Save Phineas effort goes to city hall - Local News

Save Phineas effort goes to city hall

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Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 11:00 am

Citizens from Salem and St. Louis attended the Monday meeting of the board of aldermen in order to appeal for the life of Phineas, a yellow Labrador retriever sentenced to be destroyed due to a June 22, 2012, incident when he bit a seven-year-old girl.

According to Salem City Code, Chapter 5, a “vicious dog” is a dog which “(caused) bodily injury to a person on two or more occasions.” The chapter initially says the dog should be destroyed, but then goes on to describe how a vicious dog could be kept safely and legally within the city limits. City Code says that an investigator appointed by the mayor shall determine if a dog is vicious. In the case of Phineas, the Mayor Gary Brown appointed himself.

“I don’t see how anybody could make that call, he’s a good dog,” Patrick Sanders, Phineas’ owner, told the board.

Sanders was one of three people on the consent agenda to speak on behalf of Phineas. His wife Amber and Charlotte White of the Dent County Animal Welfare Society also spoke, and requested that the board and Brown change their minds on the decision to destroy Phineas.

Joe Simon, St. Louis, is the Sanders’ attorney. He attempted to speak on behalf of the family, but was not allowed by City Attorney Wm. Camm Seay. Seay requested that the board limit speaking to those on the agenda.

“I called and tried to get on the agenda, but the mayor said he would not be taking any additional speakers,” said Simon.

Seay said it would be incorrect for Brown to refuse speakers, but he was not aware of the mayor doing so. Brown stated that he did not refuse anyone the right to speak, but advised them of the proper channels to do so. Seay also reminded the board not to speak on the subject of Phineas.

“We will not comment on pending litigation,” said Seay.

The Sanders filed an injunction against the City of Salem July 24, asking that the city not be allowed to have the dog destroyed, according to court records.

Originally represented by Ginger Joyner of Rolla, the Sanders found themselves in the courtroom of Judge Scott Bernstein March 14 of this year. According to court transcripts, the victim of the dog bite, Kendall Woolman, testified that she ran past Phineas to exit the Sanders’ yard where she had been playing with their daughter, when Phineas grabbed her on her side and pulled her approximately three feet. Kendall’s sister, Alexus Woolman testified that on a prior occasion, Phineas had placed his mouth on her, but was wagging his tale at the time.

Judge Bernstein upheld Brown’s assessment of the dog as vicious.

Simon filed a motion for new trial April 22, according to court documents.

“I hope that the judge takes into account new evidence. The original police report had misinformation in it. There was never a prior bite, this was a one-time thing,” said Simon.

Supporters of Phineas have mounted a growing social media campaign. Since its establishment April 18 the Save Phineas facebook page has had 3,487 “likes” and receives comments and words of encouragement from people as far away as Germany and Brazil. From the facebook page people can click on a link to, where there is a petition for Brown and the board of aldermen to vacate the decision to have Phineas destroyed. Thus far there are 4,752 e-signatures.

Ruth Elledge with Saving Dogs of Missouri, an animal welfare group, has been assisting the Sanders in their campaign to have Phineas released. She has been involved in the rescue of countless animals.

“I have never seen a case like this. It is like they are targeting this dog for some reason. It doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

Robin Moore with DCAWS reported that since Phineas was taken from his family March 22, 2012, several other dogs have been impounded for biting, and they have all been released after a standard 10-day hold.

“We’re even supposed to be adopting one out,” said Suzy Koffman with DCAWS.

“The city of Salem must have money to waste, and we’re (Save Phineas campaign) doing fine on funding,” said Simon.

City administrator Clayton Lucas says that the issue is actually out of the city’s hands now.

“There are a lot of misconceptions, but the city now has no say in what happens, it is up to the courts,” said Lucas.

Monday’s meeting was moved from the council chambers to city hall auditorium due to an expected large turnout for the discussion about Phineas. About 50 people showed up and one television crew from St. Louis.

The Sanders say they will continue to try to save Phineas. Patrick Sanders has promised the board that the dog would be moved well outside city limits, neutered, and kept up to date on his vaccinations.

The Woolmans have also addressed the court, the mayor, and the board in a letter dated April 24, saying that the incident during which their daughter was bitten was unfortunate, but they do not feel that Phineas should be destroyed.

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • Mary Ann Erff posted at 3:52 pm on Sun, Sep 1, 2013.

    Maryana Posts: 1

    The parents of the child that was bitten does not feel Phineas deserves to die this has been going on a very long time it saddens me to think I live in a town where the Mayor feels it is his obligation to give a death sentence to any animal. Phineas has many people wanting his release. Mayor please stop taking time away from this dog and his family a year has passed let him go and move on to other Important problems in the town. 

