013 at 3:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Everyone knows that "Labs" are the gentlist and most loving dogs around... I have never heard of one biting anyone! I think there must be a mistake here or some hokum.

November 01 2013 at 6:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am so happy for you. I HAD a beautiful caine corsco mastiff. When new neighbors moved in I went to the home and told them that my dog was protective of my spouse and NOT to come into my yard it mwas posted. She came into the yard and got bit. She then proceeded to sue me and she demanded the city put my dog mdown because he was dangerous, end results my beautiful $1600.00 dog was put down and mI really had no say. So good for you for getting your dog back.

November 01 2013 at 4:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mickeymouselyn's comment

Are you serious? I'm so sorry. Did you have any type of fence, even an invisible fence? I find it hard to believe that your dog was put down because it bit someone that came onto YOUR yard. I mean, it's not "hard to believe" that your neighbor did that, but hard to believe that a judge would rule that way. So sorry.

November 01 2013 at 3:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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