ASPCA Commends the U.S. Sentencing Commission for Strengthening Recommended Penalties for Convicted Dog Fighters

New guidelines will recommend increased jail time and enhanced penalties for the worst offenses
April 15, 2016

NEW YORK— The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) commends the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) for voting today to strengthen federal sentencing guidelines for animal fighting, including enhancements that specify tougher penalties for extreme offenses.

The new guidelines raise the recommended sentencing range for animal fighting from 6-12 months to 21-27 months jail time—that’s a 250 percent increase in the minimum recommended sentence. The Commission also created a recommended sentencing range of 6-12 months for the new federal crime of bringing a child to an animal fight. Lastly, the revised guidelines explicitly state that causing harm to a large number of animals and performing acts of extraordinary cruelty to animals are grounds for imposing longer sentences.

“Until now the guidelines didn’t reflect the seriousness with which Congress, law enforcement, and the public view this barbaric activity,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. “We are grateful to the U.S. Sentencing Commission for voting to give judges the tools they need to ensure the punishment fits the crime.”

These guidelines better represent changes prescribed by Congress in 2008, when it acknowledged the depravity of dog fighting by increasing the maximum penalty for participating in animal fighting from three to five years. Congress strengthened animal fighting statutes again a few years later when they made attending an animal fight a federal offense and added additional penalties for bringing a child. However, federal sentencing guidelines have not been updated to include these increased penalties, creating a discrepancy between what is allowed under federal law and what is expressed in sentencing guidelines. As a result, typical prison sentences for convicted dog fighters averages about six months and most offenders receive probation.

The USSC proposed changes to the guidelines in January, and accepted comments from the public through March. To raise awareness about the need for stronger sentences for convicted dog fighters, the ASPCA launched a public awareness campaign, collecting a record-breaking 50,000 comments – the most ever received by the USSC on a single issue – from members of the public urging the USSC to #GetTough on animal fighting.

Even though dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, it still occurs in every part of the country and in every type of community. In the past 10 days alone, the ASPCA has assisted local, state and federal agencies in four dog fighting cases spanning five states and 17 crime scenes, resulting in the seizure of more than 150 dogs, including the most recent federal case yesterday in Rock Island, IL and Davenport, IA where 64 dogs were seized.

“These new guidelines will go a long way to protect hundreds of thousands of dogs in the United States who are forced to fight and suffer each year purely for the entertainment and financial gain of their owners,” said Tim Rickey, vice president of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response.

In February, U.S. Reps. John Katko (R-NY) and Judy Chu (D-CA) introduced the Helping Extract Animals from Red Tape (HEART) Act (H.R. 4613), federal legislation that will enable judges to require owners of animals seized in federal dog fighting cases to be responsible for the costs of their care, which will speed up court processes to allow these animals to be rehabilitated and adopted into loving homes more quickly.

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