VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A new bill making its way through the Virginia General Assembly could give dogs and cats who are severely injured more justice.
The bill, SB-1604, is focused on making it a felony for anyone who abuses a family pet.
Cats and dogs are always coming and going at the Virginia Beach Animal Shelter, but one dog adopted several years ago is now the focus of a proposed bill.
“The driving force for us is Sugar, where she was beaten with a machete,” said Virginia Beach Animal Control Supervisor Meghan Conti.
Sugar was severely injured in 2016. It took thousands of dollars to nurse her back to health. Officers arrested her owner, but since Sugar lived they could only charge him with a misdemeanor.
“It is very frustrating,” Conti added. “On one side we have the joy and the privilege of being able to save that animal, but knowing by doing those actions we are taking away that felony option.”
That’s because currently in Virginia the only way to charge a felony is if a dog or cat dies from its injuries.
“The law should be written based on the actions of the person,” Conti said.
Last week, Virginia Beach Animal Control met with State Senator Bill DeSteph to lobby other delegates to change the law. DeSteph introduced a bill to do just that.
“I think if you beat or torture a dog it should be a felony regardless,” DeSteph said.
What that means is more possible jail time for animal abusers. They could get up to five years in prison.
“I think ultimately what we are looking is when it is so egregious that the animal could die as a result of this action, but because of the medical actions we have we are able to save this animal it should be a felony,” Conti added.
The bill made it out of committee and could be on both the Senate and House floors for a vote soon.
Animal Control officers say they are seeing an increase in dogs that are severely beaten so they’re eager to get this bill passed and to send a message to abusers.