Pet Connection

Animal Law

April is Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month; which states fall short in their protections?

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Where does your state rank in terms of legal protections for animals? If you live in Iowa, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota or Kentucky, you might be dismayed to learn that those states have the weakest protections for animal welfare, with Kentucky in last place for the 11th consecutive year. That’s based on annual review of state laws by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which recently published its 12th annual rankings report.

States with low rankings may have passive flaws, such as outdated language or not keeping up with changing attitudes toward companion animals, livestock and wildlife, but others prohibit actions that could help animals. In Kentucky, for instance, it’s illegal for veterinarians to report abuse and neglect without a court order, subpoena or client waiver. Utah, Wyoming and Iowa don’t prohibit veterinary reporting of cruelty, but they also don’t mandate it.

“Veterinary reporting is a really important part of any animal cruelty investigation,” says Lora Dunn, director of ALDF’s criminal justice program. “Veterinarians are sometimes the only humans besides the perpetrator who actually witness the abuse or neglect.”

Poor definitions of care, weak or nonexistent penalties, and limited or no restrictions on ownership for people convicted of cruelty can also put states at the bottom of the pack.

Defining standards of care, such as the terms “adequate food,” “potable water” and “living space,” helps law enforcement officials determine whether a crime has been committed. When those criteria are not spelled out, neglect and cruelty become a matter of opinion.

States with low rankings often label cruelty, neglect and abandonment as misdemeanors, not felonies. In the bottom five states, humane officers lack broad law enforcement authority.

To determine its rankings, the organization looks at 15 categories of animal protection: general prohibitions; penalties; exemptions; mental health evaluations and counseling; protective orders; cost mitigation and recovery; seizure/impound; forfeiture and post-conviction possession; non-animal agency reporting of suspected animal cruelty; veterinarian reporting of suspected animal cruelty; law enforcement policies; sexual assault; fighting; offender registration; and “ag-gag” legislation, which are laws that punish whistleblowers revealing abuse on factory farms.

Top dogs in animal protection laws are Illinois, which has held first place for the past 10 years, plus Oregon, California, Maine and Rhode Island. Illinois ranks highest for such provisions as felony penalties for cruelty, neglect, fighting, abandonment and sexual assault. The top five states have a full range of statutory protections, require mental health evaluations or counseling for offenders, and restrict ownership of animals after a conviction. With the exception of Rhode Island, those states permit animals to be included in domestic violence protective orders.

In the past five years, more than half of all states have made improvements in their laws, Dunn says. Last year, Pennsylvania made the biggest leap, from 44th to 24th place. Improvements there included a new felony provision for first-time offenders of aggravated animal cruelty, including torture, and granting civil immunity to veterinarians who report suspected animal abuse.

One nationwide trend is “hot cars” laws addressing “reckless endangerment” of pets. In more than 25 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon, it’s now illegal to leave an animal in a vehicle in certain conditions and temperatures. The laws may also offer civil or criminal immunity to people who remove animals from vehicles, if they meet criteria such as seeking the owner or calling law enforcement before doing so.

“The majority of states have updated and improved their animal protection laws over the past 12 years, and that is a direct reflection of the public's demand for change and for better protection of animals and animal victims,” Dunn says.


How to help

shelter cats shine

Q: I work in a shelter, and we want to help the cats in our care feel more comfortable and safe so they’ll be more adoptable. Do you have any handling tips?

A: In a shelter environment, normally friendly cats are often afraid, so much so that they may appear to be unsocialized or even feral. Hiding and hissing isn’t going to help them find a great home, so it’s important to support them so they can step up and show their true personality. You are so right that one way to do that is through expert handling.

We talked to cat expert Joan Miller, who says that cats never like anything new at first, but a little bit of nonthreatening adversity each day helps them build confidence quickly. They need to have gradual exposure to anything they’re not too sure about, especially if it involves handling by strangers, whether they are shelter employees or potential adopters.

Handling cats correctly from the beginning is one way to bring out positive behavior from them. Whenever possible, transport them in top-loading carriers so they can be lifted out. Never try to pull a cat out of a carrier or hiding space head first or by the front feet. Instead, support them with two hands beneath their front and rear legs, bringing them out hind end first. Then place them immediately on a table or other solid surface with some height. Simply being lifted in a comfortable manner and set down immediately gives them a feeling of control. And don’t clutch cats tightly. They hate feeling restrained.

Finally, good grooming is essential for cats to look and feel their best and to attract people to them. Once they become accustomed to handling, cats take to the attention like a socialite to spa treatments. -- Mikkel Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

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Labs top pop

charts -- again!

-- The Labrador retriever maintains his top-dog status as the most popular breed registered by the American Kennel Club -- for 27 years in a row. It’s no surprise: Labs are smart, athletic and versatile, excelling at just about any dog sport, therapy visits, tirelessly playing with the kids, and just hanging out on the sofa with you when his busy day is done. Other breeds that make up the Top 10 are the German shepherd, golden retriever, French bulldog, bulldog, beagle, poodle (all three varieties), Rottweiler, Yorkshire terrier and German shorthaired pointer.

-- Even if your cat isn’t a teenager, she can still get acne: little blackheads or pimples that usually appear on the chin. You may notice it more readily if your cat has a white or light-colored coat. Causes include allergies, stress and food bowls that aren’t cleaned daily. Some cats react to plastic food bowls. Before you run out for a tube of Clearasil, take your cat to the veterinarian to determine the type and cause of acne and get a prescription for medication or advice on clearing it up, such as switching to stainless steel or ceramic food and water bowls.

-- Dogs help to detect plant pests, and can learn to sniff out disease or health conditions such as low blood sugar. Now they are being trained to shut down sources of funds for terrorists -- not at the bank, but by identifying the smell of smuggled artifacts, antiquities looted from archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq to be sold on the black market by terrorist organizations. Four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd are in training to recognize recently excavated pottery artifacts at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Vet Working Dog Center. The canine cultural crime fighters may one day work at airports, seaports and cargo facilities. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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