California, Oregon lead on animal welfare policies, while Mississippi and the Dakotas have the lowest ranks
Each year, The HSUS releases its Humane State rankings based on a wide set of animal welfare policies — covering a total of 93 policy ideas, from protecting farm animals to prohibiting bear and cougar hunting to regulating puppy mills.
This year again, California occupies the top spot and handily so. It fortified its outstanding record by passing – among other bills – legislation to ban the captive breeding of orcas and a ban on the use of bullhooks on elephants. Two states that passed far-reaching and broadly supported ballot initiatives last month claimed the second and third positions; Oregon held onto the second position by passing an initiative to prohibit the trade in ivory and other parts of 12 rare species or taxa, and Massachusetts came in at third place, boosted after it enacted the nation’s most comprehensive farm animal protection measure (which phases out confinement of veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens, and restricts the sale of those products in the state no matter where they originate). Connecticut was in fourth place, and Virginia and Washington tied for fifth place.
At the other end of the spectrum are Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Idaho, which was among the worst performers last year, showed a slight improvement by enacting a law that makes animal cruelty and torture a felony. Alabama was also part of the bottom five. These states have poor anti-cruelty statutes and very few or no protections for farm animals and for dogs used for commercial breeding, or against egregious wildlife abuses.
These are dynamic lists, and states rise and fall depending on their annual performance. In addition to the Massachusetts and Oregon ballot measures, and California’s pro-orca measure, here are some of the most notable legislative achievements of the year:
- Georgia, Alaska, and Washington passed “cost of animal care” laws that require perpetrators of animal cruelty to pay for the care of the animals they hurt.
- California and Rhode Island became the first two states to prohibit the use of bullhooks on elephants.
- Arizona banned greyhound racing and Florida passed a law requiring injury reporting at race tracks.
- Idaho and Ohio made animal torture and cruelty a felony on the first offense.
- West Virginia significantly increased penalties for people attending animal fights, and Ohio strengthened its anti-cockfighting law dramatically.
- California and South Carolina banned the use of gas chambers for the euthanasia of shelter animals.
- California, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Vermont, and Virginia passed laws addressing dogs left in cars by owners on hot days.
The HSUS also helped defeat a number of bills that tried to set us back, including “right to farm” bills in Hawaii, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Oklahoma, where we defeated a ballot measure on the subject by 20 points. We blocked ag-gag measures seeking to punish whistleblowers in Arizona, Mississippi, and Tennessee. We defeated patently unconstitutional bills in Missouri and Oklahoma that sought to restrict our fundraising practices.
In New Hampshire, Iowa, and Vermont, we defeated measures to expand bobcat hunting. In Massachusetts, we defeated an attempt to create a livestock board that would restrict the enactment of animal protection measures, and in South Carolina we worked with our coalition partners to remove language from a bill that would have limited veterinary services like low cost spay and neuter. In Kansas, we helped defeat a measure to weaken the law on the possession of exotic pets.
But despite our efforts, some state lawmakers succeeded in pushing through bills that will hurt animals or the groups that advocate for them. Missouri passed a data gag bill that will restrict access to information on factory farms and puppy mills, while Arizona and Ohio passed laws preempting local ordinances that ban the sale of puppy mill dogs at pet stores. Oregon affirmed a decision by the state’s fish and wildlife agency to remove wolves from the state’s endangered species list, while Michigan authorized wolf hunting for the fourth time, after voters and the courts nullified three prior measures. South Carolina lawmakers voted to allow a coyote bounty hunt, while Indiana passed a bill to allow the disgraceful practice of canned hunts.
Altogether, The HSUS worked this year to pass 90 laws (there were also 99 local animal welfare ordinances adopted). We helped defeat 67 harmful measures, including “right to farm” and ag-gag bills. While the Ohio pet store provision was a terrible disappointment, that same bill included two pro-animal provisions, including a ban on bestiality and a dramatic strengthening of the state’s weak anti-cockfighting law.
We’re gearing up for a raft of new legislative sessions starting January, and we’ll count on you to communicate with your lawmakers and governors to lobby for the strongest possible improvements in the legal framework for animals.
For more details on how your state did in our Humane Rankings, visit our lists below:
You can also sign up for HSUS action alerts to help your state ascend in the rankings in 2017.