Each of us has an obligation to report suspected animal abuse and neglect to the proper authorities. It might not be a legal obligation, but it certainly is a moral one. Self-help is not an option, no matter how well-intentioned, and may result in civil or criminal action against you. But who are the "proper" authorities? They are animal control officers, law enforcement officers, humane society workers.

I had an opportunity to speak to a group of animal control officers and humane society workers a couple of weeks ago about Constitutional Law. That might sound like an odd topic considering the audience, but the United States Constitution—specifically the Bill of Rights—defines the limits of state action and imposes restrictions on what animal control officers legally can do. The requirement for a warrant prior to the search of an individual’s property and seizure of abused or neglected animals comes from the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, for example; the guarantee of due process of law prior to forfeiture of a person’s animals is a requirement of the Fifth Amendment.

My presentation was a small part of a relatively new three-day training program offered to state animal control officers by the Kentucky Horse Council. The program offers continuing education on a variety of topics, from recognizing abuse and neglect in different species to legal options to preparation of a solid court case. Participants who successfully complete the program (which includes a test) come away with a certificate; I came away impressed with the participants’ dedication to their jobs and to the animals they help.

Even the most dedicated and conscientious animal control officer is bound by the laws of his or her state, however. Some states have strong animal protection laws, but many do not, and animal control officers must work within the legal framework provided by their legislatures.

Do you wonder where your state fits into the animal protection hierarchy? Is your state doing all it can to protect animals? The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national advocacy group composed of attorneys and lay people, ranks the states based on their animal protection laws. The five states with the strongest laws, according to the ALDF, are: California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, and Oregon. The five worst states: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Dakota. Take a look at ALDF for more information about the rankings.