A comprehensive review of animal safety laws throughout the United States found that Kentucky has the weakest protections in the country — a dubious honor it’s held for a decade.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund released its 11th annual report on animal protection rankings on Tuesday. Illinois topped the list of best protections for the ninth consecutive year, followed by Oregon, Maine , California and Rhode Island. Kentucky came in dead last for the 10th straight year. Other states with weak animal protection laws include Iowa (49th), Wyoming (48th), Utah (47th) and North Dakota (46th).
Lora Dunn, the senior staff attorney of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Criminal Justice Program, said the organization looked at 15 distinct categories of animal protection laws in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
“We would like to see Kentucky make some very important changes to make sure that animals are protected now and in the future from known offenders,” Dunn said in an interview with Yahoo News.
According to Dunn, Kentucky falls short in terms of its felony penalties for animal cruelty: There is no consequence for neglect, sexual assault or abandonment of an animal, for instance.
“We’d really like to see the punishment fit the crime in those situations,” she told Yahoo News. “Kentucky is the only state in the country that specifically prohibits veterinarians from reporting animal cruelty. The majority of states either allow or require by law that veterinarians who suspect animal cruelty to report it to law enforcement.”
Additionally, she said, Kentucky is the only state that doesn’t require that animals be forfeited from a convicted offender’s custody after he or she has been convicted. She said statistics show that someone who has harmed animals is more likely to hurt animals again in the future and to hurt humans as well.
On the other end of the spectrum, Dunn said, Illinois remains on top because there are felony penalties covering virtually every kind of mistreatment, including abuse, neglect, fighting, sexual assault and abandonment.
Across the country, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has largely seen positive changes regarding animal safety.
Wisconsin was the most-improved state of the year, jumping 14 places in rank, from the bottom tier to number 30 overall. This was partly thanks to a new cost-of-care law.
“We’re seeing very encouraging trends regarding animal protection legislation. In particular, we’re seeing a trend regarding cost-of-care laws,” she said. These mandate that [when] care-giving agencies that come to the rescue to help animals in need — that have been seized as part of a criminal investigation — the cost and burden of caring for those animals lies with the offender.”
In other words, comprehensive cost-of-care laws place the financial responsibility of caring for an animal squarely with the person who has harmed it.
Dunn said there’s also been a promising trend regarding “dogs in hot cars laws,” which criminalize leaving an animal in a hot car and affirms the right of other people to save these animals in certain circumstances.
The rescue provisions kick in “after calling 911, after having a good faith belief that these animals are in danger and after taking other steps to notify the owner,” she said. “More than 20 states have passed laws that allow citizens to come to the rescue of these animals in really dangerous situations.”
The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s annual rankings are based on a review of each jurisdiction’s animal protection laws, which include more than 4,000 pages of statutes.
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