A 64-year-old South Jersey man is to be sentenced to five years in state prison after pleading guilty Wednesday to weapon possession and animal cruelty for shooting a neighbor’s therapy dog, a 9-year-old Pomeranian-poodle mix named Toby.
As part of his plea, William Stroemel, of Fifth Avenue in Maple Shade, is also prohibited from having contact with the dog’s owners and must make restitution for its veterinary care, authorities said.
The plea hearing was conducted online before Superior Court Judge Gerard Breland, who set sentencing for July 29, according to Joel Bewley, spokesperson for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.
Neither Stroemel — who is not in custody — nor his attorney could be reached by phone Wednesday.
The dog was shot after he escaped from his home Sept. 17. His owner, Robert Cook, a Vietnam War veteran, was in his garage when he heard the dog’s sharp cries and raced down the street to find the dog lying near the curb.
The dog helped relieve Cook’s post-traumatic stress disorder, his family has said. A veterinary examination showed that it had been shot in the head, and he had to be euthanized the next day.
The investigation revealed that Stroemel, a heavy-equipment operator known as “Wild Willie,” shot the dog with an air rifle as it was passing his home in the street, the Prosecutor’s Office said.
Cook could not be reached Wednesday. His granddaughter, Marissa Cook, 22, who grew up in Maple Shade and lives in Marlton, said of the expected sentence: “I’m happy he’s getting time.”
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in a statement: “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. Such flagrant disregard for life and the impact of one’s actions demands serious punishment, and we believe this plea agreement reflects that.”