2012 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings™

Posted on December 17, 2012

Animal Legal Defense Fund Annual Study Ranks Laws Across the Country

New Category for “Ag Gag” Laws, Idaho Most-Improved

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) announces the publication of the 2012 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings Report, ALDF’s seventh annual report that comprehensively surveys animal protection laws of all U.S. states and territories. The longest-running and most authoritative report of its kind, the Rankings Report 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 56 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.

Download the U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings

The “Best Five” states remained the same in 2012, for the fifth consecutive year, with Illinois holding strong as the top jurisdiction for animal protection. California rose from fifth to third position, in part, by strengthening its forfeiture and seizure laws this year, ensuring that fewer animals unnecessarily languish in cages during the disposition of criminal cases–at shelter expense–and do not return to their abusers. Idaho was the most-improved jurisdiction in 2012, jumping eight places in rank and elevating out of the notorious “Worst Five” tier, in part, by enacting its first felony provisions for cruelty, neglect, abandonment and cockfighting. (Mississippi received a similar boost in rank in 2011 for passing its first felony laws.) North and South Dakota now remain the only jurisdictions without felony penalties for animal abusers, contributing to these states’ longtime positions in the “Worst Five” tier. For the sixth year in a row, Kentucky ranked the weakest state for animal protection.

The Rankings Report added a brand-new category of assessment this year to account for the passage of “ag gag” laws. These laws–propagated by the corporate agriculture lobby–aim to conceal animal abuse, food safety risks, and illegal working conditions from consumers by making it illegal to video record or photograph at agricultural facilities. Iowa and Utah both enacted “ag gag” legislation in 2012, contributing to their respective drops in rank this year. They join Kansas, Montana and North Dakota for a total of five states that now have “ag gag” laws on the books.

“‘Ag gag’ legislation is a huge step backwards for animals, attempting to stifle whistleblowers of animal abuse,” says Lora Dunn, Rankings Report Editor. “While many jurisdictions strengthened their animal protection laws this year, it was important that the 2012 Rankings assessment evolved to include this new ‘ag gag’ category, to reflect a more complete picture of current animal protection.”

In reviewing the results from ALDF’s Rankings Reports over the past five years, more than three quarters of all states and territories experienced a significant improvement in their animal protection laws:

  • 25% of jurisdictions improved 2-10%
  • 55% of jurisdictions improved 11-50%
  • 11% of jurisdictions improved by greater than 50%:
    Arizona: 52%

    Arkansas: 139%

    District of Columbia: 64%

    Guam: 84%

    Indiana: 74%

    Mississippi: 78%

These improvements included, among others:

  • 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
  • Prohibiting convicted abusers from gaining employment involving animal contact
  • Strengthening provisions on the sale and possession of exotic animals
  • Expanding humane officers’ powers to be the same as other peace officers

One of the frequently used measures for gauging the state of animal protection laws in the U.S. has been the presence or absence of felony-level penalties for the most egregious types of abuse. Since ALDF released its first U.S. rankings report in 2006, there has been noticeable progress in this indicator:

  • Seven jurisdictions added–for the first time–felony penalties for cases involving extreme animal cruelty or torture: Alaska, Arkansas, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi and Utah.
  • Six jurisdictions strengthened their existing felony animal cruelty laws: Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada and Puerto Rico.
  • Nine jurisdictions added felonies for repeated or aggravated animal neglect: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and Tennessee.
  • Seven jurisdictions made repeated abandonment, or abandonment that results in the death or serious injury of an animal, a felony: Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska and Puerto Rico.
  • Three jurisdictions added felonies for the sexual assault of an animal: Alaska, Puerto Rico and Tennessee.

Despite these gains, there still remains room for improvement in every jurisdiction. ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program Director, Scott Heiser, notes that, “as a former elected prosecutor who works with law enforcement daily in jurisdictions all over the country, I continue to be amazed at how grossly inadequate many state animal cruelty codes are. However, as constituents and policy makers learn more and more about the cognitive capacities of animals and the direct correlation between animal abuse and other crimes, we are hopeful that these shortcomings will get fixed.”

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.

