During my tenure at The HSUS – as CEO but also prior to that as our chief political advocate – I’ve made it a point to work to strengthen the nation’s legal framework against dogfighting and cockfighting. These are reprehensible, calculated crimes that result in protracted and sustained violence to animals.
We’ve upgraded the federal law against animal fighting four times since 2002, with the federal law now making it a felony to fight animals, possess fighting animals, sell fighting implements, or bring a child to an animal fight. It’s also a misdemeanor to be a spectator at an animal fight. (We’ve also worked to upgrade nearly every state statute against animal fighting, with dogfighting now a felony in every state and cockfighting outlawed in all those states, too.)
But the guidelines judges currently use when handing down sentences to the guilty are not in line with Congress’s intent, and fall way short of adequately dealing with these criminals, and we’ve been working with our friends at the ASPCA to correct this problem.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which establishes the guidelines, is now considering an amendment that would increase penalties for animal fighting. We are extremely pleased that the USSC has proposed an increased baseline for animal fighting crimes, but we are encouraging the commissioners to adopt our recommendations and recognize Congress’s intent in upgrading penalties for animal fighters.
Today, Chris Schindler, HSUS director of animal crimes and someone who has personally been involved in dozens of animal fighting rescues, made recommendations to the commission, asking it to consider three specific offense characteristics when handing sentences to animal fighters. We believe implementing these would bring sentencing guidelines more in line with Congress’s intent:
-When the offender intentionally and cruelly kills an animal, or subjects them to severe animal abuse.
-When the offender demonstrates an exceptional degree of involvement in the business of animal fighting.
-When the offender possessed a dangerous weapon.
We’re proud to be aligned with the ASPCA on this issue. We have had a front-row seat to the havoc animal fighters create for dogs and birds and for the communities in which they conduct their crimes. We have worked with federal and state law enforcement on hundreds of animal fighting cases across the country, including cases that involved not only animal cruelty but a range of other violent crimes. A good share of the people involved are hardened criminals.
We’ve worked relentlessly to upgrade the legal framework against animal fighters and to give perpetrators no room to operate. But strong sentencing guidelines are a linchpin in our broader strategy to root out animal fighting where we see it, and we urge the commission to act in a way consistent with the wishes not just of Congress, but of the American people.