There is an ancient aphorism in journalism that goes like this: "When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news."
I heard that phrase many times as a cub reporter, and knew it meant that unusual stories are always better than the stuff you hear or see nearly every day.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule – or in this case aphorism – and Phineas is certainly that.
Phineas is a good story by newspaper terms. He is a yellow lab that has become a victim of circumstances, sitting on doggie death row. You’d never know it by his wagging tale, his unmistakable happy Labrador eyes and his appetite.
Thousands, and I do mean thousands, have caught on to the story and flooded news outlet web sites and social media sites to hear of his story. In the world we live in today, that means people make up their own stories and agendas and you can’t tell the fact from the fiction.
Here’s what we know. Phineas was a bad boy, and I am in no way trying to be flippant here. He bit a little girl, and according to police and hospital reports we have seen, Phineas was way behind on his shots. That meant a little girl could have been exposed to goodness knows what, and no matter how much you love dogs, the well being of a little girl should come well above that of a dog, even a loveable sort such as Phineas.
It wasn’t the first time Phineas was a bad boy, according to the reports police and the court system have looked at. Of course, those who stalk and threaten and slander behind the cloak of anonymity on Internet sites have come up with their own stories and conspiracy theories.
That’s sad. Phineas bites man – or in this case little girl – has become a really big story with some really disgusting Internet sidebars. There are some sick people out there, and some innocent and well-meaning people have been unduly trashed. Some people really believe everything they read on the Internet, and there are idiots always willing to feed it to them to accomplish their agenda.
I don’t have nearly enough room to get into all the particulars here of the People vs. Phineas, but suffice it to say that he had his day in doggie court and a judge upheld Mayor Gary Brown’s decision to have him put down. No one is getting paid off, and no one has a vendetta against anyone. No one tortured the dog or let him go hungry.
Almost a year after the bite, somebody apparently talked to somebody who knew somebody who knew people who could raise a ruckus and maybe make life so miserable on the mayor and lots of other people that old Phineas would get a reprieve.
And that’s exactly what I think is going to happen. A reprieve. But not because people are raising a stink, rather because common sense will prevail. Next time the lawyers and a judge and pet owners and dog rescuers all get together in those hallowed chambers and give each other hateful looks, I think Phineas is going to get set free in spite of it all. Then we can all get back to what should be life’s real issues and causes.
I don’t know the stipulations of Phineas’ release or the terms of his parole, but he’s going to once again be a free lab, free to roam, free to chase squirrels and free to make use of a tree instead of old editions of The Salem News.
Like the other old aphorism goes, every dog has his day.