2014 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings™

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) announces the publication of the 2014 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings Report, ALDF’s ninth 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.

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This year, South Dakota rose out of its longstanding spot among the “Worst Five” states, in part, by passing a felony penalty for the most egregious cases of animal cruelty—the last state in the nation to enact such a provision—and by instituting a statewide ban on breed-specific legislation (or “BSL”). Maryland also rejected the notion that a dog should be deemed “dangerous” solely because of its breed in 2014. There are now 19 states that either prohibit municipalities from regulating or outlawing certain dogs based on breed alone, or otherwise require proof of a dog’s supposed dangerous propensities beyond mere breed.

“Breed-specific legislation is hardly a ‘quick-fix’ to dangerous dog issues,” says Scott Heiser, Director of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program. “It takes a nuanced approach to tackle dangerous dog problems, including educating and addressing reckless dog owners who put their dogs and the public at risk. Some breeds that have been unfairly targeted by these breed-specific laws, such as pit bulls, have proven to be extremely loyal and affectionate animals. Nearly half of all states now rightly recognize that blanket bans on breeds fail to remedy the issue of dangerous dogs—and actually harm dog owners and dogs themselves.”

The 2014 Rankings Report also highlights legislation criminalizing the reckless endangerment of an animal. Rhode Island enacted such a provision this year specific to “dogs in hot cars,” bringing the total to 16 states that now target a range of reckless conduct involving animals—including leaving an animal in a hot car—and many explicitly allow law enforcement to enter a vehicle to remove an animal at risk.
“Too many pet owners ignore the very real danger of leaving an animal in an enclosed vehicle—even in the shade, even with a cracked window,” says Lora Dunn, Staff Attorney for ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program. “It takes only moments for the temperature inside a parked car to rise to levels that are dangerous for a helpless animal trapped inside. Reckless endangerment laws recognize the extreme suffering of animals left to such a perilous fate—too often tragically fatal.”

For the seventh consecutive year, the “Best Five” states remained the same in 2014: Illinois held strong as the top state for animal protection, while Maine pushed Oregon out of second place due to its reckless endangerment law and prohibition on BSL. Other notable changes this year included Georgia’s first-ever felony penalty for animal neglect, Alabama’s new prohibition on bestiality, a new requirement in Massachusetts that veterinarians report animal cruelty, and new laws in four states allowing for protective orders to include animals—crucial for human victims of domestic violence who so often stay in abusive situations out of fear for their pets’ safety. More than half of all states—26 states and D.C.—now include animals in protective order legislation.

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:

  • 28% of jurisdictions improved 2-10%
  • 50% of jurisdictions improved 11-50%
  • 4% of jurisdictions improved by greater than 50%

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
  • 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:

  • Nine jurisdictions added—for the first time—felony penalties for cases involving extreme animal cruelty or torture: Alaska, Arkansas, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota*, and Utah.
  • Eight jurisdictions strengthened their existing felony animal cruelty laws: Georgia*, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, and Puerto Rico.
  • Fourteen jurisdictions added felonies for repeated or aggravated animal neglect: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia*, 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.

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 | 2014
Canada: 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012

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