Dog at Center of Legal Dispute Disappears

PetMD Editorial
Updated: January 30, 2018
Published: October 18, 2013
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A three-year-old, yellow Labrador Retriever that was at the heart of a heated legal battle in small town Salem, MO over whether or not he was a dangerous dog has disappeared. 

Phineas, the dog, was being kept at the Dent County Veterinary Clinic in Salem, and had lived there for over a year when he disappeared sometime between Friday night and early Saturday morning.

Dr. J.J. Tune, owner of the clinic, says someone broke into the office and stole the canine.  

The controversy surrounding Phineas started in July 2012, when he was accused of biting a seven-year-old girl. According to reports, he was in his yard on a “tie out” with the child of the home when a neighbor child came to play. The neighborhood child accidentally fell on the little girl who lived at the home and Phineas, whether trying to pull the child off of his human sister or being protective, bit the neighbor child on the side.  

Although the little girl was not seriously harmed and no skin was broken, she did have a bruise and a mandatory report was filed at the hospital. The mayor deemed Phineas a dangerous dog and ordered him to be euthanized. 

The owners, Patrick and Amber Sanders, appealed the ruling and a Facebook page called Save Phineas, which now has over 176,000 fans, was set up. The Lexus Project, Legal Defense for Dogs eventually became involved. Phineas’s case was set to be heard by an appeals court this Thursday.

This is not the first time Phineas has gone missing. He was stolen a year ago, in October 2012, while being kept in the county animal shelter. He mysteriously reappeared several days later.

He was then moved to the veterinary clinic, where he would supposedly be safer. However, media reports have suggested the veterinary office had experienced break-ins before, most recently a few months ago when someone broke in and stole money and drugs. Phineas was not harmed.

This case, which has drawn international attention, has also divided the community. “This dog has driven more wedges in this community than you can shake a stick at,” Police Chief Keith Steelman said.  

In a rural area where a lot of people have the mindset of “It’s just a dog,” some don’t understand why a family would fight so hard to save a pet’s life; others do not like the attention the case has received.

Phineas has received death threats, so many that Joe Simon, the attorney out of Kirkwood Missouri who represents the Sanders family, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that after subpoenas were served last week for this week’s court hearing, he asked Tune to have his staff take Phineas home at night for his protection. However, Tune says he was under state order not to remove the dog from the clinic.

“Ninety-nine percent of Salem supported that dog,” Tune told the Post-Dispatch.

The local police have come under criticism for their handling and investigation of the break in, but they claim they don’t know what happened to Phineas and say they do not believe the Sanders family had anything to do with their dog’s disappearance.

Simon doesn’t hold out much hope of finding Phineas alive and has offered a $25,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of whoever stole the dog, or $1,000 for his safe return. “I would say there’s a 95 percent chance the dog is dead,” he told the Post-Dispatch.

Editor’s Note: Image of Phineas from the Save Phineas Facebook page.