A New York resident is maintaining his innocence after being accused of strangling his neighbor’s dog to death in July.
In Suffolk County District Court on Thursday, Huynh Toquoc pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty and misdemeanor charges, NBC 4 reported Friday.
Toquoc’s neighbors, Elana Greenfield and Dominic Primerano, claim while walking their two-year-old pit bull Rex on a leash around their apartment complex on July 14, two unleashed dogs — Tuquoc’s shih tzu and another neighbor’s goldendoodle — attacked him.
Tuqouc rushed to intervene and strangled Rex to death, the couple alleges according to the outlet.
Greenfield has alleged that Tuquoc also assaulted her when she was trying to free her beloved pet, and she and Primerano said that their neighbor made “vulgar statements” throughout the ordeal as well.
Tuquoc said in court Thursday that he acted in self-defense, NBC 4 reported. However, pit bull advocates refuse to accept it was self-defense and believe the dog was targeted because of the stigma around the breed.
A Change.org petition has been signed by almost 280,000 people is demanding that Tuquoc face an aggravated animal cruelty charge, which is a felony, as opposed to the misdemeanor animal cruelty charge he currently faces.
The petition claims Tuquoc justified killing Rex because of his breed: “While Elana and Dominic tried to fight off the aggressive goldendoodle and get this man off of Rex, he then threatened the lives of Rex’s owners and was shouting, ‘He’s a pit bull I have to kill him,’ to justify his unacceptable actions.”
More than 100 dog owners arrived to show their support for Greenfield and Primerano at the courthouse on Thursday, many sporting shirts than read #JusticeForRex, according to NBC 4 and the New York Times.
Greenfield and Primerano’s lawyer, Nora Constance Marino, told NBC 4: “What kind of precedent are we going to set here. Any time a dog gets into a scuffle or a fight in the park the proper action is to kill one of the dogs? That’s absurd.”
Marino did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
However, the Times reported that in his statement to the police, Tuquoc said that he “choked Rex to get him to stop biting Quincy” — the goldendoodle — and that it was the pit bull who started the fight between the dogs.
“Rex stopped biting Quincy, but I kept choking Rex so he wouldn’t bite me and told the owner of Rex to get a leash,” he said.
Rogers told the outlet that his dog had “eight puncture wounds, right in his chest” from Rex, and that he thought “it was going to be curtains for my dog.”
Tuquoc’s next court date is October 24, according to the Times, and Rogers has his own upcoming court date for taking his dog outside without a leash.
Tuquoc’s lawyer could not immediately be located by PEOPLE. A spokeswoman for Suffolk County District Court did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.