Toby, a 9-year-old Pomeranian-poodle mix, was fatally shot after he escaped from his owner's home

By Harriet Sokmensuer
April 30, 2020 12:48 PM
Toby the dog
Credit: GoFundMe

A New Jersey man will spend five years in prison for fatally shooting his neighbor's therapy dog that escaped from his owner's house.

On Wednesday, William Stroemel, 64, pleaded guilty to weapon possession and animal cruelty for shooting his neighbor's 9-year-old Pomeranian-Poodle mix named Toby, who had escaped from his owner's home, the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office announced on Facebook.

Toby escaped from his owner, Robert Cook's, Maple Shade home on September 17. Cook was in his garage when he heard his dog's sharp cries, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Neighbors found the dog "howling in pain," prosecutors said. When Cook ran down the street, Toby was lying near the curb. He had been shot in the head.

The next day, Toby was put down by a veterinarian. Toby was Cook's therapy dog, helping the Vietnam veteran with his post-traumatic stress disorder, according to his family, the Inquirer reports.

Stroemel, who is also known as "Wild Willie," shot Toby with an air rifle as the dog ran by his house. Afterwards, he gave the gun to an acquaintance and asked them to hold it for him, prosecutors said.

William Stroeme
William Stroemel
| Credit: Burlington County Prosecutor's Office

As part of his plea agreement, Stroemel will spend five years in state prison, is prohibited from having contact with the Cook family and must make restitution for Toby's veterinary bills.

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“There are few criminal acts as callous as shooting an innocent dog that is the beloved pet of one of your neighbors. But Toby was not just a family pet, he was also a therapy dog and helped relieve the post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by a Vietnam War veteran," Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in a statement. "Such flagrant disregard for life and the impact of one’s actions demands serious punishment, and we believe this plea agreement reflects that.”

Stroemel is scheduled to be sentenced in July. His attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

When contacted by the Inquirer, Cook's granddaughter said of the sentencing, “I’m happy he’s getting time.”