ASPCA Urges the U.S. Sentencing Commission to #GetTough on Dog Fighting

New campaign and online video encourages the public to support stronger federal animal fighting sentencing guidelines
January 13, 2016

To view the ASPCA video, please visit

NEW YORK—The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) has launched a campaign — including a compelling video — urging the public to actively support stronger animal fighting sentencing guidelines by submitting comments to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) during a public commenting period which runs through March 21. The comments respond to an amendment proposed by the USSC in January to strengthen the federal sentencing guidelines for animal fighting by bringing them in line with the maximum prison sentence of five years prescribed by Congress in 2008.

Current sentencing guidelines do not reflect the maximum penalty allowed under federal law, which can discourage federal prosecutors from pursuing animal fighting charges that may yield sentences as paltry as six months in jail.

“The current guidelines for dog fighting are woefully inadequate, and don’t come close to matching the heightened seriousness with which Congress, law enforcement, and the public view this barbaric activity,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President & CEO. “By proposing to amend the animal fighting guidelines, the U.S. Sentencing Commission moves us one step closer to giving judges the tools they need to both punish these criminals more appropriately and deter potential criminals.”

In 2008, Congress acknowledged the depravity of dog fighting by increasing the maximum penalty for participating in animal fighting from three to five years. They again strengthened animal fighting statutes 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, convicted dog fighters are receiving disproportionately weak sentences.

To raise awareness about the need for stronger sentences, the ASPCA released a video as part of their #GetTough campaign to help eradicate animal fighting. Featuring interviews with the public, the video reveals the surprise and disappointment of average Americans as they become aware of the terrible disparity between horrific animal crimes and their inadequate penalties.

“This video demonstrates the strong public sentiment that dog fighting is a vicious blood sport that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. “Congress recognized the need to take this violent crime seriously by strengthening federal laws on animal fighting, and now we hope the U.S. Sentencing Commission will follow their lead.”

The USSC is expected to vote on the final amendment in April. In addition to increasing the base level jail sentence, the ASPCA is also encouraging the USSC to take into account fighting ventures conducted on an exceptional scale and harming a large number of animals, the egregious neglect and cruelty that occurs in these cases, and the violence of criminals who take part.

Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Although illegal everywhere in the U.S., dog fighting still occurs in every part of the country and in every type of community. For more information on the ASPCA’s #GetTough campaign and their work to end dog fighting, please visit