The Best and Worst States for Animal Safety

January 20, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

For the 11th consecutive year, Kentucky has been ranked as the state with the worst animal protection laws. Where does your state rank?

Every year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund analyzes all 50 US states and territories to determine which have the best and worst animal protection laws. For the 11th consecutive year, Kentucky remains at the bottom of the list.

The rankings are created following a comprehensive review of each jurisdiction’s animal protection laws, where points are given for 15 distinct categories of animal protection.

More than half of all US states and territories experienced a significant improvement in their animal protection laws over the past 5 years—30% of jurisdictions improved 2 to 10%, 48% of jurisdictions improved 11 to 50%, and 4% of jurisdictions improved by greater than 50%.


  • PACE Act to Strengthen Animal Fighting Prohibitions
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But some states’ animal protection laws are still stuck in the past.

Five Worst States

46. North Dakota

47. Utah

48. Wyoming

49. Iowa

50. Kentucky

According to the 2017 US Animal Protection Laws Rankings, Kentucky has remained at the bottom of the barrel over the years because of its major lack of felony penalties for animal cruelty. The state has no restrictions on future animal ownership following a cruelty conviction, no provisions on sexual assault on animals, and no statutory authority to allow protective orders to include animals.

Kentucky is also the only state that prohibits veterinarians from reporting suspected animal cruelty, abuse, or fighting.

No changes have been made to animal protection laws in Kentucky since last year’s rankings were publicized.

Five Best States

1. Illinois

2. Oregon

3. California

4. Maine

5. Rhode Island

This year, Maine and California switched positions on the list due to new California legislation that grants civil immunity for removing animals from hot vehicles.

“For many, it would be unconscionable to see an animal in distress and fail to act,” said Kathleen Wood, Animal Legal Defense Fund’s criminal justice program fellow. “Immunity laws ensure that those who rescue animals from vehicles in certain emergency situations are not bombarded with lawsuits in response to their heroic actions.”

Other states, such as Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Oregon, have also enacted similar reckless endangerment provisions this year—25 states now have some type of “hot cars” law.

Pennsylvania—the most-improved state— jumped 20 places in rank from last year’s report after passing a new felony provision for first-time offenders of aggravated assault, and adding civil immunity for veterinarians who report suspected animal abuse.

Some other improvements the Animal Legal Defense Fund has noticed over the last year include requiring mental health evaluations and counseling for offenders, including animals in domestic violence protective orders, and including animal fighting as a RICO (racketeering) offense.