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Lawmakers pass ‘Tommie’s Law’ to make animal cruelty charge a felony in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. -- Ten days after a pit bull named Tommie was tied to a pole and set on fire in Richmond's Abner Clay Park, Virginia's legislature passed a bill that would stiffen the penalty for animal cruelty.  Even though the bill is based off another animal cruelty case, some have dubbed it "Tommie's Law."

The legislation by Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) increases the penalty for "cruelly or unnecessarily beating, maiming, mutilating, or killing a dog or cat" to a felony.

Under current law, the animal must die as a direct result of the torture or inhumane injury before a suspect faces a felony charge.

 Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach)

Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach)

Sen. DeSteph said he has been working on the legislation for three years after a dog name Sugar was attacked with a machete in Virginia Beach.

"It should be named for every one of those cases," DeSteph said.  "The crime matches the penalty. Not whether the dog lives or dies, the act of maliciously wounding or torturing a dog is the felony."

Tommie was tied to a fence in Abner Clay Park in Richmond on Sunday, Feb. 10, doused in accelerant, then set on fire.

He lived for another five days before, as Richmond Animal Care and Control (RACC) announced his death in a Facebook post, “his body simply gave out” and he stopped breathing.

"They couldn't charge him with a felony until Tommie passed away, which is a horrible thing. The act itself is the horrible thing too. The act itself should be the felony, not the outcome," DeSteph said.

The search for the person who burned Tommie continued in Richmond.

Memorial for Tommie

Memorial for Tommie

Memorials at both Abner Clay Park and RACC continue to grow.  All week long, supporters of Tommie can stop by RACC on Chamberlayne Avenue to pay their respects and drop off donations in Tommie's name.

"For somebody to have the heart to set a dog on fire, that's like setting a human being's body on fire," said Jamilah Jones, who stopped by RACC to show Tommie love.

Jones was not aware that cases of animal cruelty are only punishable by a misdemeanor if the animal survives.  She is glad that Virginia will likely soon stiffen the penalty.

Memorial for Tommie

Memorial for Tommie

"Tommie opened up a lot of doors for these animals now. He opened up a lot of eyes," Jones said.  " Why keep losing animals because others want to be rude to them?"

The animal cruelty bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously on Wednesday.  It cleared both chambers without a vote against it.  Now, the bill heads to the governor's desk, and DeSteph said he expects Governor Ralph Northam (D - Virginia) will support it.

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