For about two weeks, it seemed that Chester County sheep owner Gabriel Pilotti would not have to worry about charges for shooting and killing two dogs belonging to a neighbor after he found them on his property.
Now, he does.
Amid a growing uproar, Chester County District Attorney Thomas P. Hogan on Friday charged Pilotti, 72, of Chester Springs, with two counts of cruelty to animals and one count of recklessly endangering another person.
He did so, he said, after further investigation concluded that Pilotti's actions were not shielded by a state law that permits the execution of dogs attacking domestic animals. Police say they determined that no attack was in progress when the dogs were shot.
Pilotti's preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 28, said his West Chester attorney, Thomas H. Ramsay. Authorities have not detained Pilotti.
The charges are all second-degree misdemeanors, which carry a maximum two-year jail term. The maximum fine is $5,000. If Pilotti is convicted, Pottstown District Judge James V. DeAngelo will decide whether he must make restitution to Mary and William Bock and their five children, who owned the dogs.
"We're happy that justice was served," said Mary Bock. "I'm still focused on making sure this never happens again. This is less about torturing Mr. Pilotti for what he did than about making changes for the future."
Though the family will continue to press for changes in the state dog law, she said, nothing will bring back their Bernese mountain dogs.
The charges hinged on whether the dogs - two-year-old Argus and one-year-old Fiona - were pursuing the sheep in Pilotti's yard.
If they had been, the FedEx driver and sheep farmer would have been justified in shooting the animals. That's what the District Attorney's Office initially ruled based on Pilotti's first statement to West Vincent Township Police.
Pilotti told police he had retrieved his shotgun and buckshot shells from his garage about 11:20 a.m. Feb. 12 after seeing the dogs in his pasture chasing his sheep.
Investigators were uneasy about that statement, so they questioned Pilotti again Thursday, authorities said.
This time, police said, Pilotti admitted that the older dog was not pursuing or even close to his sheep, but was trotting slowly toward him when he fired his shotgun at the dog's head. Directly behind the dog and in the line of fire was a house with residents inside - facts that spurred the endangerment charge.
After shooting the first dog, the police complaint says, Pilotti reloaded his shotgun and took aim at the second.
"He shot the dog as she was running away from him and the sheep," the complaint says.
No sheep were harmed and Pilotti acknowledged he did not try to scare the dogs away before shooting.
"There was no justification for the killing of these two dogs," Hogan said Friday.
Pilotti is not commenting on the incident, Ramsay said, but did tell police at the recent interview that "he was very remorseful for what occurred on his property that day."
Amid publicity over the shootings, people have posted messages on a Facebook page established for the dogs encouraging others to harass Pilotti, which the Bocks say they do not condone. One woman went to his house this week and shouted, "Dog killer! Dog killer!" according to a next-door neighbor, Robert A. Boden.
A recording Friday at Pilotti's phone number said it was out of service. "He's more or less fled the area" temporarily, said Ramsay, adding that Pilotti planned to return to his job and home.
Tom Hickey Sr., a member of the governor's dog-law advisory group, said the charges show that the state's dog laws are solid, if imperfect.
"In Pennsylvania, we had the laws in place to protect these animals," Hickey said. "What this guy did was horrific and illegal.
"Finally, the laws caught up with him."