2013 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings™

Posted on December 16, 2013

Animal Legal Defense Fund Releases Year-End Report Ranking State Animal Cruelty Laws

For immediate release:

Megan Backus, ALDF
Lisa Franzetta, ALDF

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) announces the publication of the 2013 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings Report, ALDF’s eighth 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.


The “Best Five” states remained the same in 2013 for the sixth consecutive year, with Illinois remaining the top state for animal protection. Michigan rose from fourth to third position by making animal fighting a RICO offense, while Oregon—another longtime “Best Five” state—jumped from fifth to second position this year, in part by enacting a felony penalty for neglect—a trend followed by Connecticut, Hawaii and New Jersey.

“Dying from either dehydration or starvation is, by any measure, a brutal death,” says Scott Heiser, ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program Director. “In elevating animal neglect to a felony, states like Oregon recognize the egregiousness of this hideously protracted and entirely unnecessary infliction of profound suffering. To witness this conduct on the mass scale of a typical hoarding case is heartbreaking, but one can find comfort in the fact that legislators are now responding to these all too common cases by enacting new, more meaningful sanctions.”

Oregon’s new law goes even further, Heiser explains, by amending the state’s felony sentencing guidelines. “Oregon trial judges can now sentence offenders convicted of felony animal cruelty or neglect to actually serve prison time—under the old law, this was a legal impossibility.”

In other news this year, North Dakota elevated out of the “Worst Five” tier by majorly overhauling its cruelty laws: for the first time, making animal cruelty a felony-level offense, mandating that veterinarians report suspected cruelty, and expanding minimum care requirements, among other improvements. South Dakota is now the only jurisdiction that lacks a felony penalty for animal cruelty, contributing to its longstanding spot in the “Worst Five” tier—joined there this year by Wyoming, New Mexico, Iowa and Kentucky (its seventh year as the worst state for animal protection).

Cost of care provisions was another major trend in 2013, with six states adding or strengthening this type of legislation: Arizona (the most improved jurisdiction this year, rising 12 spots in rank), California, Hawaii, New Jersey, North Dakota and Pennsylvania.

“Cost of care statutes—which expressly authorize a judge to require an offender to pay for the cost of caring for victim animals—are critical to obtaining true justice for animals subjected to cruelty,” says Lora Dunn, Staff Attorney for ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program. “When animals are seized during an abuse or neglect investigation, the impounding agencies expend huge amounts of time and money to feed, house and medically treat these innocent victims. Our judges need cost of care laws on the books to ensure that they have the express authority to order criminal defendants to reimburse impounding agencies for the actual costs of saving the surviving animals. Anything less than this results in an unjust windfall to the offender by shifting the expense of mitigating the harm—inflicted by the offender—to the impounding agencies to pay these often crippling bills.”

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:

  • 32% of jurisdictions improved 2-10%
  • 43% of jurisdictions improved 11-50%
  • 5% of jurisdictions improved by greater than 50%:

Hawaii:  53%
Guam: 84%
North Dakota: 70%

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 the scope of humane officers’ powers to be equal with peace officers’
  • Including animal fighting as a RICO (racketeering) offense

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:

  • Eight jurisdictions added—for the first time—felony penalties for cases involving extreme animal cruelty or torture: Alaska, Arkansas, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota* and Utah.
  • Seven jurisdictions strengthened their existing felony animal cruelty laws: Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio* and Puerto Rico.
  • Thirteen jurisdictions added felonies for repeated or aggravated animal neglect: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut*, Hawaii*, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey*, North Carolina, Oregon*, Puerto Rico and Tennessee.
  • Eight jurisdictions 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.
  • Three jurisdictions added felonies for the sexual assault of an animal: Alaska, Puerto Rico and Tennessee.

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.

Please visit aldf.org for additional information, including the Animal Protection Laws of the USA & Canada compendium, Model Animal Protection Laws collection, and more.

*denotes new changes in 2013

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 | 2013 | Current
Canada: 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012

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