Kentucky: Ranked Worst State for Animal Safety

January 13, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

Kentucky lacks felony provisions for animal cruelty, including neglect, sexual assault, and abandonment of an animal.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund released its 11th annual report on animal protection rankings Tuesday, and the news is still bad for Kentucky. The state has ranked last on the list for the 10th year in a row.

The organization looks at 15 distinct categories of animal protection laws within all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories to create the rankings.

One of the major reasons why Kentucky has been at the bottom of the list for so long is the lack of its felony penalties for animal cruelty. There are no felony provisions for neglect, sexual assault, or abandonment of an animal.

The other states that fall short when it comes to animal safety are Iowa, Wyoming, Utah, and North Dakota.

Kentucky is also the only state that prohibits veterinarians from reporting suspected animal cruelty, abuse, or fighting. Most states allow this or even require veterinarians to report cruelty to law enforcement or they will also receive punishment.

Another reason for Kentucky’s low ranking is its lack of court-ordered forfeiture provisions. The state doesn’t require that an animal be removed from a convicted offender’s custody. Statistically, someone who has harmed animals in the past is more likely to harm them in the future, which makes these provisions extremely important.

Animal fighting provisions are also lacking in the state. While there are some felony provisions available for fighting, these provisions are against only select animals.

Here’s a list of what the Animal Legal Defense Fund says are major areas needing improvement in Kentucky:

  • Felony provisions available only for cruelty and fighting, both against only select animals
  • No felony provisions for neglect or abandonment
  • Inadequate definitions/standards of basic care
  • No increased penalties when abuse is committed in the presence of a minor or involves multiple animals
  • No mental health evaluations or counseling for offenders
  • No statutory authority to allow protective orders to include animals
  • No cost mitigation or recovery provisions for impounded animals
  • No court-ordered forfeiture provisions
  • No restrictions on future ownership or possession of animals following a conviction
  • No provisions for select non—animal-related agencies/professionals to report suspected animal abuse
  • Veterinarians prohibited from reporting suspected cruelty or fighting
  • Humane officers lack broad law enforcement authority
  • No provisions for sexual assault
  • Inadequate animal fighting provisions

On the other side of the spectrum, Illinois has been classified as the state with the best protections for the ninth consecutive year. The state has felony penalties covering all types of animal mistreatment, including neglect, abuse, fighting, sexual assault, and abandonment. These protections apply to most animals, keeping the state at the top of the list.

Following Illinois as the best states for animal safety are Oregon, Maine, California, and Rhode Island.

Even with states like Kentucky and Iowa staying in last place for so long, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is optimistic. Since last year’s report, Wisconsin jumped up 14 places in rank after being in the bottom tier. This was the most-improved state because of the implementation of a new cost-of-care law. These laws mandate that when animals are rescued as part of a criminal investigation, the cost of caring for those animals lies with the offender rather than the care-giving agency. More and more states are implementing these types of laws.

Another trend that’s picking up speed are “dogs in hot cars” laws. More than 20 states now have legislation that criminalizes leaving an animal in a hot car and allows other people to save these animals in certain situations.

With more and more states passing provisions and legislation to better protect their animals, the situation looks promising for states like Kentucky.