Tonka, a 1-year-old Alaskan shepherd, sleeps next to James Mongno, 9, and Lauren Mongno, 3. Tonka died Sept. 20 after a hunter mistook him for a coyote and shot him. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Mongno)
Elizabeth Mongno was walking Tonka around her wooded property in rural New Jersey when the 1-year-old dog spotted a deer and decided to chase it.
Tonka liked to roam free on the 3-to-4-acre parcel of land divided among a handful of homeowners, and he usually came back within seconds. But when he dashed into the woods Wednesday evening, he didn’t return. She screamed for Tonka to come back, and about 30 seconds after her dog took off, she heard a yelp. She knew Tonka was hurt, and thought he had been bitten by another animal.
About 10 minutes later, her husband found Tonka on the ground about 50 feet from their property line. He’d been shot directly in the heart with an arrow. Tonka tried to walk home, Mongno said, but he didn’t make it.
“It didn’t occur to me that there’s a hunter in the woods,” Mongno told The Washington Post. “I started screaming.”
Police said Tonka was killed by a crossbow hunter who mistook the 95-pound Alaskan shepherd with white and gray fur for a coyote chasing a deer. The hunter, Romeo Antonucci, was licensed to hunt and was within the proper distance from houses when he fired, police said. But Antonucci has been charged with careless discharge of a weapon and damage to property. (In this case, Tonka is considered property, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection told NJ.com.)
[She was walking her therapy dog. Ten feet away, a hunter took aim.]
Antonucci, of Kenilworth, N.J., did not respond to requests for comment.
Bowhunters in New Jersey are allowed to hunt deer as long as they are 150 feet from residences. The state legislature passed a bill in 2010 to shorten the minimum distance requirement from 450 feet to 150 feet, in an effort to curb the deer population.
Tonka sits on the couch with James Mongno. (Elizabeth Mongno)
State law also allows hunters to shoot coyotes. Only bows are allowed during the fall hunting season, which began this month. Firearms and bows are permitted from November to March.
Mongno said Antonucci is a relative of one of her neighbors, who gave him permission to hunt on their property, which is not far from Mongno’s. She said she and the other neighbors should’ve been made aware that somebody was hunting on the property, which is dotted with five houses, so that they knew to be more careful.
“We didn’t know that there was anybody hunting. . . . Children played in those woods,” Mongno said. “It didn’t even occur to us that anybody would even hunt there because it’s a small piece of property.”
Mongno said she is not against hunting. Though she doesn’t hunt, her husband is an avid hunter.
“If the rule is 150 feet, and that is what it is, that’s fine,” she said. “But we have the right to know if somebody is hunting in the property adjacent to us. . . . It never occurred to us that we needed to have hunting laws for our back yard.”
Tonka, an Alaskan shepherd, with Lauren Mongno. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Mongno)
She also criticized Antonucci for mistaking her dog for a coyote.
[Inside the controversial culture of using dogs to hunt coyotes]
“If he couldn’t tell the difference between a dog and a coyote, he should not have a weapon. . . . You need to know your target,” she said.
Mongno’s family got Tonka last year, when he was still a puppy. The beloved dog had become Mongno’s third child and her little boy’s best friend.
“I will never forgive myself for letting him get away from me. My poor kids couldn’t be more broken, especially my 9-year-old. . . . Tonka put so many smiles on so many faces. His lovable, goofy personality made everyone around him happy,” Mongno wrote on Facebook.
Mongno’s Facebook profile has many pictures of Tonka with her children.
One photo showed Tonka sleeping in the car with Mongno’s son James, 9, and daughter Lauren, 3. James was resting his head on Tonka, who was curled up in the middle seat between him and his little sister. Another photo showed a younger and smaller Tonka sitting on the couch with his tongue sticking out as James lay next to him with a big smile on his face.
“My son cried himself to sleep every night,” Mongo said.
James skipped school last Friday because he knew his friends and classmates would ask about what happened to his dog, Mongno said, but he didn’t want to talk about Tonka.
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