RICHMOND, Va. -- Dozens of people turned up at the Richmond Animal Care and Control (RACC) shelter on Tuesday for the first of a five-day memorial service honoring Tommie the dog.
Tommie, a pit bull, was tied to a fence in Abner Clay Park in Richmond, Va. on Sunday, February 10, doused in accelerant, then set on fire.
He lived for another five days before, as RACC announced his death in a Facebook post, “his body simply gave out” and he stopped breathing.
Initially, RACC planned to hold a public funeral for Tommie, but the response was so massive, that the five-day memorial service made more sense.
"We wanted it to be a little more personal. You know, I didn’t want to stand in front of a crowd of 7,000 people when I could hug someone,” said RACC director Christie Chipps Peters.
RACC is holding open houses between 2:00-7:00 p.m. from Tuesday, February 19 through Friday, February 22 and between noon-5:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 23.
"We’re hopeful that people will take advantage of the time and come meet us, talk to us, walkthrough, look at the animals we have for adoption and remember Tommie in a way that’s good for them,” added Chipps Peters.
While there, people can also write messages to Tommie on small paper hearts that will be turned into a memorial wall.
"I basically just wrote how he was such a sweet dog and how he didn’t deserve what happened to him and then I just wrote rest in peace bud,” said Caleb Maes, one of the attendees. He came to the memorial with his pit bull, Bane, who he adopted from RACC three weeks ago.
"I felt for Tommie, you know and it’s a sick act to do that to a dog and wanted to bring him out here and show that there are good pits and they don’t deserve that."
People are also encouraged to bring pet food and other donations that are a part of a food drive being put on by RACC and the Richmond Police Department.
Many people were dropping off food and other gifts on Tuesday, while others sent some in from around the world. One watercolor painting of Tommie was created by an artist in Japan.
Among those who came out to today’s memorial, was Paige Harvey, who had adopted two cats from RACC.
"Obviously, devastated by the news of what had happened to Tommie,” said Harvey. She added she hoped Tommie’s death will lead to tougher penalties regarding acts of animal cruelty. "Maybe more will be done because of his death and then, at least, it’s not in vain if more animals can be saved."
The Virginia General Assembly is taking up a bill that would strengthen animal cruelty laws. It has passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House.
Meanwhile, the search for the person that did this to Tommie continues. Chipps Peters said investigators are still following tips and leads in the case, but would not elaborate so as to not jeopardize the investigation.
A reward of up to $25,000 is being offered for information in the case that leads to an arrest and conviction.