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The Most Pet-Friendly States

Animal rights advocate Katie Cleary and our research team reviewed the laws protecting animals in every state to determine which state was the best for pets. Our top three states for 2016 are Illinois, California, and Massachusetts.

 

Overview of Research

Our team, lead by Katie Cleary, conducted extensive, state-specific legal research to rank every state. We first referenced two major publications that perform annual assessments of animal rights in each state: The Humane Society of the United States’ Humane Rankings and the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF) U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings.

katie_cleary
Katie Cleary

Animal Rights Activist

Katie Cleary is a leader in the animal welfare community in Los Angeles, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars in support of crucial animal issues. She is the founder of Peace4Animals, World Animal News (WAN) and the documentary Give Me Shelter.

With guidance from these publications and expert, we identified 43 current animal rights laws protecting pets in various states, divided across six legal categories: Animal Cruelty, Animal Fighting, Animals in Research, Companion Animals, Exotic Pets and Puppy Mills. We looked at when laws were instated, how they were enforced and how they compared to similar laws in other states. Then we assessed each state on how well they ranked on those two previously mentioned rankings. Each state was graded on the six legal categories and the two rankings to calculate their overall score.

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The Most Pet-Friendly States

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Core Metrics
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Animal Cruelty Prevention
Animal Cruelty Prevention
Felony penalty for egregious acts of cruelty
Felony penalty for egregious acts of cruelty
Felony penalty for a first offense of egregious cruelty
Felony penalty for a first offense of egregious cruelty
Counseling required for animal cruelty offenders
Counseling required for animal cruelty offenders
Allows courts to include protections for pets in domestic violence orders
Allows courts to include protections for pets in domestic violence orders
Requires person charged with animal cruelty to post a bond to cover the costs of caring for the animals
Requires person charged with animal cruelty to post a bond to cover the costs of caring for the animals
Requires cross-reporting of animal cruelty
Requires cross-reporting of animal cruelty
Makes sexual abuse of animals a crime
Makes sexual abuse of animals a crime
Animal Fighting Prevention
Animal Fighting Prevention
Felony penalties for dogfighting
Felony penalties for dogfighting
Felony penalties for possessing dogs for fighting
Felony penalties for possessing dogs for fighting
Prohibits attending dogfights
Prohibits attending dogfights
Prohibits hot dog fighting
Prohibits hot dog fighting
Felony penalties for attending dogfights
Felony penalties for attending dogfights
Requires person charged with animal fighting to post a bond to cover the costs of caring for the animals
Requires person charged with animal fighting to post a bond to cover the costs of caring for the animals
Animal Research Abuse Prevention
Animal Research Abuse Prevention
Prohibits research facilities from obtaining pets from animal shelters
Prohibits research facilities from obtaining pets from animal shelters
Requires research facilities to offer dogs and cats for adoption prior to euthanasia
Requires research facilities to offer dogs and cats for adoption prior to euthanasia
Companion Animal Treatment
Companion Animal Treatment
Requires animals to be spayed or neutered before being adopted from shelters
Requires animals to be spayed or neutered before being adopted from shelters
Grants shelters direct access to drugs needed for humane euthanasia
Grants shelters direct access to drugs needed for humane euthanasia
Prohibits the use of gas chambers for euthanasia
Prohibits the use of gas chambers for euthanasia
Requires state emergency response plans to include pets
Requires state emergency response plans to include pets
Allows the creation of pet trusts
Allows the creation of pet trusts
Requires the addition of a bittering agent to antifreeze
Requires the addition of a bittering agent to antifreeze
Prohibits greyhound racing
Prohibits greyhound racing
Places limits on the inhumane chaining of dogs
Places limits on the inhumane chaining of dogs
Restricts the consumption of dog and cat meat
Restricts the consumption of dog and cat meat
Provides incentives or funding for low cost spay neuter programs
Provides incentives or funding for low cost spay neuter programs
Prohibits restrictions on dog ownership based on breed
Prohibits restrictions on dog ownership based on breed
Prohibits the sale of dog and cat fur
Prohibits the sale of dog and cat fur
Exotic Pet Restriction
Exotic Pet Restriction
Prohibits the private possession of primates as pets
Prohibits the private possession of primates as pets
Prohibits the private possession of most dangerous reptiles as pets
Prohibits the private possession of most dangerous reptiles as pets
Prohibits the private possession of bears as pets
Prohibits the private possession of bears as pets
Prohibits the private possession of wolves as pets
Prohibits the private possession of wolves as pets
Prohibits the private possession of big cats as pets
Prohibits the private possession of big cats as pets
Prohibits the private possession of crocodelia family
Prohibits the private possession of crocodelia family
Puppy Mill Restriction
Puppy Mill Restriction
Prohibits wire flooring at puppy mills
Prohibits wire flooring at puppy mills
Includes a puppy lemon law
Includes a puppy lemon law
Limits the number of breeding dogs confined at large-scale puppy mills
Limits the number of breeding dogs confined at large-scale puppy mills
Restricts the sale of animals at outdoor sales and/or flea markets
Restricts the sale of animals at outdoor sales and/or flea markets
Requires licensing of puppy mills
Requires licensing of puppy mills
Includes a pet store disclosure requirement on the source of animals
Includes a pet store disclosure requirement on the source of animals
Requires inspections of puppy mills
Requires inspections of puppy mills
Includes basic humane standards for dogs at puppy mills
Includes basic humane standards for dogs at puppy mills
Prohibits the stacking of cages at puppy mills
Prohibits the stacking of cages at puppy mills
Requires pet stores to source animals from breeders without recent Animal Welfare Act violations
Requires pet stores to source animals from breeders without recent Animal Welfare Act violations
US Animal Law Protection
US Animal Law Protection
US Animal Law Protection Ranking
US Animal Law Protection Ranking
2015 Humane Society
2015 Humane Society
Humane Society Ranking
Humane Society Ranking
Commentary
Editor's Award
Editor's Award
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Methodology

