Animal Cruelty: Which State Is the Worst at Protecting Animals?

Despite a significant improvement in animal protection laws across all 50 U.S. states in recent years, many argue more needs done to combat and detect animal abuse. All states now include felony provisions in their animal cruelty laws, but they each have varying levels of punishment for various protection laws.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) released its annual U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings in January, comparing each state's animal protection laws.

A rescued pit bull looks out from a cage in the Liberty Humane Society shelter in Jersey City, New Jersey, on July 24, 2007. Mario Tama/Getty Images

For the 11th year in a row, Kentucky was ranked the worst of all the states for animal protection laws, followed by Iowa (49), Wyoming (48), Utah (47) and North Dakota (46).

According to the report, Kentucky needs to implement a number of laws that other states have implemented to improve its ranking, including increasing penalties when abuse is committed in the presence of a minor or involves multiple animals, enforcing restrictions on future ownership or possession of animals if a person has been convicted of abuse and enforcing felony provisions in cases of neglect or abandonment.

Kentucky is also the only state that prohibits veterinarians from reporting any suspected animal abuse to authorities.

According to the report, Pennsylvania was the most improved state in 2017, jumping 20 places to 24. The ALDF said this was in part due to the state granting civil immunity to veterinarians who report suspected animal abuse.

"Perpetrators of the most unthinkable violence against animals deserve more than a slap on the wrist, and now prosecutors in Pennsylvania have more important tools they need to tackle these horrific cases," said Lora Dunn, director and senior staff attorney for the ALDF's Criminal Justice Program.

"Sadly," Dunn added, "many cruelty cases go undetected, hidden from public view, and veterinarians might be the only witnesses to these animals' suffering. That's why it's so important to empower veterinarians who suspect animal cruelty to take action without fear of legal retribution by the abuser."

For the 10th year in row, Illinois was ranked in first place by the ALDF—followed by Oregon (2), California (3), Maine (4) and Rhode Island (5). The report ranked Illinois as the best state for animal protection because of a number of listed strengths, including imposing felony penalties for cruelty, neglect, fighting, abandonment and sexual assault, as well as increased penalties for repeat animal abusers and mandatory reporting of suspected animal cruelty by select non-animal-related agencies and veterinarians.

More than half of all states have "significantly improved" their animal protection laws in the past five years, according to the ALDF.

"Unfortunately, laws protecting animals can vary widely from state to state," says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. "Our annual U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings provides a tool for animal advocates, shelters and even legislators to gauge the relative effectiveness of their state's animal protection laws and provides guidance for making positive changes."

Best States for Animal Protection

1. Illinois
2. Oregon
3. California
4. Maine
5. Rhode Island
6. Michigan
7. West Virginia
8. Nevada
9. New Jersey
10. Colorado

Worst States for Animal Protection

1. Kentucky
2. Iowa
3. Wyoming
4. Utah
5. North Dakota
6. New Mexico
7. Alaska
8. Maryland
9. Idaho
10. South Dakota

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