Best and Worst States for Animal Cruelty: Where Does Yours Rank?

In the U.S., each state is free to make its own laws against animal cruelty. Some states do an inspiring job of using the law to protect non-human animals from abuse. Others all but abandon animals to the whims of malicious individuals and industries.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) annually ranks the states according to their animal cruelty laws. Their website includes a clickable map that offers one or two reasons for each of the rankings.

The Worst

Mississippi: No felony penalties for cockfighting, just slap on the wrist punishments.

North Dakota: One of only two states with no felony-level penalties for egregious acts of cruelty; generally weak anti-cruelty laws.

South Carolina: No felony penalties for cockfighting.

Idaho: Some of the weakest anti-cruelty laws in the country. (Was one of only three states with no felony-level penalties for egregious acts of cruelty, but changed that law since these rankings came out.)

South Dakota: One of only two states with no felony-level penalties for egregious acts of cruelty, and some of the weakest laws against cockfighting in the country.

The Best

California: Prohibits intensive confinement of animals on factory farms.

New Jersey: Strong laws against animal fighting and keeping dangerous exotic animals as pets.

Oregon: Same as New Jersey, plus strong puppy mill laws and laws against extreme confinement of animals on factory farms.

Illinois: Strong laws against animal cruelty and fighting and against private possession of dangerous exotic animals.

Massachusetts: Strong laws against animal fighting and ban on greyhound racing.

Unfortunately, HSUS did not specify the criteria it used to rank the states.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) also ranks states by their animal cruelty laws, with slightly different results than HSUS’s.

ALDF’s bottom five, in descending order, are South Dakota, Iowa, Idaho, North Dakota, and Kentucky. The top five, in descending order, are Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, and California.

“The good news is, according to the ALDF, more than half of all states experienced a significant improvement in their animal protection laws in the last five years. These improvements included increasing penalties for abuse offenders, requiring veterinarians to report animal cruelty cases and including animals in domestic violence protective orders,” The Bark reports.

The bad news in the ALDF report is some truly shocking laws in certain states. In Kentucky, veterinarians are prohibited from reporting suspected cruelty or animal fighting. In ALDF’s bottom five states, courts do not have the power to restrict future animal ownership after a cruelty conviction. Of those states, only Iowa allows judges to require mental health evaluations or counseling for convicts, despite the fact that animal abuse is one of the best predictors that a person will commit violence against humans. In North Dakota and Kentucky, courts cannot order cruelty convicts to give up the animals they harmed, abandoning the creatures to suffer further at the hands of their abusers.

Recently, a group of embarrassed South Carolinians banded together to try to improve their state’s abysmal showing in the rankings (#42 in the ALDF report and #49 on HSUS’s list). They want to end some “barbaric” but legal South Carolina activities like “cock- and dog-fighting, bear baying, puppy mills, and … exotic animal ownership,” the Columbia Star reported. Let’s hope they prevail, and influence some of their fellow laggards to shape up as well.

Want to know how your state measured up? Here are the HSUS rankings, and here is ALDF’s list (scroll to page 7).

Related Stories:

Five Best States for Animal Abusers in 2010

2009 Five Best and Worst States for Animal Abuse

Groups Fight for Tougher Animal Cruelty Laws in North Dakota

Photo credit: iStockphoto


Ruth S
Ruth S11 days ago


Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton4 years ago

We have to be sick human beings if we don't stop this shit. Shame on us & our government.

Bernice R.
Bernice R.4 years ago

I'm from KY and believe me if you're not some whinnyassed druggie, "oh, your honor, I'm trying to turn my life around" while they laugh like hell behind their backs, you get no help. Our children, animals, and elderly are forgotten, all so they can "fight the war on drugs" and help the almighty druggie.

Jody B.
Jody B4 years ago

MN ranks well, happy about that!

LMj Sunshine
James Merit4 years ago

Thank you for info and links.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit4 years ago

Thank you for info and links.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit4 years ago

Thank you for info and links.

Beverly M.
Past Member 4 years ago

Proud of my state (California)!

Jeanne C.
Jeanne Crabb4 years ago

There's always room for more improvement even among the top rated states. Much improvement can always be done. However, in those low ranking states, shame on you!! You people need to get busy and help to enact laws to protect your animals. Contact your legislatures. Let them know that animal care and safety is important to you.

Fiona T.
Past Member 5 years ago

As long as there's case of animal cruelty, that would never be good