ISLIP TERRACE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Police are trying to determine whether the death of a dog found in the backyard of a Long Island home was a criminal act or accidental.

Jax, an 85-pound pit bull, was found bleeding from his mouth Saturday in his family’s Islip Terrace yard.

The dog’s owner, John Balk, said the 4-year-old pooch was shot to death and a pellet was found in his chest.

“For four years he was my shadow, my buddy,” Balk told CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan.

“Somebody came in our yard or over our fence and shot the dog with a pellet gun,” Balk’s wife Connie told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera.

Connie Balk told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall that it was Jax’s routine to go outside in the backyard for about 15 minutes, then bark to come back inside. But on Saturday he never came back.

“He was out there, and my husband says, ‘Where he is?'” Balk said. “He goes out there, and he sees him laying on the ground and he goes, ‘Come on, Jax.’ And he looked, and he saw blood coming out his mouth. He said, ‘Oh my God, he’s dead.'”

The Balks rushed Jax to Grady Animal Hospital in Sayville hoping he had accidentally chewed on glass, McLogan reported.

But the pit bull couldn’t be saved.

The death report — photos and Xrays from the veterinarian who performed the necropsy confirmed the cause of death: A pellet lodged in his heart.

“The pellet entered through left side of the back, went through rib cage, lungs and aorta,” said Veterinarian Mark Caporaso.

Investigators are looking for a weapon and motive.

Balk said Jax barked a lot, but that’s no reason for someone to kill him.

“He never growled, never heard the dog growl in all my life, but he barked,” Balk said. “And if he bothered you that much, come and tell us, call the cops, something.”

Balk also told McLogan nobody ever complained about the barking and that everybody on the block has dogs.

“A barking pit bull — he’d bark for 3 or 4 minutes at a time at night to protect his territory. Is that a right to take his life?,” said Balk.

The family has created a Facebook page, “Justice For Jax,” to try to track down the shooter.

Balk said Jax was loyal and lovable and craved attention. “It’s like having a child one day and the next day he’s gone,” Balk told McLogan.

The Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says the agency also is investigating.

“Violence against an animal can lead to violence against a human being. It’s a proven fact,” said Chief Stephen Laton, Suffolk SPCA Law Enforcement.

It asks anyone with information to call 631-382-7722.

The SPCA is offering a reward of up to $2,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

If it’s determined this was not accidental and criminality was involved, whoever shot and killed Jax will be arrested and faces prison time, McLogan reported.

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