Phineas, the yellow lab that has now captured the attention of animal lovers across the country, is in good condition and has not been starved, tortured, or neglected, according to a report from the Department of Agriculture. The department licenses shelter and boarding facilities.
Phineas was ordered to be destroyed after a June 22, 2012, incident when he bit a seven-year-old girl. Salem mayor Gary Brown determined that the dog would be destroyed, and that opinion was upheld in court but currently in an appeal process.
Denna Tune, animal health officer with the department, based her findings on a site visit Monday. She went on to say that it was not a requirement that the dog be held in a state-licensed facility, but it was a good idea.
“He’s in good shape, he seems like a sweet dog,” said Tune.
Tune did note the dog had been licking his paws and had some old abrasions, but that was common for dogs kept chained or kenneled, she said. She said in cases of abuse or neglect, the state bases their investigation on four things: does the dog have access to food, does the dog have access to water, does the dog have access to shelter, and does the dog have access to veterinarian care.
In the case of Phineas, Tune said that all the requirements were met at the undisclosed location he was moved to Thursday evening from the Dent County Fire Protection District building.
“His accommodations at the firehouse would have been fine, too,” she said.
Tune’s visit was the result of numerous complaints of alleged animal abuse to the Department of Agriculture, according to city administrator Clayton Lucas.
Before moving to his new location, Phineas was kept in the walk-out basement garage bay of the fire station. Tune examined the area the dog was kept in during his stay there, also.
A reporter from The Salem News was allowed to see and photograph Phineas Saturday and again Monday, at the new location. His new location is in an open kennel that is approximately five feet by ten feet, and four feet tall with a roof over it. Phineas has a dog house for shelter with a soft bed inside. The Salem News was also allowed to see and photograph where he was kept at the firehouse. At the firehouse, the dog was kept in a kennel approximately five feet by 10 feet. To one side of the kennel there was a drain in the floor, and Phineas’ bed was raised off of the concrete by a wooden platform.
Fire Chief Brad Nash says he was solely in charge of Phineas’ care while at the firehouse.
“The dog was very well taken care of,” he said. “I am a dog lover, I made sure of it. I walked him three times a day, fed him twice, made sure he had water. I came into town on weekends to take care of him.”
That was not the case, according to Dent County Volunteer Firefighter Austin Denton.
“I know Brad (Nash) would not mistreat a dog on purpose,” Denton told The Salem News Monday. “I never saw the dog tortured or beaten. He wasn’t getting regular food or water. He acted like he wasn’t getting attention.”
Denton said that he would clean Phineas’ cage, and feed and water the dog. A lieutenant witnessed the care and told Denton he had to turn in his pager and would not be responding to any more calls until he spoke with the fire chief, according to Denton. That meeting is set for Wednesday, according to Denton.
Nash stated that as a volunteer, Denton is reimbursed anywhere from $5 to $7.50 per call. Denton said that his reimbursements from the fire department are not his main source of income, he works in repossession.
“But the extra money is nice around Christmas,” said Denton.
Nash stated that there were previous personnel issues with Denton, but that he was not asked to leave the ranks of the volunteer firefighters. Denton has not been to the fire station since going public with his allegations, according to Nash.
Phineas was moved shortly after Denton came forward. At that same time Jackie Overby, of Salem, a self-described friend of Nash, asked if the barking heard at the fire station was, in fact Phineas. According to Lucas, Nash lied and said it was not Phineas, but the fire station’s own dog, Hank.
“It wasn’t the best thing, but we were still trying to find some place to move the dog,” Lucas said. “People have to understand, it isn’t just those who want to free Phineas that we are worried about. We get calls from people saying ‘just take the dog out and shoot it.’ I don’t want any harm to come to him.”
Thursday night Phineas was moved to his new, undisclosed location. Phineas was transported directly from the fire station to his new location, according to Lucas, and did not spend any time at any locations not examined by Tune during her inspection Monday. Lucas, who has been charged with Phineas’ care and protection, says that his location has not been released to any city officials.
Phineas will remain in his undisclosed location now that it has been deemed fit by the Department of Agriculture.
According to Lucas an emergency closed session meeting of the board of aldermen was called for Thursday. He would not disclose the agenda, but said it would be over any pending litigation.
St. Louis attorney Joe Simon, attorney for the dog’s owners, Patrick and Amber Sanders, has entered a new cause in the court system, citing Gary Brown, et al, as the respondent, according to court documents. Summonses were served Monday. A hearing date has not been set.