It’s that festive time of year again—trees and lights and presents and carols and turkey . . . and the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s annual ranking of state animal protection laws. Things were unchanged at both the top and bottom of the list. The news was an early Christmas present for Illinois (ranked as the state with the best and most comprehensive animal protection laws for four consecutive years) and another embarrassing stocking crammed with coal for Kentucky (the self-proclaimed "Horse Capital of the World" finished dead last for the fifth straight year).

The ALDF staff worked through more than 4,000 pages of state statutes and then assigned a numerical ranking to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and a few other outlying jurisdictions. The rankings are based on 14 different categories, including general prohibitions, penalties and exemptions, requirements (or lack thereof) for mental health evaluations and counseling, cost recovery, forfeiture of seized animals, veterinarian reporting of suspected abuse, law enforcement policies, animal fighting, and registration for convicted offenders.

The top five states in the 2011 ranking are:

1. Illinois

2. Maine

3. Michigan

4. Oregon

5. California

The worst five states are:

46. South Dakota

47. Iowa

48. Idaho

49. North Dakota

50. Kentucky

(To be fair, and to give Kentucky its due, the Bluegrass State did manage to edge out the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa in the ALDF rankings.)

The best states have animal protection statutes with much in common:

● A wide range of felony penalties

● Adequate standards for basic care

● Escalating penalties for repeat offenders

● Protection for most species

● Required or optional court-ordered counseling

● Mandatory reporting of suspected abuse by veterinarians

● Recovery of costs by animal welfare organizations

● Inclusion of animals in domestic protection orders

No state’s laws are perfect, but the standards set by the top five are a good roadmap for state legislators.

The worst states, not surprisingly, fall short in nearly all of these categories. Felony penalty options are limited, standards of care may be lacking, court-ordered counseling for offenders seldom is an option, recovery of costs by animal welfare organizations is limited, restrictions on post-conviction ownership are difficult, and veterinarian reporting of suspected abuse is not mandatory. Kentucky law, amazingly, is the only state that actually prohibits veterinarian reporting of suspected abuse without written consent by the animal owner or a court order.

There is a roadmap here, too, but not a good one. Instead, these states show the paths to avoid for state legislators interested in animal welfare.

Download the full ALDF report ( and see where your state ranks—top tier, middle tier, or bottom tier.

Are you satisfied with your state’s laws?