Neb. Court Spares Death-Row Dog

The state Supreme Court granted clemency Friday to a dog sentenced to death for fighting with a neighbor's pet.

The high court ruled unanimously that Murphy, an Alaskan malamute-shepherd mix belonging to Doug and Lorele Dittoe, should not be killed for causing "relatively minor injury" to the other dog after slipping out of the couple's fenced-in yard in 2001.

Murphy had been deemed dangerous by the county sheriff, and a judge ordered her destroyed.

"We conclude that the order for the destruction of the dog was not reasonable," wrote high court Judge John Wright. "The county court ... abused its discretion." He noted that the other dog's owner waited two days to have the dog seen by a veterinarian, and the bill was only $34.06.

The Dittoes adopted Murphy in 1994 from a friend who found her malnourished and lying in a ditch. After she fought with neighborhood dogs several times, the couple took her to a trainer and put up a six-foot fence. But she got out again when a gate was accidentally left open.

At a hearing before the high court last fall, the Dittoes' lawyer, Mark Fahleson, said authorities trying to kill the dog were demonstrating "a bloodthirsty vengeance once thought reserved for only the most cold-blooded of human killers." Both the sheriff and the dog's vet testified that they did not believe Murphy should be killed, he said.

But Assistant Attorney General Kim Klein told the court that Murphy's attacks on other dogs were "deliberate and vicious."

Still, Attorney General Jon Bruning did not seem particularly upset Friday that his office lost.

"Every dog has its day," he said.

As for the Dittoes, they are planning a party for Murphy.

"She might just get a steak," Lorele Dittoe said.

By Kevin O'Hanlon