Animal lovers from up and down Vancouver Island are demanding stricter punishment for pet owners after a dog died in what the BC SPCA is calling one of the most horrific cases of dog abuse it's ever seen.

Dozens of people wearing ‘Justice for Teddy’ shirts gathered at the BC Legislature on Sunday, some driving from as far as Comox for the candlelight vigil.

Teddy was found severely emaciated and had a collar deeply embedded in his neck when he was found on a property in Duncan on Feb. 16. The dog was found on a chain with only inches long and was standing in a pile of mud and feces, according to the SPCA.

Staff say the wound in the dog’s neck had become infected and made his head swell to nearly three times its normal size. Teddy died from his injuries days after being seized.

The founder of the RainCoast Dog Rescue Society, who organized Sunday’s event, says he’s been rescuing dogs for 10 years and has never seen such a horrific case of cruelty by an independent owner.

“I cried, it was horrific,” said Jesse Adams. “I think everyone’s just been really emotional obviously since that came out and that’s why we’re here … to show we really do care and to look for some change and better protection for our animals.” 

Many people at Sunday’s event said they were showing support and speaking up for animals who don’t have a voice.

“I actually wept because I’ve had dogs and they are the only things that will never break your heart. They’ll eat your shoes, but it’ll never break your heart,” one woman told CTV News.

The non-profit Victoria group says animals need better protection. It wants to see enforcement officers with the Capital Regional District and the SPCA have more power when they find animals in distress.

“A lot of cases unfortunately have to be walked away from because technically the law just doesn’t protect the animal properly and we’re hoping to change that,” Adams said.

Nearly 100,000 people have signed an online petition titled “Justice for Teddy” asking the Crown to seek the maximum penalty for the dog’s owners. 

Anderson Joe and Melissa Tooshely each face charges of animal cruelty. They are set to make their next court appearances on April 3. 

The RainCoast Dog Rescue Society says it’s planning a peaceful demonstration outside the courthouse on that day “to show politicians, the Crown and everyone in the community here on Vancouver Island that we care and that we demand justice for Teddy,” Adams said, “that he not go unnoticed, that his case not get washed away and just that he gets proper justice that he deserves.”