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Stronger penalties needed for animal abusers

Today we've officially released a statement regarding the disappointing outcome of the Kelvin Thomas case.  Immediately after the sentencing hearing our office started taking calls from upset citizens concerned about yet another "slap on the wrist" sentence for such a horrible crime.  We share those concerns, but before we put out a knee-jerk statement we did our homework.  We contacted the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the prosecutor's office and several other attorneys who are experts at sentencing guidelines and plea bargain negotiations.  All of our research helped us write a more informed response and has also given us a good direction to head in to prevent this type of sentence in the future.

Please know that our work on this is not done.  In fact, it is just truly beginning.  We will be releasing information as it happens  and we hope you will join us as we continue to fight for stronger penalties for crimes  with animal victims.  You can stay informed about this and other Michigan animal relate issues with #protectMIanimals

On Monday, January 23, 2017 at 1:48PM, Judge Gary C. Giguere Jr entered his courtroom at the Kalamazoo County 9th Judicial Circuit Court and took a seat in front of Kelvin Eric Thomas (56) of Oshtemo Township, MI.  This is not the first time these two have meet under these circumstances.

With his attorney's hand on his back and news cameras rolling behind him, Thomas stood facing the bench and listened as Gigeuere stated, "This behavior is disgusting, it frightens me and it has no part in our community."  Giguere ended his beratement with, "if it were my discretion, you'd be going to jail."

We at the Kalamazoo Humane Society were proud to have been invited to assist during the search warrant executed in 2012.  We saw first-hand the unacceptable conditions that 36 dogs were forced to live in.  We saw the basement walls painted red to cover blood stains and we saw that blood come to life with the help of forensic chemical reagents.

In 2016 we were asked to assist again as officers found that Thomas had not given up a life torturing animals for profit.  Seven young Pit Bulls and three Dobermans were being subjected to the same fate as untold numbers of dogs before them; forced into feces caked pens that were too small, chained to dog houses with no food or water, left out in the bitter cold and snow, growing accustomed to a life of neglect and abuse.

Followers of this case expected to hear that Thomas would be going to jail; instead they listened as the judge read off the sentencing agreement, including five years of probation in which he cannot own or possess animals and fines totaling $10,126.00. $8860.00 of those fines is to be paid to Kalamazoo County Animal Services & Enforcement for the care of the dogs that were in their custody from February to October 2016.

What we're seeing here is a two-part problem.  Firstly, the plea agreement with Kelvin Thomas did not allow the judge to utilize his own discretion in exchange for his plea of No Contest.  Secondly, and of even greater concern, the lack of harsher punishment is a result of the fact that dog fighting and other animal-related felonies are only Class F felonies.  On a scale of A-H, with Class A resulting in life imprisonment, a class F felony does not rack up much in the way of jail time even for habitual offenders; however jail is still possible if he violates his probation.

While we all wish to see animal crimes treated with the same severity as crimes against humans, the reality is that unless felonies involving animal victims can be elevated to a higher class, animal lovers will be forced to sit by and watch as more animal abusers get away with what can only be considered a slap on the wrist.

We need direct our frustration and show legislators that there is still more work to be done concerning animal protections in the State of Michigan.  Using the momentum from this case, we will take the steps needed to change our existing animal protection laws to include harsher punishments for those who violate them.  You can help by contacting your state representative and letting them know that you support stronger punishments for habitual animal abusers.

Video of sentencing hearing available on our YouTube channel here -->

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