Vinny has been given a reprieve from doggy death row -- at least for now.

He can thank the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

It's unusual for a dog to gain the attention of such lofty folks, but Vinny's case is anything but usual. In fact, Vinny's (master's) lawyer says the dog was the real victim.

Here's how it came down:

In the late spring of 2009, after biting one of his humans twice, the St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections ruled the 70-pound black lab/pitbull mix a "dangerous dog" and ordered him destroyed.

Vinny's co-owner, Travis Nelson, appealed. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the order earlier this week and remanded the order to kill Vinny, who has lived at the dog pound in St. Paul for almost a year. Now his family will try to figure out what needs to be done to get Vinny home.

Nelson, his girlfriend, Brenda Radack, and her two sons, Alex Radack, 10, and Kolton Alger, 6, live on St. Paul's West Side. They've owned Vinny since he was a pup. He's almost 5 now.

"Vinny, he's never been really bad," said Nelson, 37. "The biggest problem we had with him was eating the cat food."

Brenda Radack, 32, was taking medication for depression and help her sleep after undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer in 2008. In the spring of 2009, she mixed the meds with alcohol.

That's when the trouble began.

According to court documents and the couple, on March 25 and May 10, 2009, Radack was "severely intoxicated" when she slapped and punched Vinny because he was barking.

Both times, the dog grabbed her arm, breaking the skin. After the second bite, the nurse who treated Radack reported the incident to police.

Radack and Nelson said Vinny acted in self-defense.

Less than a month later, however, Vinny was in lockup at the pound. He was just a day or two from euthanasia, when Nelson appealed and attorney Marshall Tanick stepped in.

The case now will be sent back to a hearing officer to decide whether, by St. Paul code, the dog made "an unprovoked attack, an attack without warning or multiple attacks"; or whether "the owner of the animal has demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to control the animal in order to prevent injury to persons or other animals."

A new hearing date hasn't been set, but Tanick said: "We hope we can work this out without the need for a hearing. The goal is to save the dog's life. The irony is, the dog is the real victim here."

Nelson and Radack said they're amenable to any conditions the city sets to keep a "dangerous dog." They just want Vinny at home.

Nelson said they visit Vinny at animal control on Jessamine Avenue W. at least monthly.

Vinny's food and dog biscuits are still in the kitchen cupboard. His food and water dish is still next to the stove.

Kolton sometimes puts a biscuit in the dish, Radack said.

"He really misses Vinny," she said.

Pat Pheifer • 612-741-4992