Robert Cook, 72, was working in his garage Tuesday evening when he heard a piercing yelp coming from down the road. He immediately recognized the cry as his dog Toby’s and started running toward Fifth Avenue, a residential street in Maple Shade. Lying on the side of the road near Route 73, his 9-year-old therapy dog was covered in blood.

Cook, a Vietnam War veteran, assumed the Pomeranian-poodle mix, who helped relieve his post-traumatic stress disorder, was hit by a car, said Marissa Cook, Robert’s 21-year-old granddaughter. Robert Cook rushed Toby to the vet, where an X-ray showed a bullet lodged in his skull, his granddaughter said.

Toby was alive, but the damage to his brain and body was too severe. The vet euthanized him that evening.

Toby was the therapy dog for Robert Cook, a 72-year-old Vietnam War veteran. Cook has lived in Maple Shade for 39 years.
Marissa Cook
Toby was the therapy dog for Robert Cook, a 72-year-old Vietnam War veteran. Cook has lived in Maple Shade for 39 years.

Now, Maple Shade police and the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office are investigating Toby’s death as an animal-cruelty case, as it is believed that someone shot the cream-colored dog after he escaped from the Cooks’ home between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Maple Shade police believe this is an isolated incident, said Lt. Jeff Hoch.

Police have interviewed the Cooks’ neighbors, but none have said they heard a gunshot, only Toby’s cries for help, said Marissa Cook, who is majoring in education at Rutgers University and visits her grandparents nearly every weekend.

“He was my little buddy,” she said. “My Pop-Pop is a wreck. He’s just trying to hold it together.”

The Cooks, who have lived in Maple Shade for 39 years, got Toby when he was 8 weeks old. He kept Robert company amid his mental health struggles, and loved to cuddle with Marissa, her older sister, and their grandmother. Robert took Toby on long walks every morning and night, but that often wasn’t enough exercise for the little poodle mix. Toby was an “escape artist,” Marissa said, and he routinely dug holes under the fence to run through the neighborhood until a friendly neighbor would catch and return him.

“He’s always on Fifth Avenue, and neighbors would always know when he was out, but they’d just bring him back,” she said. “Everybody loved Toby.” The family has set up a GoFundMe to help pay for the veterinary expenses. The dog will be cremated, she said.

Toby was found on the side of Fifth Avenue, a side street off Highway 73, in Maple Shade, N.J., on Tuesday evening. He escaped from his home between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. before his owner found him covered in blood.
Marissa Cook
Toby was found on the side of Fifth Avenue, a side street off Highway 73, in Maple Shade, N.J., on Tuesday evening. He escaped from his home between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. before his owner found him covered in blood.