A Burlington County man admitted shooting his Vietnam veteran neighbor's therapy poodle in the head with a pellet gun.
William "Wild Willie" Stroemel, a 64-year-old heavy equipment operator, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and illegal weapons possession Wednesday in Superior Court in Mount Holly in exchange for a five-year state prison term.
As part of the plea deal, Stroemel cannot have any contact with the dog's owners. He also must pay the cost of a necropsy and veterinary care, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said.
The Cook family of Greenwood Avenue called police last Sept. 18, saying another neighbor found their dog, Toby, wounded, Coffina said.
He'd been shot in the head, the prosecutor said.
Toby howled in pain for nearly a day before he had to be euthanized, Coffina said.
Stroemel shot Toby with an air rifle as the dog walked in front of his home, then gave the weapon to a friend to hold for him, authorities said.
Authorities who reported finding a .22-caliber pistol at Stroemel's home charged him with animal cruelty after a pellet was pulled from Toby's head, Coffina said.
“There are few criminal acts as callous as shooting an innocent dog that is the beloved pet of one of your neighbors,” the prosecutor said. “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.”
Superior Court Judge Gerard H. Breland scheduled sentencing for July 19.
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