The new bill ups the penalty from a misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
The new law closes a loophole that allowed the perpetrator to only be charged with a misdemeanor if the animal survived the abuse.
The bill was unanimously approved earlier this year by the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk.
It was introduced by Sen. Bill DeSteph earlier this year after he learned of a dog named Sugar, who was found severely injured in Virginia Beach in 2016 after her owner allegedly beat her with a machete. Authorities arrested the owner, but because Sugar survived the attack, they could only charge him with a Class-1 misdemeanor at the time.
Although Sugar’s case was the catalyst for toughening the state’s animal cruelty legislation, the bill was soon dubbed “Tommie’s Law” after a pit bull named Tommie was tied to a pole and intentionally set on fire in a Richmond park on Feb. 10. Tommie died five days later.
“The case with Tommie, I think, helped push it over the edge … for people to see the worst of the worst that animal control can see,” Robin Young, with Richmond Animal Care and Control, said.
The law will go into effect Monday, July 1.
The bill signing ceremony for the law is taking place Thursday afternoon in the governor’s ceremonial office at the Capitol.