Our expert

Katie Cleary is a leader in the animal welfare community in Los Angeles, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars in support of crucial animal issues. She is the founder of Peace4Animals, World Animal News (WAN) and the documentary Give Me Shelter, which Ms. Cleary created and executive produced (available on Netflix).

Katie also produced the “Diamonds Not Fur” Humanitarian Awards. The Gala raised funds in support of the West Hollywood “Fur Free” bill, which was then passed in Nov. 2011 and put into effect at the start of 2012.

How we selected the laws for our methodology

As we mentioned above, our team settled on 43 laws geared toward protecting pets on a state level. These laws were sourced from the Humane Society’s 2015 Humane State Rankings. While the Humane Society looks at every law protecting animals, including livestock and wildlife, our team, under the supervision of Katie Clary, narrowed the list down to the 43 laws specifically intended to protect pets. These laws, in essence, prohibit the abuse of pets and promote more humane treatment, whether that be from pet owners, shelters, researchers or businesses.

We discuss all 43 laws in the section Understanding Our Data.

How we scored our methodology

First, we broke all 43 laws into six legal categories: animal cruelty, animal fighting, animals in research, companion animals, exotic pets, and puppy mills. These six legal categories would be six of our eight core metrics.

To score each legal category, we looked at how many of the laws existed in each state. Every state received a score out of 10 for that category. For example, a state with all of the animal cruelty laws enacted would receive a 10/10 for that category.

We then looked at how each state performed in the 2015 rankings published by the Humane Society and the ALDF. Each state received a score out of 10 for how well they placed on each ranking. These two rankings would be the final two core metrics.

The six legal category scores were weighted as a total of 60% of the overall score, and each of the two rankings were 20%.

  1. Animal Cruelty Prevention (10%)
  2. Animal Fighting Prevention (10%)
  3. Animal Research Abuse Prevention (10%)
  4. Companion Animal Treatment (10%)
  5. Exotic Pet Restriction (10%)
  6. Puppy Mill Restriction (10%)
  7. US Animal Law Protection Ranking (20%)
  8. 2015 Humane Society Ranking (20%)

For example, our top state, Illinois, finished with these core metric scores:

  1. Animal Cruelty – 10/10
  2. Animal Fighting – 10/10
  3. Animals in Research – 8.5/10
  4. Companion Animals – 9.4/10
  5. Exotic Pets – 5.5/10
  6. Puppy Mills – 8.9/10
  7. ALDF’s Rankings – 10/10
  8. Humane Society Rankings – 8.6/10

After applying the weights, Illinois’ final score was 9.00; the highest score amongst all states, making it our #1.

