All 50 U.S. States Ranked By Animal Protection Laws


The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) released its 11th annual report on animal protection rankings in January. 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 protection.

These improvements included:

  • Expanding the range of protections for animals
  • Providing stiffer penalties for offenders
  • Strengthening standards of care for animals
  • Mandatory 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
  • Granting immunity to civilians who rescue animals 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 of its 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.

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 report it to law enforcement.

Kentucky is also the only state that doesn’t require animals to be forfeited from an 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.

New Animal Protection Laws in 2016

10 jurisdictions for the first time created felony penalties for cases involving extreme animal cruelty or torture: the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah, as well as the territory of Guam.

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 requiring 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.

State Rankings of Animal Protection Laws

  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


Final Thoughts

A sizable majority of 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.

Image credit Don Graham, CC BY-SA 2.0

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