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Virginia lawmakers pass ‘Tommie’s Law’ to make animal cruelty a felony

The General Assembly passed a bill Wednesday to increase the penalty for acts of animal cruelty, amid public outpouring of support for “Tommie,” a pit bull that was tied to a pole and lit on fire.

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By Adrian Teran Tapia and Mario Sequeira Quesada

Every state in America, and at least nine countries. That is how far the story of Tommie, a dog tied to a pole and set on fire, traveled as people rallied for his survival and donated money for his treatment. Tommie suffered burns on 40 percent of his body after he was doused in an accelerant and set on fire in a Richmond park. Despite round-the-clock care, he died five days after rescue.

If the dog had survived the attack, under current law the person responsible could have faced only a Class 1 misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine up to $2,500.

That’s why the crowd following Tommie’s story turned its attention to SB 1604, introduced by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach. The bill would increase the penalty for animal abuse from a misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony, which can draw up to five years in prison.

Five days after Tommie’s death, the House passed the bill unanimously Wednesday. It cleared the Senate unanimously on Feb. 5.

Under current law, a person can only be charged with a felony if the cat or dog dies. DeSteph’s bill would make the penalty of torturing a cat or dog a Class 6 felony regardless of whether the animal survives. DeSteph said he introduced the bill after a dog named Sugar was attacked by her owner with a machete. Because the dog did not die, the owner was only charged with a misdemeanor. DeSteph said that the act alone should warrant the felony charge, not the outcome of it.

“People who torture a dog, or any animal like this, their next step is to go after a human,” DeSteph said. “They’re truly a threat to public safety and to society and should be dealt with severely.”

House co-sponsor Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, said Tommie’s story helped the bill gain more support. She said some members of the Animal Welfare Caucus even suggested the legislation be named “Tommie’s Bill.”

Robert Leinberger is an animal control supervisor with Richmond Animal Care and Control, the city shelter that led Tommie’s rescue and recovery efforts. He said donations poured in from around the world for Tommie, which boosted the reward to $25,000 to help find and convict his attacker, who is still at large.

Tabitha Treloar, with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said SB 1604 empowers the SPCA’s mission to protect more animals.

“There is a big gap in the current law. It does not consider the advances of veterinary medicine,” Treloar said.

Treloar said that veterinarians can often save animals from critical injuries, which helps the attacker avoid felony charges. That could have happened in Tommie’s case.

“It was sickening what happened to him,” she said. “The bill is a big step that I think the Commonwealth can take to demonstrate that this type of cruelty will not be tolerated.”

Leinberger, who has worked in animal control for 27 years, called Tommie’s case “by far one of the worst cases of cruelty” he had ever seen. “What is really scary is what will be next, or even worse — who will be next.”

He encouraged people to report the first sign of cruelty.

“If you even think of mistreating an animal, don’t,” Leinberger said, adding that there are many ways to find a pet a new and safe home.

Shaun McCracken agreed. She rescued her 7-year-old dog Pippin, who was suffering from a severe joint illness.

“The SPCA changed my life,” the theater professor said at a recent “Dog Kissing Booth” fundraiser. “She is better because of the care, time and effort they put in her.”

McCracken said Tommie’s case really affected her and that something must be done to avoid future tragedies.

“I think this person should never be allowed near any animal or any human being,” she said.

DeSteph said that party lines don’t and shouldn’t matter when it comes to animal welfare legislation. “We have great laws in place regarding animal protection, but I think this is one that had gaps to fill.”

RACC receives one or two cases of negligent animal cruelty a week, Leinberger said. He hopes the passage of SB 1604 will help reduce the number of attacks.

“It has been a roller coaster of emotions, almost every single emotion you can think of,” he said.

More than 6,000 people signed up to attend a memorial service for Tommie. As a result, RACC has been holding open houses for members of the public to pay their respects to the dog.

An open house will be held 2-7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and noon-5 p.m. on Saturday at the city shelter, 1600 Chamberlayne Ave.

Anyone with information about the crime can contact Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers at 804- 780-1000.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Storm Rolls In

Alternative title: “Dumbass Stays on Floodwall too Long Gets Very Wet”. No camera gear or photographers were harmed in the taking of this photo.

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Yesterday a quick-moving storm rolled through Richmond.

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Must-See RVA! — Cokesbury Building

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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April 2020
  • 415 East Grace Street
  • Built, 1921
  • Architects, Carneal & Johnston

Once there was this trendy little bookstore in the heart of the downtown shopping district.

[ADR] — Cokesbury Building in 1981

[ADR] — Cokesbury Building in 1981

This building was built for the Methodist Publishing House and designed by Garnett & Johnston. Its design clearly is related to the Mosby Store at the corner of Jefferson and Broad Streets, by Starrett & Van Vleck.

April 2020 — showing projecting cornice

April 2020 — showing projecting cornice

That design was, in turn, related to McKim, Mead & White’s Gorham Building in New York, a modernized version of an Italianate palazzo with an arcade at the base of the building and a heavy projecting cornice at the roof.

April 2020

April 2020

This design was felt to be a particularly successful blending of traditional and modern features, most appropriate for a modern shop.

April 2020

April 2020

The Cokesbury Building is designed carefully and well detailed. The first floor arcade was glazed fully, but is now closed partially.

April 2020

April 2020

The interior vaulted ceilings have been removed, but the building is otherwise well preserved. The reason for the popularity of this building type is seen easily. It is simple, dignified and impressive. [ADR]

(Richmond Times Dispatch) — Cokesbury Building in 1952

(Richmond Times-Dispatch) — Cokesbury Building in 1952

The Cokesbury Building, with the Cokesbury Bookstore on the first floor, was an outgrowth of the Methodist Episcopal Book Concern. Created in 1789, this organization was established to religious materials for the Methodist church. It would eventually expand to include books and religious supplies and rebranded as the Cokesbury Press in 1925. By 2012, there would be 57 Cokesbury Book Stores nationwide, one of which used to be on Grace Street.

April 2020

April 2020

But in that same year, Cokesbury announced the closure of their brick-and-mortar stores, and today they’re online only. The Grace Street location had long been abandoned by that point, having relocated to Tuckernuck Square shopping center in 1992. A loss, really. They were more than just religious books and often had unusual or hard to find titles, back in the days before Amazon.

Today, it’s the Cokesbury Building Apartments.

(Cokesbury Building is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


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  • [ADR] Architecture in Downtown Richmond. Robert Winthrop. 1982.

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Must-See RVA! is a regular series
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Suspects Sought in Credit Card Fraud

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From RPD:

Richmond Police detectives need the public’s help to identify the individuals in the attached photo, who are suspected of using a stolen credit to make fraudulent purchases last week.

On Monday, March 30, the victim was notified that their card had been used at the Farm Fresh located in the 2300 block of East Main Street. Surveillance footage shows two females buying food and cigarettes worth over $400 with the victim’s card. They were last seen leaving the store in a silver convertible with a black top. A photo of the vehicle is attached.

Detectives determined the card was also used at the McDonald’s located in the 1800 block of East Broad Street.

Anyone with information about the identity of these suspects is asked to call First Precinct Detective J. Mitchell at (804) 646-0569 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 or at www.7801000.com. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones may also be used. All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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