  • Kim Fuhr posted at 4:46 pm on Thu, May 9, 2013.

    kfuhr Posts: 2

    BREAKING NEWS. It has been confirmed that the wife of the town attorney,who is representing the mayor who is on a crusade to murder Phineas works for Judge Scott Bernstein, the judge who is supposed to be hearing the case. In the rest of the United States of America, judges go to excessive lengths to assure there is not even the appearance of impropriety. In their rush to execution, it appears they have no problem throwing the constitution and ethics into the bonfire.[scared]

  • Kim Fuhr posted at 12:51 pm on Thu, May 9, 2013.

    kfuhr Posts: 2

    So on board with everything Ruth Elledge commented. This case is add to what Ruth said - there are violent crimes committed every day and I am sure in Dent County too. Those committing the crimes have an opportunity to get out while they await trial. Salem and Mayor Brown are treating Phineas like a hardened criminal on death row for causing a bruise. The circumstances under which this bruise occurred are understandable and I know that there is not a behaviorist in this country and even this world that would not attest to that. SHAME THE CITY OF SALEM ADMINISTRATION WHO CAN STAND UP AND FIX THIS!!![thumbdown]

  • B.K. Stewart posted at 4:40 pm on Tue, May 7, 2013.

    bstewart654 Posts: 1

    [sad], I was made aware of the plight of Phineas per word on Facebook. I think the details of this family's losing their family dog is heartbreaking. Especially since they have not been allowed to see him since he was moved to an "undisclosed location" and the family left not knowing if he is being cared for properly or what the status is.

    Having been around rescue dogs alot, I know dogs will get excited when someone "runs" around them and try to play. They sometimes nip too hard but not in an aggressive way. It is unfortunate that this child was hurt, but the child being unchaperoned was not the dogs fault as he was in his yard.

    Please save this baby's life! He should be spared and released to the family. They will choose what is best for the dog, whether the dog goes to the country on a farm when he can run free or remain with his parents, the animal control personnel can do periodic checks to be sure the vaccinations stay up to date and do welfare checks.

  • le ki posted at 2:11 pm on Tue, May 7, 2013.

    loutuck Posts: 1

    It does seem that Mayor Gary Brown has targeted this dog and family. It may be just his pride on having to admit his administration has handled this badly or it may be more. However, if the Mayor wanted to keep the perception of objectivity he wouldn't have made himself the arbiter of whether Phineas is vicious or not. This really reeks. Unfortunately, the dog is paying the price for Mayor Brown's hubris. I hope the judge sees the situation objectively and that Phineas has been singled out for unusual treatment. I'm planning to make a political contribution to whoever runs against Mayor Brown in the next election cycle!

  • Ruth Elledge posted at 1:16 pm on Tue, May 7, 2013.

    Ruth Elledge Posts: 1

    I spoke with Mayor Brown via telephone on 04/26 about being added to the agenda for this meeting.  He advised that I would need to complete a request form in person by Wednesday, 05/01, in order to be listed on the meeting agenda.  When I asked for an alternative way to handle the request due to being 100 miles away, he said I could have someone stop by the City Administration building and complete the form for me.  I did that very thing but when my associate went to complete the form on Monday, 04/29, she was told she could not do so, exactly the opposite of what he told me on the phone.

    I have reviewed a lot of information surrounding this case.  Having worked in animal welfare for a number of years and knowing the characteristics of this breed, some of the facts surrounding this case have been misconstrued.  I personally have a two year old large breed, the same age Phineas was at the time of this incident, and I can tell you that she is full of abounding energy and playfulness.  Just a few days ago she jumped at me and one of her teeth hit my hand, leaving a small puncture wound.  Granted, I didn't witness the incident in Salem but my opinion is that Phineas was most probably and simply playing when this incident occurred.  For any dog to nip a person without breaking the skin is significant of anything EXCEPT viciousness.  For any young Labrador Retriver to be found vicious is, in my mind, beyond comprehension and obviously not the decision of a person who is well acquainted with the various dog breeds.  I have seen the photo of the "injury."  Killing this loving animal as a result of a bruise, what should have been considered an insignificant incident, would not only be a disservice to Patrick and Amber Sanders but also to the children involved in both the Sanders and Woolman families.  The children in the Sanders' family have already suffered through nearly a year without their beloved pet and could quite possibly suffer long term effects to learn that he was killed.  Additionally, for the Woolman children to learn that they were the cause of Phineas' death could have long term adverse effects on their emotional well-being.

    What are we teaching our children and the rest of humanity with this action - that if you don't understand it or don't like it - KILL IT?  Using the famous words of another, "the day will come when men will get to know the intimate side of animals and on that day, a crime against an animal will be considered a crime against humanity."  It seems we are at that point in time today. 
    Due to the publicity this case has raised, not only in Missouri but worldwide based on the more than 4700 signatures as of this morning on the online petition that was started last Monday, releasing Phineas, as requested by even the Woolman family, can do nothing but improve the reputation of the City of Salem with it’s residents, dog owners and animal welfare advocates.
    I strongly urge Mayor Brown to to consider these ramifications and do what IS within his power, to allow Phineas to be sent to the grandparents' farm, as the Sanders and Woolmans have agreed upon, at his release.  You have the power to instruct your city attorney to move to vacate the judgment order.  I hope you will take that action.  It would be the right thing to do for all involved.  

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