by Marsha Rakestraw

We have a long way to go when it comes to universal compassionate and just treatment for nonhuman animals, but as several stories this year have shown, we’re making some positive progress.

Last month the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) released their 2015 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings, which analyzes the animal protection laws of each state across 15 broad categories and ranks each state according to its score. According to ALDF, over the past five years of their reports, “more than three quarters of all states and territories have significantly improved their animal protection laws.”

The report also highlights the “best” and “worst” five states. Here are this year’s:

Best 5:

1. Illinois
2. Oregon
3. Maine
4. California
5. Michigan


Worst 5:

46. North Dakota
47. Utah
48. Wyoming
49. Iowa
50. Kentucky

New Jersey was the state that improved the most, “jumping twenty-eight places in rank, in part, by passing a comprehensive dogfighting law that increased penalties and made dogfighting a RICO (racketeering) offense.”

Other changes ALDF noted included:

  • Oklahoma’s (17) and Pennsylvania’s (42) increased penalties for harming a police animal;
  • Colorado’s (8) increased animal fighting penalties
  • Delaware’s (12) new prohibition on leaving an animal unattended in a motor vehicle
  • Tennessee’s (22) new law providing civil immunity for forcibly removing an animal from a hot car.

There were also increases in the number of states making dogfighting a RICO (racketeering) offense, and in legislation allowing animals to be included in protective orders.

Read the complete report.

While it’s great news for the best five states, sadly, those same five states have been in the top five for the last eight years. And Kentucky has been at the bottom for the past nine years.

And while it’s wonderful that so much progress has been made, it’s important to remember that most of these laws protect only companion animals and are limited in their scope. Just two examples from New Jersey, the “most improved” state: This year Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have phased out pig gestation crates; and New Jersey also maintains an annual bear hunt (510 were killed this year in just nine days).

Additionally, in a society that condones and supports institutionalized animal exploitation and cruelty, proving, or even defining “abuse,” “neglect,” or “cruelty” can be extremely challenging.

Citizens who want more and stronger animal protection laws can make a positive difference by contacting their elected officials, writing to other decision makers, learning more about animal protection issues and how to lobby for legislation, or educating others about what each of us can do to extend our circle of compassion to nonhuman beings.