WEST CHESTER Gabriel Pilotti considers himself a religious man who tries to live a Christian life.

He has taken in friends in need of shelter, he is involved in his church, and he gives to charity. But when he believed that two of his neighbors' dogs were after his sheep, Pilotti said, he made a bad decision, killing both of the Bernese mountain dogs. He should have shouted, he said; he should have hesitated.

"I didn't love my neighbor as myself," the 73-year-old West Vincent Township man said before a packed Chester County courtroom.

On Monday, Pilotti was sentenced to two years' probation - the first 90 days on house arrest - for killing two-year-old Argus and one-year-old Fiona, the dogs that escaped the fenced yard of their owners, Mary and William Bock, in February.

Argus was shot in the head as he trotted toward Pilotti, and Fiona was shot as she tried to run away.

Pilotti turned to face the Bocks and offered an apology for his "overreaction." He told Judge Ronald C. Nagle he was overwhelmed with guilt.

"I'm changed," Pilotti said.

The case outraged animal activists, received national attention, and divided the community's dog owners and sheep farmers. Pilotti received death threats.

Nagle called the event a "convergence of actions" that could have been avoided had the Bocks made sure the dogs were confined and Pilotti's behavior not been rash and heartless.

Pilotti will be allowed to work and attend church while wearing an electronic home monitor. In addition, he will pay a $1,000 fine and court costs and $1,600 in restitution to the Bocks - $800 for each dog. Pilotti must complete 200 hours of community service at a facility that cares for animals, Nagle said. As part of his sentence, Pilotti must relinquish his weapons.

Prosecutor Kevin Pierce called Pilotti cold, callous, and calculating, and asked that he be given jail time.

"He continues to shift the blame," Pierce said. "It is not getting through to him that what he did was wrong."

Defense attorney Thomas Ramsay had given the court 80 letters from family, friends, and the community in support of Pilotti.

Uppermost in his client's mind that day was a May 2012 incident in which two other dogs killed a neighbor's sheep, Ramsay said.

Nagle - who is a dog owner, is familiar with weapons, and grew up on a farm - said comments that Pilotti made in a phone call to a neighbor - "two shots; two more dogs" - sounded "somewhat triumphant."

"Yet your life history does not suggest yours is the voice I heard on that tape," Nagle said. He called the actions "uncharacteristic."

William Bock said the family never wanted to see Pilotti go to prison, just have him accept responsibility.

He said that given Pilotti's age and clean record, the sentence "was appropriate." The Bocks have five children, ages 5 to 12, and have since adopted three other Bernese mountain dogs.

Bock, a new member of the Chester County SPCA board, said he would not be opposed to Pilotti's doing his community service at the shelter.

"We are ready to move on," he said.

mschaefer@phillynews.com

610-313-8111

@MariSchaefer