The HSUS works on so many stages, saving animals in crisis, but also working to prevent cruelty―whether that’s changing corporate behavior, educating the public, or improving the legal framework for animals. In order to make progress, we’ve got to take stock of where we are, and that’s why we released earlier this week the third annual “Humane State Ranking,” evaluating all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their performance on 66 different animal welfare policies. You can see where your state rated on our interactive map of our 2011 Humane State Ranking.
California built on its prior first-place finish by enacting nearly a dozen new laws in 2011, including a vital measure to ban the sale and possession of shark fins. Several other major reforms enacted within the last two decades in California came through the ballot initiative process, and our consistent success in taking measures to the people has demonstrated to elected officials that there is an overwhelming majority in the Golden State committed to improving the lives of animals. In short, our direct democracy work through the initiative process has given lift to our efforts in the state legislature.
New Jersey and Oregon tied for second place in the national rankings, while Illinois and Massachusetts tied for fourth. Earning the lowest scores were South Dakota (last place), Idaho (50th), North Dakota and South Carolina (tied for 48th), and Mississippi (47th place).
Idaho, North Dakota, and South Dakota are the only three states in the nation with no felony penalty for egregious acts of animal cruelty. We intend to press for reform in each one of these states, even if we must conduct ballot measures in order to establish a basic legal framework for the proper level of protection for animals.
Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia are the only 11 states without felony-level penalties for cockfighting, and we’ll be pursuing reforms with energy on that front, too.
Several states showed strong upward movement in the last year. Ohio moved up to 36th from 45th place after the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board adopted standards to phase out veal and gestation crates and tail docking of dairy cows, bar new battery-cage egg facilities, and require humane euthanasia of downer cows.
Ohio will be under close scrutiny this year as it considers vital legislation on private ownership of dangerous exotics, cockfighting, and large-scale commercial dog breeding―all elements of an agreement between The HSUS and agricultural groups. There are six other states that have no restrictions on keeping dangerous wild animals as pets, and we’ll be focused on that reform, too.
Texas tied for 25th place, up from 36th the year before, after upgrading its anti-cockfighting law and enacting humane standards for breeding dogs and cats. Maryland (tied for 15th) also worked to strengthen its puppy mill law.
As you’ll see if you drill down and look at the numbers, no state is yet close to having a perfect score―even the top states have big gaps in their laws and sometimes regress. For example, California's governor has just proposed repealing significant laws that have improved outcomes for homeless pets in shelters for more than a decade. We have a lot of work to do to improve animal welfare policies in the states. We’ve seen remarkable progress across the country in recent years, but a number of states are badly lagging, especially in the Plains states, the Northern Rockies, and the Deep South. That lack of progress is due, in many cases, to obstructionist efforts by the agribusiness and trophy hunting lobbies, which sometimes stand in the way of even the most modest reforms, such as felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to companion animals. Overall, however, we’re gaining ground, and winning the support of the public and elected officials for humane laws and regulations.
If you’d like to make a difference in your state to support animal-friendly policies, please join us for Humane Lobby Day in your capital.