We all want stronger sentences for convicted animal-fighters—and the government is listening. You can help make this a reality by telling the U.S. Sentencing Commission to get tough on dog fighting! Time to speak up is limited; take action today.
Last year, at the sentencing of Alabama dog fighters, we listened while one convicted criminal after another expressed shock at the notion that animal fighting was a serious crime. These men were entirely aware of the criminal nature of their drug deals and weapons-trafficking, but had little concept that fighting, killing, and maiming dogs within huge multistate gambling rings could land them in jail. The federal judge who heard that case likewise expressed his shock that the federal sentencing guidelines were so inadequate for a crime so brutal. The current guidelines recommend prison sentences as low as six months and almost half of all offenders only get probation. No wonder the Alabama offenders didn’t know that dog fighting could land them in prison.
Today the U.S. Sentencing Commission—the independent federal agency that constructs sentencing guidelines as a reference for federal judges—took a great step toward remedying this problem by proposing to revise the federal sentencing guideline for animal fighting in its upcoming amendment cycle.
Congress raised the maximum prison sentence for a federal animal fighting conviction to five years in 2008 in response to the Michael Vick case. The current sentencing guidelines never incorporated that increase, creating a huge gap between what is allowed under federal law and what is recommended in sentencing guidelines. As a result, convicted dog fighters too often receive unacceptably weak sentences.
We commend the U. S. Sentencing Commission for considering this critical issue. Tell the U.S. Sentencing Commission to get tough on dog fighting by making stronger animal fighting sentences a priority. The Commission will be accepting comments for the next 30 days—make sure they hear from you!
It’s no secret that animal abuse and animal fighting affect communities across the country. At the ASPCA, we know that the most effective way to fight these crimes is through proper response and investigation, and thankfully, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the Nassau County Police Department are on our side. On Wednesday, May 27, members of the ASPCA’s Anti-Cruelty Group (ACG) gathered at the Nassau County Police Academy in Long Island, New York, to share critical expertise and anti-cruelty knowledge with around 100 attendees from the Nassau County Police Department, Nassau County SPCA, Town of Hempstead, Town of North Hempstead, Hempstead Village Police Department and other municipal public safety representatives from throughout Nassau County.
Training topics included:
An overview of New York animal cruelty laws
The role of forensic veterinary medicine in animal cruelty cases
Proper investigation and evidence collection
How to have safe encounters with dogs
Introduction to blood sports investigation
A guide to recognizing hoarding and early intervention
The training was a continuation of an ongoing collaboration with authorities in Nassau County. On Wednesday, May 13, 2015, at the request of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, the ASPCA assisted local authorities in a dog fighting investigation led by the Nassau County DA and Police Department. The ASPCA provided experts to identify crime scene evidence, conduct behavior evaluations of the seized animals, and serve as expert witnesses
Pictured from left: John Bolin, ASPCA NE Regional Investigator; Terry Mills, ASPCA Dir. of Blood Sports Division; Dr. Pam Reid, ASPCA Animal Cruelty Behavior Team; Elizabeth Brandler, ASPCA NYC Legal Advocacy Council; Colleen Doherty, ASPCA Cruelty Intervention Advocacy; Howard Lawrence, ASPCA Sr. Director of Anti-Cruelty Group; Detective Investigator Elizabeth Rye, NCDA Animal Crimes Unit. Credit to Nassau County District Attorney's Office
The ASPCA is on the ground in Freeport, Florida assisting authorities with evidence collection and the rescue of seven canine victims from a property where animals were allegedly housed and fought.
ASPCA responders discovered the dogs tethered to heavy chains at the scene, and many exhibited scars and wounds consistent with fighting. Drugs and dog fighting paraphernalia were also discovered on the property. We are providing the dogs with emergency medical treatment and behavioral enrichment, and they are being kept safe at an undisclosed location.
When we rescue dogs from lives of fighting, we eagerly await the day that we’ll be able to share stories of their new lives as beloved pets. One such dog is Lucy, a sweet pup who was one of 367 dogs we rescued from a multi-state dog fighting ring in 2013. On the dog fighting property in Alabama, Lucy had been left to suffer in extreme heat with no visible fresh water or food. After her rescue, she received veterinary care and behavioral enrichment from the ASPCA and was later transferred Bully Project, a local rescue group in New York City. She was ready to find her perfect forever family, and a few months later, Peter and Anthony stepped in to fill that role.
“Anthony and I had been looking to adopt a dog for three years, but constantly found ourselves in a state of transition that made owning a dog difficult,” says Peter. After settling in Harlem, New York, the couple began to browse adoptable pets at New York City shelters and rescue groups. Their landlord introduced them to Bully Project in April.
“When we were shown a picture of Lucy, it was love at first sight,” says Peter. “We met her the next day and decided there and then to adopt her. Five days later we adopted her into her forever home.”
Lucy’s new life—with a bed to call her own, plenty of toys and lots of love—couldn’t be more different than the life of suffering she experienced before we rescued her.
“Having Lucy is amazing,” says Peter. “This is a first-time experience for both of us, and while there are many things to learn about having a dog—and about Lucy specifically—and there are adjustments we need to make to our lifestyle, we wouldn’t have it any other way. While Lucy can be timid and shy at first, she is incredibly sweet and loving. Watching her personality come out as she becomes more comfortable around us is heartwarming and entertaining all at the same time.”
We’re thrilled that Lucy has found such a loving place to call home.
“We are as excited to come home to Lucy as she is for us to come home to her,” Peter says.
Yesterday, in honor of National Animal Advocacy Day, Congress put out the welcome mat for Bam Bam, a special dog whom the ASPCA rescued as a puppy from a dog fighting yard in Alabama. The Congressional Animal Protection Caucus (CAPC) had invited Bam Bam to the Capitol as an ambassador for dogs rescued from animal fighting operations. U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Co-Chairs of the CAPC, were on hand to welcome the ASPCA and congressional staff.
Bam Bam joined a panel of experts to educate congressional staff about the fiscal and welfare challenges of caring for animals seized in federal animal fighting cases. The ASPCA regularly works side-by-side with federal prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to rescue animals from animal fighting rings, as well as expend vast resources caring for these animals afterward.
Federal criminal cases take many months or even years to progress. While they slowly advance, rescued animals must be housed, fed, and provided with veterinary and behavioral care. They often can’t be re-homed until the cases conclude, which means a dog may spend over a year waiting for his or her fate to be determined by a court.
Once the ASPCA and law enforcement authorities come to the rescue, these animals should be able to start new, happy lives; but federal seizure laws weren’t written with animals in mind. Animals can’t be warehoused like cars, drugs or commonplace evidence—and while living in limbo in this way, seized animals often deteriorate psychologically and behaviorally. Meanwhile, animal-protection agencies rack up astronomical costs to safely shelter these animals on behalf of federal law enforcement.
Fortunately, on National Animal Advocacy Day, we’re grateful for the great animal allies we have in Congress and in the Department of Justice (DOJ) working to solve this problem through legislation and regulatory changes. Reform is needed to have the alleged abusers, rather than taxpayers or groups like the ASPCA, pay for the costs of caring for their seized animals or relinquish custody of the animals, allowing them to be re-homed much faster.
We’re also indebted to our amazing citizen advocates, who sent more than 13,000 emails to the Department of Justice over the past month thanking them for prosecuting animal fighters and urging them to get even tougher this year.