In the event of ties, we looked at each state’s total number of laws protecting animals as well as the rate and number of laws the state had passed over the last five years, indicating a legislature actively invested in furthering animal rights.

Drawbacks of our methodology

The major drawback of our approach is that it is strictly focused on the legal protection of pets. Our attempts to cover subjects like pets access to state and local parks, state and city walking scores or state-specific veterinarian expenses came up short. What little data is available tends to be underreported and highly subjective.

Favoring states for great dog parks or high walkability scores skews our rankings toward dog owners; ranking quality of life for pets in urban, suburban or more rural states ignores the preferences of diverse pet owners ― we could go on and on. Instead, we focused on what we felt represented the shared values of great pet owners: laws protecting the safety and wellbeing of pets.

Understanding Our Data

Learn about our legal research

1. Animal Cruelty Prevention back to metric

Important

10.00% of our methodology score

Animal cruelty is of course illegal, but where states differ is the extent to which a state punishes the crime. For our purposes, we favored states that treated “egregious acts of cruelty” as felonies. We also rewarded states that required convicted animal abusers to attend counseling and that required those charged with animal cruelty to post a bond that, in part, covered the veterinarian expenses of the abused animal or animals. Finally, we gave higher marks to states that made sexual abuse of animals a crime, something that remains unenforced nationwide.

Highest Scoring States in Animal Cruelty Prevention
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2. Animal Fighting Prevention back to metric

Important

10.00% of our methodology score

Animal fighting most often refers to dogfighting and cockfighting, both of which are widely condemned. Dogfighting in particular has received no shortage of notoriety, which is reflected in just how comprehensive most states’ dogfighting laws are. The set of laws we examined do not just prohibit dogfighting, but also attending fights. We also looked at how severe penalties were for running or attending dogfights, favoring states that treated these crimes as felonies.

Highest Scoring States in Animal Fighting Prevention
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3. Animal Research Abuse Prevention back to metric

Important

10.00% of our methodology score

This avenue of law works to prevent animal abuse in the name of research and experimentation. While there are few laws in common state to state, we were still able to assess states in terms of their prohibitions on where research facilities acquire animals, favoring states that prevented them from sourcing animals from shelters. We were also able to award the few states that require researchers to offer up cats and dogs for adoption before considering euthanasia.

Highest Scoring States in Animal Research Abuse Prevention
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4. Companion Animal Treatment back to metric

Important

10.00% of our methodology score

Companion animals refers to the various laws and prohibitions protecting common pets, namely cats and dogs. A major area of law for companion animals deals with the operation of shelters, including spaying/neutering regulations and the forms of euthanasia permitted. Other laws we looked at deal with the inhumane chaining of dogs and other forms of owner-related neglect or mistreatment, as well as those prohibiting greyhound racing and the consumption of dog and cat meat.

Highest Scoring States in Companion Animal Treatment
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5. Exotic Pet Restriction back to metric

Important

10.00% of our methodology score

Exotics pets are a somewhat contested area of animal rights. While some pet owners feel it is within their right to keep exotic animals as pets (tropical birds for instance), the majority of animal rights activists argue that most if not all exotic creatures are essentially wild and should only belong in their natural habitat or at a progressive zoo. Taking our cue from the Humane Society, we favored states that prohibited bears, big cats, primates, wolves and dangerous reptiles and crocodiles as pets.

Highest Scoring States in Exotic Pet Restriction
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6. Puppy Mill Restriction back to metric

Important

10.00% of our methodology score

Puppy mills are essentially large scale, for-profit dog breeding operations, many of which keep the animals in deplorable conditions. There are hundreds if not thousands of puppy mills in business in the U.S. today ― a stark reminder to future pet owners to understand where their animals are coming from. While dog breeding will remain a legitimate venture, state laws ultimately dictate the conditions of their operations. We favored states that heavily restrict puppy mills by way of better licensing and routine inspections. We also awarded states that restricted the stacking of cages, wire flooring and other inhumane conditions.

