People found guilty of abusing dogs and cats will now face stiffer punishments in Virginia thanks to a new bill making animal cruelty a felony in the state.
The bill, signed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Monday, will come into effect on July 1, WSLS-TV reported.
Dubbed “Tommie’s Law,” after a pit bull who was tied to a fence and intentionally set on fire in a Richmond park in February, the bill elevates cruel and unnecessary “beating, maiming, mutilating, or killing a dog or cat” to a Class 6 felony charge. Earlier legislation had stipulated an animal had to die because of abuse to be considered a felony offense in the state.
Tommie the pit bull suffered severe burns on more than 40 percent of his body after he was doused in a flammable liquid and set alight. He was rescued and his injuries treated, but the dog died five days later.
Virginia State Sen. Bill DeSteph (R), who introduced Tommie’s Bill, said he’d been crafting the legislation since 2016 when a dog named Sugar was attacked with a machete.
“It should be named for every one of those cases,” DeSteph told WTVR-TV of the bill. “The crime matches the penalty. Not whether the dog lives or dies, the act of maliciously wounding or torturing a dog is the felony.”
According to the Humane Society of the United States, certain types of animal cruelty are considered felony offenses in 48 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.