ALDF encourages those who care about the welfare and protection of animals to contact their elected officials about the importance of having strong, comprehensive laws in this field, and to alert law enforcement should they ever witness animal abuse or neglect.


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More Information

For additional information, see our Model Animal Protection Laws collection and Animal Protection Laws of the USA & Canada compendium.

Annual Animal Protection Laws Rankings Reports

United States: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | Current
Canada: 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012


12 thoughts on “2012 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings™

  1. Ian says:

    Happy to live in California, but really wishing all fifty states were tied for first!

  2. Valerie says:

    I’ve worked with numerous animal shelter/rescue people in North Carolina and they frequently say how HORRIBLE the animal welfare laws are there (even how dogs/cats are treated in county shelters). I showed this to one of them, and she said this is COMPLETELY inaccurate and paints an incorrect picture of North Carolina – it should be RED. They have to fight every day to have anyone do anything to save animals from cruelty situations, and the laws and the lawmakers do zero to help. So I recommend revisiting this map to make edits, lest a more positive impression be given of North Carolina (and probably several other states down south).

  3. Diana Molina says:

    Very impressive. Thanks alot to keeping us informed of ALDF latest news and actions. I am from Puerto Rico, and happy to see that my country was included in ALDF. Puerto Rico needs improvements about treating animals and win cases against cruelty. Keep your good job that I will keep doing my job in my country. God bless you.

    Diana Molina

  4. Bonnie says:

    Sad and ashamed to say I was born, raised and still live here in Kentucky….

  5. joanne carl says:

    I would really like to know how they determine this for here in Maine we are always fighting the state about animal cruelty. A horse just starved to death and the owners still have two more. Puppies dead with no help. Breeders that have had their licenses pulled breeding again. A family doing their own surgeries on their animals cause they watch animal planet and read books with no pain meds or annestia. Wow just boggles my mind. Who’s pockets got lined for this one.

  6. Ali says:

    Kentucky dead last again! I know there are enough people in this state who want better treatment for our animals, but so few know there is such a problem. There has to be a way to change these laws!

  7. rob says:

    joanne I live in maine and must say that you are way off base. Maine has very good laws but of course they can be better and there will always be cases of animal cruelty and those stories are certainly sad, But it sounds like you have no idea, what goes on in other states. I’m afraid what you just mentioned is nothing compared to what happens in other places. There is a reason that there is a constant wave of animals coming to this state, that are rescued from other states.

  8. As a rescue person, living in Kentucky, I can honestly say that it has by and far the worst animal protection laws. This is an accurate assessment.

  9. Tracy Treadway says:

    My Dad lives in Bronston, KY. There’s a man that has been abusing animals, domestic and farm animals, for 44 years!! Yes, 44 years. Many have perished at his hands. As we speak, there’s at least 30 pigs. And nearly 30 other animals all starving to death! These people must be held accountable and the laws need to changed so we can help the animals who have no voice. It’s tragic that the Humane society and Law enforcement know about him and because of the laws, can’t do anything about it. We are trying to change that though. It must be changed for the sake of innocent animals…

  10. Sharon says:

    Sorry, but North Carolina is among the worst in the nation and not in the middle.

  11. Olivia says:

    Unfortunately politicians in KY just don’t care. We need rich people who contribute to their campaign funds to do something about this. Hopefully the very publicized hoarding case in Woodford County will get their attention, sigh. It’s very frustrating being a vet tech in Kentucky because we have to see hoarders and animal neglect on a daily basis and are powerless to help. In KY it’s even ILLEGAL for vets to report cruelty and neglect. If you were to report anonymously the only thing that’s done is a hangtag on the offender’s door requiring them to get rabies vaccs and licenses for their pets, it’s obscene.

  12. unchaindogsplz says:

    here in southeast Alabama the laws are so vague they are open and based on interpretation. I tried to get help for some dogs who were left outside all day in all weather conditions without dog houses or food and water there was no animal control with jurisdiction because it was technically in the county limits not the city. The sheriff who was my only resource, would not do much after initially doing a welfare check. he said the animals had to deteriorate before the D>A would do anything/ prosecute. ONLY because I contacted an animal rights group out of state who were relentless, were then able to contact the negligent caretakers get the dogs doghouses.

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