The Best and Worst States for Animals

Congratulations to Illinois, the state with the best animal protection laws in the U.S.!

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) published its 2013 rankings of states’ laws that protect animals. It ranked Oregon, Michigan, Maine, and California as second to fifth, respectively. This is no surprise — the same states have claimed the top five spots for six years in a row.


Map courtesy of the Animal Legal Defense Fund

At the other end of the list, in 48th place, is South Dakota, which has the distinction of being the only state where animal cruelty, no matter how egregious, is never a felony. Joining South Dakota in the bottom five are Wyoming and New Mexico at 46 and 47, Iowa at 49, and Kentucky at the rear end, where it has stubbornly remained for seven years. You can read about previous years’ rankings here.

ALDF reviewed 4,000 pages of state laws to compare their provisions in 15 broad categories. Here are a few of them:

General prohibitions
The top five states all prohibit cruelty, neglect, abandonment, sexual assault and fighting. Only two of the bottom five states do.

In some states abusing or neglecting an animal is at most a misdemeanor. Violators cannot be sentenced to jail time. Other states have bumped the misdemeanor classification up to felony, which makes jail time available. In some states, like Oregon, jail time is actually mandatory for animal-related crimes.

Oregon’s tough new law followed a sad case of neglect in the state. 150 dogs were rescued from a warehouse where they were being starved, caged in small traveling crates that didn’t allow them to move, and were suffering a host of medical problems. Many were close to death. The women responsible did not serve jail time. Next time this happens in Oregon, the punishment will be different.

Some kinds of animal abuse are illegal in certain settings but not others. Under federal law, for example, it is legal to abuse animals as long as they are being raised for food. Some states have their own exemptions, which ALDF factored into its rankings.

Wyoming, Texas and South Dakota have made rodeo their official state sport, and abusing animals is legal in these and other states as long as it is done to further this entertainment. One rodeo activity, steer busting, illustrates the problem. It requires a rider to rope a steer “with such force the steer flips in the air. The injury and death rate is so high the Nevada State Veterinarian forbids it from the National Finals Rodeo, but this is easily bypassed by holding the event in other locations,” ALDF reports. Outside a rodeo, doing the same thing could result in charges.

Veterinarian reporting of suspected animal cruelty
Four of the top five states (Michigan is the odd one out) require veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse. None of the bottom states require reporting, and last-place finisher Kentucky even bans vets from reporting suspected cruelty or fighting.

Law enforcement policies
States can prevent law enforcement officials from rescuing abused animals, even if they are in lethal situations. Others specifically permit officers to rescue the animals, as animal control officer Karen Leonard tried to do in Florida. She broke two dogs out of a car that was baking in the hot sun — Leonard estimated it was 135 degrees inside the Cadillac. Both had heat exhaustion. Leonard performed CPR on both dogs and applied ice, but sadly, they both died. Their owner was jailed.

Ag gag¯ legislation
Ag gag laws protect factory farms’ and slaughterhouses’ dirty secrets by banning people from recording events at the premises, even if they are not on farm property. Amy Meyer was arrested under a Utah ag-gag law for filming a slaughterhouse from the public street. Out of the top and bottom five states, only Iowa, #49, has an ag gag law, but plenty of the states in the middle of the rankings have them.

Though the states in the top five of ALDF’s list haven’t changed in quite a while, most of the list changes from year to year. Arizona and North Dakota both made big improvements in 2013. Arizona was the most improved state, while North Dakota, which dragged itself up out of 2012′s bottom five, bumped up extreme animal cruelty and neglect from misdemeanors to felonies and required veterinarians to report suspected abuse.

On the whole, ALDF concluded that laws are improving. Staff Attorney Lora Dunn cited the spread of cost of care provisions, which allow judges to make offenders pay the sometimes substantial costs of caring for their victims. Other inspiring trends include the increase in laws banning people convicted of animal abuse from owning animals in the future, and the leeway for courts to include animals in orders of protection for victims of domestic violence.

On the other hand, ALDF summarized some of the problems that drag down the lower-ranked states: “inadequate standards of basic care for an animal, limited authority given to humane officers, and lack of mandatory reporting when veterinarians suspect animal cruelty.”

ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells warned that this is no time for animal advocates to rest on their laurels. He said that every state studied “has plenty of room for improvement.”

That is a good reason to be in touch with your state legislators and make sure they know that you favor stronger protections for non-human animals.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobets3 years ago

Thank you!

Ashley heffner
Lady Suki4 years ago

:( My state sucks.

Melania Padilla
Melania P4 years ago

Thanks for the info, sharing!!!

isabelle f.
isabelle f4 years ago

Thanks for the information !!

Mike Pattison
Mike Pattison4 years ago

Thanks for sharing Piper !

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W4 years ago

thank you

Angela Verdenius
Angela Verdenius4 years ago

Don't be ashamed to live in your state, Laura, be ashamed of those who make the laws that allow these lowlifes to walk around scott free.

No animal should suffer in today's so-called 'enlightened times'. It's a disgrace all the way around to the law-makers.

Margaret Skeel
Margaret Skeel4 years ago

I also am wondering why there aren't federal laws in place instead of leaving it to each state individually.