Animal Legal Defense Fund Annual Study Ranks Laws Across the Country; Illinois Remains on Top, Mississippi Shows Most Improvement
A new in-depth survey of the animal protection laws of each state and territory in the U.S. confirms that there remain considerable differences in the strength and comprehensiveness of each jurisdiction’s laws. The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF) sixth annual report, 2011 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings – the longest-running and most authoritative report of its kind – is based on a detailed comparative analysis of the animal protection laws of each jurisdiction, researching fourteen broad categories of provisions throughout more than 4,000 pages of statutes. Each jurisdiction received a numerical ranking based upon its combined score and was grouped into a top, middle or bottom tier. The ranking also highlights the best five and worst five states overall.
For the fourth consecutive year, Illinois held the top spot alone in the rankings due to its wide array of animal protection laws. Mississippi showed the most improvement, moving from 50th – and one of the Worst Five states – last year to 30th overall this year. Mississippi’s improved ranking was due partly to its enactment of a felony penalty for repeated cruelty and neglect (three states – Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota – do not have any felony penalties for animal abuse) and for authorizing mental health evaluations and counseling for offenders. Guam showed the second best improvement, moving up eighteen spots to 34th in the nation. Arkansas, District of Columbia, Maryland, Oregon and Texas all improved their scores, in part, from new laws that allow animals to be included in domestic violence protective orders. California, Maryland, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Washington added or strengthened laws restricting access to animals following an animal abuse conviction. Many other states moved up in this year’s report as well. Kentucky, once again, had the notorious distinction of having the weakest laws of any state in the nation—a position it has held for the past five years.
“These annual reports identify what each state and territory is doing with respect to their animal protection laws,” says Stephan Otto, ALDF’s director of legislative affairs and author of the report. “Since ALDF began publishing these rankings in 2006, there has been a marked advance in the laws of many states and territories.”
In reviewing the results from ALDF’s rankings reports over the past five years, more than half of all states and territories experienced a significant improvement in their animal protection laws:
- 27% improved 2-10%
- 16% improved 10-50%
- 11% improved by greater than 50%:
Puerto Rico: 91%
These improvements included, among others:
- Expanding the range of protections for animals
- Providing stiffer penalties for offenders
- Better standards of care for animals
- Reporting of animal cruelty cases by veterinarians and other professionals
- Mitigation and recovery of the costs associated with the care and rehabilitation of mistreated animals
- Mental health evaluations and counseling for offenders
- Bans on ownership of animals following convictions
- Allowing animals to be included in domestic violence protective orders
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. Over the past five years:
- Six jurisdictions added – for the first time – felony penalties for cases involving extreme animal cruelty or torture: Alaska, Arkansas, Guam, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah
- Six strengthened their existing felony animal cruelty laws: Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Puerto Rico
- Eight added felonies for repeated or aggravated animal neglect: Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Puerto Rico
- Six jurisdictions made repeated abandonment, or abandonment that results in the death or serious injury of an animal, a felony: Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Puerto Rico
- Three added felonies for the sexual assault of an animal: Alaska, Puerto Rico, Tennessee
“We are very optimistic for additional progress in the upcoming year,” added Otto. “Nevertheless, even as many jurisdictions are making substantial steps forward, others are unfortunately not. Yet irrespective of where each jurisdiction currently ranks, every state and territory has ample room for improvement.”
Sizable majorities of all households now include at least one animal, and polls continue to show that the public cares deeply about these companions and their welfare. ALDF’s goals in these ongoing reviews are to continue to shed light on this important issue, to compare and contrast the differences and similarities in the provinces and territories, and to garner support for both the strengthening and enforcement of 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.