An important Virginia animal welfare bill passed unchallenged through the Senate and House of Delegates. If signed by Governor Northam, SB 1604 will upgrade animal abuse in the state from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Supporters of SB 1604 say that a horrific case of animal cruelty involving a dog named Tommie helped raise awareness of the bill, pushing it through the House. They have dubbed it “Tommie’s Law” in his honor.
An unknown person chained a dog named Tommie to a pole and set him on fire. Tommie battled to survive for five days under the care of Richmond Animal Care and Control (RACC) and the Virginia Veterinary Center.
With severe burns over 40 percent of his body, tragically, the trauma proved to be too much for this brave dog — his body gave up.
Shockingly, current legislation dictates that even the most brutal torture and abuse of an animal can only be prosecuted as a felony if it results in the death of that animal. No matter how serious the cruelty, if an animal survives, the assailant can only be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, resulting in only a maximum of 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
The passing of SB 1604 rectifies this; regardless of whether animal abuse results in the death of an animal or not, the perpetrator will be charged with a Class 6 felony and face up to five years in prison.
Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) introduced the bill after hearing about a shocking case of abuse in 2016, when a man attacked a dog with a machete. The dog survived, and the perpetrator was only charged with a misdemeanor.
“I think this is so wrong that it’s only a misdemeanor,” said DeSteph. “People who torture a dog, or any animal like this, their next step is to go after a human. They’re truly a threat to public safety and to society and should be dealt with severely.”
A Lady Freethinker petition urging Richmond Police to hunt down Tommie’s attacker has garnered more than 25,000 signatures, with outpourings of rage, grief, and support for Tommie and his rescuers.