ALLIANCE, Ohio - A Stark County family's desperate search for their beloved pet ended with heartache when they discovered their dog was shot, killed and buried by a neighbor.
"He's part of our family and he was murdered," said the dog's owner, Diana Austin, during an emotional interview on Friday from her Lexington Township home near Alliance.
Austin said the 11-year-old dog, a border collie/chow mix named "Sampson," was considered a family member since his 2005 adoption from the Stark County Humane Society.
"He was the best dog. I think he knew when we adopted him that he had his forever home," she said.
When the dog was let outside, he was usually kept on a chain in front of the home. Austin said Sampson rarely left the property when he was in the backyard.
But on Sunday, he wandered away while he was outside with Austin's husband. That led to a frantic search for the dog over several days.
"We're yelling his name. We're passing out flyers. I put an ad in the Alliance Review. I posted it on Facebook," Austin said.
On Wednesday, Austin received a phone call from a woman who was aware of the family's search. She had a tip that broke the family's heart -- their dog could be buried in a neighbor's backyard less than a half mile from where he disappeared.
Austin's husband walked over to the neighbor's property and couldn't believe what he found.
"My husband started digging and found Sampson, and found that he had been shot," Austin said.
That neighbor was questioned by the Stark County Sheriff's Department and admitted to shooting it.
He said the same dog killed his cat last year. When the dog returned a few days ago, he claimed an affirmative defense, deputies said.
Outside of his home on Friday, the neighbor would not go on camera, but said he would like to talk the owners of the dog and make restitution.
"It growled at my wife. I protected my wife. I protected my cat. I hurt over all this. I'm an animal lover. I regret it," he said. NewsChannel5 is not identifying him because he has not been charged.
Austin said she doesn't believe the man's account and said Sampson was always friendly with people and their two house cats.
"He's never hurt anything. Never. Everyone loves him," Austin said.
The sheriff's department turned over the case to the Alliance City Prosecutor's Office on Friday to determine whether charges should be filed.
Austin's 18-year-old daughter, Allie Austin, said she wants the neighbor to be prosecuted.
"I just want justice for my dog. He was shot and killed for basically no reason," she said.