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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has signed “Tommie’s Law,” making animal cruelty a felony in the state.
Just ten days after a pit bull was found tied to a pole, doused in accelerant, and set on fire at Richmond’s Abner Clay Park, Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that makes animal cruelty a class-6 felony charge in the state.
Tommie, the pit bull, passed away just 5 days after being found. And, although the bill had been in the works for three years and was initiated following another tragic cruelty case in Virginia, those touched by the story and Tommie’s agonizing death have honored him by dubbing the newly passed bill Tommie’s Law.
Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) began pushing for the law in 2016, after a dog named Sugar was brutally attacked with a machete in Virginia Beach. Sugar survived the attack and continues to thrive. But, her attacker was only convicted of a class-1 misdemeanor and sentenced to 12 months in jail with 3 months suspended, no fines, and 3 years probation.
Under the new law, the penalty for “cruelly or unnecessarily beating, maiming, mutilating, or killing a dog or cat” was increased to a class-6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
Prior to the law’s passing, a dog or cat had to die as a direct result of the abuse before felony charges could be filed. Despite being tortured, beaten, or maimed, if the animal lived, the abuser would only be charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty.
“The crime matches the penalty,” DeSteph explained. “Not whether the dog lives or dies, the act of maliciously wounding or torturing a dog is the felony.”
Tommie’s Law passed the House of Delegates unanimously in February, clearing both chambers without a single vote against it. And, with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s signature, the bill is now law, with changes taking effect on July 1.