The owners of a pit bull dog who was shot in the face and found wandering and bleeding on Route 9 in New Gretna last month have come forward and say they did not hurt their dog and they don’t know who did.

“I swear on my life I’d never hurt my dog. I love that dog,” Anthony Sammarco Jr. said of his dog Sonny, who has been renamed Boss by the staff at Stafford Veterinary Hospital where he is recovering.

Contacted for an interview this week, Sammarco said he brought the dog home one year ago after he was removed from a home in Woodbridge, Middlesex County, where he had been beaten in the head with a 2’x4” piece of wood.

But Sammarco Jr., 20, and his girlfriend Alexis Abatto, 22, were unable to keep the dog at their new apartment in New Brunswick, Middlesex County, and Sonny was taken in by his grandfather Warren Tvaroha at his home in Barnegat Township.

Everything was fine until the dog bit Tvaroha’s hand one afternoon last month, Sammarco Jr. said.

“Honestly, I was surprised he did that. You know what his problem is? He (Sonny) was abused,” Sammarco Jr. said.

“This was the first real home that he ever had. My grandparents loved him,” he said.

Last month, Tvaroha was sitting in bed feeding Sonny from his hand and he then licked the leftovers from his plate, Sammarco Jr. said. But when Tvaroha stood up and reached to take the plate, the dog grabbed his hand in his mouth and bit him.

Anthony Sammarco Sr. said after Sonny bit Tvaroha he knew that the dog had to be put to sleep. Sonny’s bite broke bones in Tvaroha’s hand and he had to wear a cast, said Sammarco Sr.

“This was the third time he bit. He’s bit me, he’s bit Anthony (Sammarco Jr.) and I knew the fourth time it was going to be bad. What if he bit a child? I mean, he broke bones in Warren’s hand when he bit him,” Sammarco Sr. said.

Sammarco Jr. did not agree with his father.

“I told my father I do not want to put the dog down. I said don’t do anything until I get down there. I asked my father to go pick (him) up,” said Sammarco Jr. who had to drive to Barnegat Township from New Brunswick.

Sammarco Jr. and his girlfriend Alexis Abbato said Sonny is protective of their young daughter. Although, Sammarco Jr. has been bitten before by Sonny, he is not a vicious dog, he said.

Sammarco Sr., said he made an appointment to euthanize Sonny on March 7 at Manahawkin Veterinarian Hospital, but his son told him he didn’t want to know any details about Sonny’s imminent death.

“I picked him (Sonny) up and before we got there I stopped to let him go to the bathroom. I wanted to be comfortable. They were going to gas him and then inject him. But I let him out, he got away,” Sammarco Sr. said.

“I think he knew what was going to happen” he said.

The search in Stafford Township for Sonny would go on for hours, he said, with no sign of the dog.

“I don’t know where he went and I have no idea how he ended up down in New Gretna. What, someone must have picked him up at some point and drove him down there? Then someone shot him. I have no idea,” Sammarco Sr. said.

Later that day, a Tuckerton couple found the pit bull in the roadway bleeding and limping from the gunshot wound, some 15 miles away from where he was to be euthanized.

Dallas McGarrigle and Shawn Kemple said they pulled the dog into their car and took him to Stafford Veterinary Hospital on Route 9, where over the next week doctors treated his injuries and performed two surgeries — one to remove a bullet from his neck.

On Friday, Janice Achey, hospital office manager said Boss has not bitten anyone at the hospital and has shown little aggression other than in his cage and with some toys. The dog is preparing to begin obedience training so he can be adopted, Achey said.

Sonny came with nothing to identify him, and in the days after his arrival, the staff at the hospital took to calling him Boss.

Sammarco Jr. and Abatto said they didn’t find out about their dog being shot or found until five days after he went missing.

“My friend sent me a video clip. I had no idea where he was. I thought he ran away. It was like five days and I really thought he was dead,” Sammarco Jr. said.

The couple then went to Stafford Veterinary Hospital to reclaim Sonny, but they were not permitted to take the dog, whom they did not have licensed.

Last month, the dog’s story resulted in about $5,000 in donations to go toward his medical care and rehabilitation.

“They (Stafford Veterinary Hospital) were collecting donations right in front our faces and didn’t give us an option to pay for the bills or anything,” said 22-year-old Abatto.

That afternoon, the couple was then greeted by detectives from the New Jersey State Police who then questioned.

“They’re trying to pin this on me, like I had something to do with shooting him,” Sammarco Jr. said.

Friday, Sammarco Jr. and his father said they had no involvement in the dog’s disappearance or shooting.

“I don’t even have any weapons,” Sammarco Sr. said.

No charges have been filed or arrests made in connection to the dog’s shooting, and State Police say the investigation is continuing. The investigation is a joint effort with the Burlington County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Meanwhile, Sonny continues to recover at Stafford Veterinary Hospital and a screening process will be completed to place the dog in a new home.

“There are a lot of unknowns, but we’ll see once we work with him,” said dog trainer Bob Campanile who is preparing to train Boss.

Sammarco Jr. said he would like to have his dog back at home, but his attorney said it would be too difficult.

“I know he wants his dog back,” Sammarco Jr.’s father said. “But that dog should not be around his baby or children. I told him he needs to be put to sleep. That dog should not be adopted. The next time he bites is going to be really bad.”

Contact Donna Weaver:

609-513-6686

Follow Donna Weaver on Twitter @DonnaKWeaver

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.