Highest Scoring States in Puppy Mill Restriction
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Editor's Awards

With the most laws in place against animal cruelty and harsh penalties for offenders, Illinois is our consensus pet friendliest state.

Illinois is rightfully thought as one of the nation’s most progressive states for animal rights, notably taking the top spot on the ALDF rankings for eight years running. Illinois is best known for pursuing animal abusers to the full extent of its state laws, which means a felony-level sentence for crimes like neglect, cruelty and animal fighting, amongst others. In addition, most sentences call for offenders to pay for damages done to an animal as well as mandatory counseling.

Drawbacks:

  • Greyhound racing remains legal in Illinois.
  • Currently no registry of known animals abusers, nor formal laws preventing former animal abusers from future ownership.

Ranking Results:

  • Animal Cruelty – 10/10
  • Animal Fighting – 10/10
  • Animals in Research – 8.5/10
  • Companion Animals – 9.4/10
  • Exotic Pets – 5.5/10
  • Puppy Mills – 8.9/10
  • ALDF’s Rankings – 10/10
  • Humane Society Rankings – 8.6/10



On top of finishing 7th overall, Virginia has the most laws in place protecting companion animals.

In our assessment, Virginia stood out for having laws in all but one of our companion animal categories, meaning the state has incredibly stringent measures in place to support its shelters and the euthanasia of shelter animals. Virginia also has a tough suite of animal fighting and exotic pet laws. In 2015, the Humane Society praised Virginia for its efforts to prevent in-state pet stores from sourcing puppies from “some of the worst puppy mills in the United States.”

Drawbacks:

  • Virginia does not require convicted animal abusers to receive counseling.
  • The consumption of dog and cat meat in Virginia is not restricted.

Ranking Results:

  • Animal Cruelty – 7.4/10
  • Animal Fighting – 7.0/10
  • Animals in Research – 5.8/10
  • Companion Animals – 10/10
  • Exotic Pets – 4.6/10
  • Puppy Mills – 9.2/10
  • ALDF’s Rankings – 6.4/10
  • Humane Society Rankings – 9.3/10



Nevada leads the way in restricting and penalizing puppy mills.

While Nevada is noticeably lacking in some areas of the law, particularly in addressing animal cruelty and prohibiting exotic pets, the state’s puppy mill laws are some of the toughest in the nation. The state has established routine inspections of mills and has banned the inhumane environments that are all too common elsewhere; these efforts include prohibiting the stacking of cages and wire floors. Nevada also ratified at least 24 laws over the last five years, indicating the state is steadily becoming more and more progressive.

Drawbacks:

  • Nevada has noticeably low enforcement for exotic pets and animal cruelty.
  • No explicit prohibitions on the ownership of bears, big cats, primates or wolves.

Ranking Results:

  • Animal Cruelty – 5.4/10
  • Animal Fighting – 6.6/10
  • Animals in Research – 8.4/10
  • Companion Animals – 8.6/10
  • Exotic Pets – 0.6/10
  • Puppy Mills – 10/10
  • ALDF’s Rankings – 5.6/10
  • Humane Society Rankings – 6.6/10



West Virginia

West Virginia has passed 26 animal protection laws over the past five years, proving the state has a newfound commitment to animal rights.

West Virginia is a prime example of how a state can transform thanks to a committed legislature. In 2011, the Humane Society noted that West Virginia had only 20 laws in place to protect animal rights; today, there are at least 46 in effect, many of which serve as sweeping prohibitions on animal cruelty, exotic pets and puppy mills. While the state still has a ways to go, particularly in regards to far too lax dogfighting laws, passing an average of 6.5 new, vital animal rights laws a year suggests West Virginia could soon become a leader in animal rights.

Drawbacks:

  • Enforcement of dogfighting remains a major problem in West Virginia, with one of the lowest levels of legal enforcement in the nation.
  • Greyhound racing remains legal in the state.

Ranking Results:

  • Animal Cruelty – 8.8/10
  • Animal Fighting – 1.4/10
  • Animals in Research – 5.3/10
  • Companion Animals – 7.0/10
  • Exotic Pets – 8.9/10
  • Puppy Mills – 8.1/10
  • ALDF’s Rankings – 9/10
  • Humane Society Rankings – 6.2/10

Last Updated on April 2, 2016

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