A Virginia law establishing any form of animal cruelty or abuse as a felony has gone into effect — with some dubbing it "Tommie's Law" in honor of a pit bull who died after he was set on fire earlier this year.
The new law makes "cruelly or unnecessarily beating, maiming [or] mutilating" a dog or cat an automatic felony. Previously, such crimes were only considered misdemeanors unless the animal died as a direct result of the abuse.
Authorities say Tommie was tied to a pole and set on fire in a Richmond park Feb 10. by his 20-year-old owner, Jyahshua Hill. The pit bull was rescued taken to a local animal shelter, but died five days later. A picture shared by the shelter showed Tommie covered in bandages and casts while snuggling a stuffed animal.
Hill was arrested in May and charged with felony animal cruelty. He told WTVR-TV last month that he "snapped" after the dog attacked his daughter and claimed he "did what I had to do to protect my kids from the dog."
When asked why he didn't let the dog go, Hill said it "would've attacked somebody else's kid."
Shockey Boyajian, the president of Dogs Deserve Better, — a nonprofit organization who purchased Michael Vick’s old dog fighting property — told WTKR “I hope everyone remembers the memory of Tommie because of what that dog went through at the hands of the person that did this to him. It is just horrific. We hope this law will let him live on.”
Any person found guilty of animal abuse under the new law could face up to five years in prison and receive a fine of up to $2,500.
Fox News’ Kira Grant and The Associated Press contributed to this report.