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The Best and Worst States for Animal Welfare: Where Does Your State Stand?

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With 68% of U.S. residents sharing their hearts and homes with pets, animal welfare is a huge – and growing – concern among citizens. So where does your state stand in terms of animal protection laws?

Animal Welfare

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, released the 12th annual year-end report ranking the animal protection laws of all 50 states.

For the 10th year in a row, Illinois is in first place—followed by Oregon (2), California (3), Maine (4), and Rhode Island (5). Kentucky holds firmly to last place for the 11th consecutive year. It trails Iowa (49), Wyoming (48), Utah (47), and North Dakota (46) as the state with the weakest animal protection laws.

Pennsylvania was the most-improved state in 2017, jumping 20 places up to number 24. This achievement is thanks to major improvements like a new felony provision for first-time offenders of aggravated animal cruelty (including torture), and granting civil immunity to veterinarians who report suspected animal abuse.

Among other notable changes in 2017:

• Eleven jurisdictions added—for the first time—felony penalties for cases involving extreme animal cruelty or torture: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, Pennsylvania*, South Dakota, and Utah.

• Thirteen jurisdictions strengthened their existing felony animal cruelty laws: Connecticut*,Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island, Texas*, Vermont*.

• Seventeen jurisdictions added felonies for repeated or aggravated animal neglect: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania*, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island and Tennessee.

• Nine 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, Pennsylvania*, and Puerto Rico.  Seven jurisdictions added felonies for the sexual assault of an animal: Alaska, New Jersey, Nevada*, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, and Texas*.

• Twenty-two jurisdictions 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 require proof of a dog’s supposed dangerous propensities beyond mere breed: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware*, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.
*denotes new changes in 2017

The 2017 Rankings Report also highlights a trend in laws aiming to end the tragedy of animals dying in hot cars. Public awareness campaigns have helped improve the situation, but legislation is also a key component. This year’s Rankings Report is promising, showing more states granting civil immunity for removing animals from hot vehicles. Immunity laws ensure that people who rescue animals from vehicles in emergency situations are not then faced with lawsuits from owners. Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Oregon all enacted these “reckless endangerment” provisions this year. In all, more than 25 states now have some type of “hot cars” law on the books.

Hot Car

More than half of all states significantly improved their animal protection laws in the last five years. Improvements come in many forms including stiffer penalties for offenders, stronger standards of care for animals, animal cruelty reporting by veterinarians, mental health evaluations and counseling for offenders, banning animal ownership following cruelty convictions and including animals in domestic violence protective orders.

In order of Best to Worst, the states are ranked as follows:

1 Illinois
2 Oregon
3 California
4 Maine
5 Rhode Island
6 Michigan
7 West Virginia
8 Nevada
9 New Jersey
10 Colorado
11 Arizona
12 Washington
13 New Hampshire
14 Massachusetts
15 Delaware
16 Florida
17 Tennessee
18 Indiana
19 Kansas
20 Oklahoma
21 Louisiana
22 Minnesota
23 Virginia
24 Pennsylvania
25 Nebraska
26 Vermont
27 Ohio
28 District of Columbia
29 Texas
30 Virgin Islands
31 Wisconsin
32 Connecticut
33 Missouri
34 Georgia
35 Puerto Rico
36 North Carolina
37 Arkansas
38 Guam
39 South Carolina
40 Hawaii
41 Alabama
42 New York
43 Montana
44 Mississippi
45 South Dakota
46 Idaho
47 Maryland
48 Alaska
49 New Mexico
50 North Dakota
51 Utah
52 Wyoming
53 Iowa
54 Kentucky
55 American Samoa
56 Northern Mariana Islands

The full report, including details about each state, is available here.

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