February 17, 2016

Make Animal Fighters Do More Time for Their Crimes

By ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker

Make Animal Fighters Do More Time for Their Crimes

When someone commits a heinous criminal act, we always hope the punishment will match the offense. But when it comes to one of the most abhorrent and brutal crimes there is—animal fighting—things rarely work out that way. Dog fighting victims are tortured and killed for profit and “sport,” yet their criminal abusers often receive a minimal sentence—a mere six months in jail—for inflicting a lifetime of pain. Roughly half of all federally convicted animal fighters only serve probation.

Some progress has been made in the prosecution of animal fighters: Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and Congress recently made it a felony to attend or bring minors to an animal fight. But federal judges often rely heavily on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines when they determine penalties, and in the case of animal fighting, those guidelines are outdated and woefully inadequate. Even though Congress increased the animal fighting maximum penalty from three to five years in jail, current federal sentencing guidelines recommend a base-level sentence of six to 12 months.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which creates these sentencing guidelines, is revisiting them, proposing to raise the minimum sentence from six to 12 months to 21 to 27 months. They will vote on the new guidelines this spring.

You can help them make that case by submitting a public comment through aspca.org/gettough and by sharing that site and the video below with friends, family and colleagues. The deadline for public comments is March 21.

This is a step in the right direction, but we’d like to see the U.S. Sentencing Commission amend the guidelines further, including tougher sentences based on factors such as the number of animals involved, egregious levels of animal neglect or cruelty and dangerously violent offenders.

Simultaneous to this effort, we’re working with animal advocates and state and federal lawmakers to strengthen anti-cruelty laws and law enforcement capabilities across the country, as well as supporting laws and policies that assist overburdened animal shelters and humane agencies who care for animal fighting victims. This support is critically important, because the high cost of caring for animal victims is a major deterrent to intervening in cruelty cases.

But the bottom line is this: Betraying an animal's loyalty by forcing it to fight another animal represents human behavior at its most depraved. On behalf of the thousands of dogs victimized by animal fighters—and other animals destined for the same cruel fate—let's make sure the punishments better fit these crimes.