Suffolk police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a pit bull found Saturday in its owner's backyard, authorities said Monday.
Police said they are trying to determine if there is criminality involved. They did not reveal the cause of death. But the dog's owner, John Balk, said a local veterinarian found the family's brown, 4-year-old Jax, an 85-pound pit bull, was shot to death, and a pellet was found in his chest.
Dr. Mark Caporaso, the veterinarian who performed the necropsy, said Jax's cause of death was "bleeding into the chest from a pellet that went through the lungs and the aorta."
"He died from a pellet shot," said Caporaso, owner of Grady Animal Hospital in Sayville.
Caporaso said a pellet was recovered from the dog's chest.
"The family is devastated," Balk, 62, of Islip Terrace, said. "He was the family dog, but he was my shadow."
Balk said he let Jax out around 9:30 a.m. Saturday. His wife left 15 minutes later and saw what she thought was a "brown garbage bag" in the yard, Balk said.
Around 10:05 a.m., Balk said he went looking for Jax because he usually didn't stay out long. "I look at him and he's got blood coming out of his mouth. I just totally lost it," he said.
Balk added: "He was a family member. He was not vicious."
Roy Gross, chief of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the agency is also investigating. Gross said the agency believes the dog was shot, but didn't immediately have details on the type of gun used.
Balk said he bought the then-10-week-old dog in Jacksonville, Florida, on a trip to visit his son four years ago.
He was a perfect companion for the family's other pit bull, Roxy, Balk said.
"I said, 'Let me get another dog because this will take me into retirement, and we can grow old together,' " Balk said.
The county SPCA asks anyone with information to call the agency at 631-382-7722.