The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) released its 11th annual report on animal protection rankings on Tuesday. The longest running and most authoritative report of its  kind, the ALDF assesses the strength of each jurisdiction’s animal protection laws by examining over 4,000 pages of statutes. Each jurisdiction receives a raw score based on fifteen different categories of animal protection. The report then ranks all 50 states jurisdictions by comparing their raw scores.

The report also highlights the top, middle, and bottom tiers of jurisdictions and notes the “Best Five”  and “Worst Five” states overall. Across the country, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has largely seen positive changes regarding animal safety.

These improvements included:

  • Expanding the range of protections for animals
  • Providing stiffer penalties for offenders
  • Strengthening standards of care for animals
  • Reporting of animal cruelty cases by veterinarians and other professionals
  • Mitigating and recovering costs associated with the care of mistreated animals
  • Requiring mental health evaluations and counseling for offenders
  • Banning ownership of animals following convictions
  • Including animals in domestic violence protective orders
  • Including animal fighting as a RICO (racketeering) offense
  • Specifically prohibiting leaving an animal in a vehicle in an emergency situation, and granting  civilian rescuers immunity after certain steps have been taken


Top States For Animal Protection Laws

Illinois topped the list of best protections for the ninth consecutive year, followed by Oregon, Maine , California and Rhode Island. Illinois remained on top because there are felony penalties covering virtually every kind of mistreatment, including abuse, neglect, fighting, sexual assault and abandonment. Rhode Island broke into the “Best Five” in 2016, in part, by passing a new felony animal cruelty  provision for first‐time offenders, triggered when cruelty results in the animal’s death, and increasing  penalties for malicious injury to an animal.

Wisconsin was the most‐improved state in 2016, jumping  fourteen places in rank, in part, by passing a comprehensive cost‐of‐care law, mandating reimbursement  of the costs of caring for a cruelly treated animal to the care-giving agency prior to the disposition of the case. While 25 states require reimbursement of costs of care after the offender is convicted, only 16 states require reimbursement prior to, or regardless of, a criminal conviction.

animal protection laws

Worst States For Animal Protection Laws

On the other end of the spectrum, Kentucky came in dead last for the 10th straight year. Other states with weak animal protection laws include Iowa (49th), Wyoming (48th), Utah (47th) and North Dakota (46th). Kentucky is the only state in the country that specifically prohibits veterinarians from reporting animal cruelty. Most states either allow or require by law that veterinarians who suspect animal cruelty to report it to law enforcement.”

Kentucky is also the only state that doesn’t require that animals be forfeited from a convicted offender’s custody after he or she has been convicted. statistics show that someone who has harmed animals is more likely to hurt animals again in the future and to hurt humans as well.

Animal Protection Laws- New Laws For 2016

  • 10 states for the first time added felony penalties for cases involving extreme animal  cruelty or torture:  Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota,  South Dakota, and Utah.


  • 10 states strengthened their existing felony animal cruelty laws: Georgia, Kentucky,  Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, and Rhode Island.


  • 15 states added felonies for repeated or aggravated animal neglect:  Alabama,  Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New  Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee.


  • 7 states  made repeated abandonment, or abandonment that results in the death or  serious injury of an animal, a felony: Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Louisiana, Indiana, Michigan,  Nebraska, and Puerto Rico.


  • 4 states added felonies for the sexual assault of an animal: Alaska, New Jersey,  Oregon, and Tennessee.


  • 21 states instituted statewide bans on breed‐specific legislation (or “BSL”) by  either prohibiting municipalities from regulating or outlawing certain dogs based on breed  alone, or otherwise require proof of a dog’s supposed dangerous propensities beyond mere  breed: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode  Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

Animal Protection Laws- State Rankings

  1. Illinois
  2. Oregon
  3. Maine
  4. California
  5. Rhode Island
  6. Michigan
  7. West Virginia
  8. New Jersey
  9. Washington
  10. Colorado
  11. Arizona
  12. Massachusetts
  13. Florida
  14. Tennessee
  15. Delaware
  16. Indiana
  17. Kansas
  18. Oklahoma
  19. Louisiana
  20. Minnesota
  21. Virginia
  22. Nebraska
  23. Nevada
  24. Vermont
  25. New Hampshire
  26. Ohio
  27. Texas
  28. Wisconsin
  29. Connecticut
  30. Arkansas
  31. Georgia
  32. North Carolina
  33. Missouri
  34. South Carolina
  35. Hawaii
  36. Alabama
  37. New York
  38. Montana
  39. Mississippi
  40. Pennsylvania
  41. South Dakota
  42. Idaho
  43. Maryland
  44. Alaska
  45. New Mexico
  46. North Dakota
  47. Utah
  48. Wyoming
  49. Iowa
  50. Kentucky

Animal Protection Laws- Final Thoughts

Sizable majorities of all households now include at least one animal, and polls continue to show  that the public cares deeply about animal welfare. ALDF’s goals in these ongoing reviews are to continue  to shed light on the important issue of animal protection, to compare and contrast the differences and  similarities in the provinces and territories, and to garner support for strengthening and enforcing  animal protection laws throughout the country. If you don’t like where your state is ranked or are concerned with animal protection laws please contact your state representatives and let them know your thoughts. Only action from the public will force states to improve their rankings.

Jason Statson

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