Last week, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released its Humane State Ranking, an annual list ranking states based on their animal protection laws, legislation and policy. HSUS looks at the existence and strength of laws in each of the following categories: animal fighting, animal cruelty, wildlife abuse, exotic pets, companion animals, animals in research, farm animals, fur and trapping, puppy mills, and equine protection. Within each category, HSUS lists a number of different laws. Each state gets credit if they have that law. States are ranked based on the percentage of animal protection laws currently on the books, legislation they've passed, and their policies regarding animals. Where does your state rank?
At the top of the list is California which earned a 74% and was recognized for passing a law banning the use of lead ammunition in hunting. This makes California the first state to ban lead ammunition, which wildlife eat after the hunt causing severe nerve damage, suffering and death. The lead can also contaminate the meat of the hunted animal. Oregon came in second with 65% and high marks for passing laws restricting the tethering of dogs. My home state, Pennsylvania, should take note, as an anti-tethering bill has been introduced but not voted on. Instead, individual municipalities have been passing their own anti-tethering laws, limiting the amount of time owners can leave their dog tied outside and instituting food and shelter requirements. Illinoiscomes in third with 64%, earning recognition for its strong animal cruelty laws and a ban on owning exotic animals as pets, among other laws protecting animals. Rounding out the top ten are Massachusetts and New York (61%), New Jersey (58%), Arizona (57%), Washington (57%), Colorado (57%), Virginia (56%), and Maine (56%).
Dishonorable mentions go out to South Dakota, coming in last place with 13%. South Dakota is the only state that doesn't have felony penalties for egregious acts of animal cruelty and instead has some of the weakest cockfighting laws in the country. Not far ahead of them is Idaho, which gained a 20% thanks to its weak laws in all areas assessed by HSUS. Its felony penalties for egregious acts of animal cruelty saved it from coming in last. Mississippi also scored a 20% because of its weak laws and lack of felony penalties for cockfighting. The bottom of the list also houses North Dakota (23%), Alabama (25%), South Carolina (25%), Kentucky (28%), Utah (28%), Wyoming(28%), and Missouri (29%).
Pennsylvania had a respectable showing, coming in 12th place with 54%. Pennsylvania has strong animal cruelty and puppy mill laws and notably passed the cost of care law. In the past, when an animal was seized during the course of an abuse or neglect investigation, the already cash-strapped animal shelter where the animal was housed was responsible for paying any medical bills along with the cost of providing ongoing care for the animal. Now, the person convicted of abusing or neglecting the animal will be required to reimburse the shelter for the cost of care. On tap for Pennsylvania in 2014 is the bill that would end barbaric live pigeon shoots. PA remains the only state in the country that allows this cruel practice and a bill banning it has been in legislative limbo for over two decades. There was some movement on the bill in 2013 and the hope is that the Senate will finally act on it this year. There is also legislation pending which would criminalize possession of animal fighting paraphernalia; give money to help investigate gambling associated with dogfighting; require pet stores to disclose information about the dogs they're selling, including breeder information; and of course, the anti-tethering bill. There are plenty of opportunities for PA to move up the list in 2014.
This is the fifth year HSUS has released its Humane State Ranking. It's a great tool for people to use to see how strong or weak their state's animal protection laws are. If your state is near the bottom, call your legislator and tell them it's time to make animal protection a priority. If your state is near the top, thank your legislators! The more active you are, the more you can help animals.