Virginia governor signs bill making animal cruelty a felony

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Monday signed a bill that increases the penalty for "cruelly or unnecessarily beating, maiming, mutilating, or killing a dog or cat" to a felony charge.

The bill, which is being referred to as "Tommie's Law," alters current stipulations that say an animal must die for someone to be charged with a felony, according to NBC 10, a local news affiliate

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The new law, which only applies to dogs and cats, will go into effect on July 1.

Many have dubbed the bill "Tommie's Law" because the measure follows the death of a pit bull that was tied to a pole and intentionally set on fire in Richmond, Va. 

The dog, named Tommie, died five days after the incident at Richmond Animal Care and Control shelter, NBC 10 reported. 

State Sen. Bill DeSteph (R) told CBS 6 that he had been crafting the legislation for three years after a dog named 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."

The House of Delegates unanimously approved the measure in late February. 

The push to enforce stricter laws against animal cruelty has been taken up at the federal level as well. Florida Reps. Ted Deutch (D) and Vern Buchanan (R) earlier this year introduced a bill to make it a felony when someone intentionally engages in animal cruelty.