Photo by flickr user Hunter-Desportes

South Carolina Ranks 48th in State Animal Protection Laws

The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization, has released its third annual “Humane State Ranking,” a comprehensive report rating all 50 states and Washington D.C. on a wide range of animal protection laws, including animal cruelty codes, equine protection standards, wildlife issues, animals in research and farm animal policy.

Earning the highest scores are California (first place), New Jersey and Oregon (tied for second place), and Illinois and Massachusetts (tied for fourth). Earning the lowest scores are South Dakota (last place), Idaho (50), North Dakota and South Carolina (tied for 48), Mississippi (47) and Alabama and Missouri (tied for 45). To see the complete 2011 Humane State Rankings, click here.

“Our Humane State Ranking provides a big-picture look at how states are faring on animal-protection policies, and how they rank in the nation,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “There are some states that are adopting innovative and strong policies to protect animals, while others are lagging badly. Animal protection is a serious matter for tens of millions of Americans, and we hope state lawmakers fulfill their moral responsibility and help us crack down on abuses.”

California tops the list for the third year in a row in the Humane State Ranking, and is in a category all by itself after lawmakers and the governor worked to enact nearly a dozen new measures. Thanks both to strong citizen support for ballot measures and robust and consistent efforts by the state legislature, California law protects pets from being sold along roadsides, antifreeze poisoning and continuous chaining; prohibits use of steel-jawed leghold traps to take wildlife; bans the shark fin trade, horse slaughter and mountain lion trophy hunting; and protects farm animals from extreme confinement and tail docking.

South Dakota ranks last with a score of eight out of 66. Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota received especially low marks in part because they are the only three states in the country with no felony penalty for egregious acts of animal cruelty. North Dakota voters also rejected a ballot measure to stop captive hunts for mammals on the November 2010 ballot, keeping the state near the bottom of the state rankings list. Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia are also the 11 states that do not have felony-level penalties for cockfighting. Mississippi did, however, enact felony penalties for certain malicious acts of cruelty.

“Other states, including our immediate neighbors, continue to pass laws that are improving animal welfare and South Carolina is languishing behind,” said Kimberly Kelly, South Carolina state director for The HSUS. “This not only perpetuates on-going animal cruelty issues in our communities, but provides a magnet for animal abusers relocating from our more progressive neighbors. It’s time South Carolina lawmakers take a hard look at on-going animal cruelty issues in our state – such as bear baiting and cockfighting – and pass laws that will protect our companion animals and wildlife from unnecessary abuse.”

Several states showed strong upward movement. Ohio moved to 36 from 45 after the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board adopted standards to phase out veal and gestation crates and tail docking of dairy cows and barred new battery-cage egg facilities and required humane euthanasia of downer cows. The state will be under close scrutiny this year as it considers vital legislation to ban the private ownership of dangerous exotics, to make cockfighting a felony, and to set up humane standards for large-scale commercial dog breeding operations―all elements of an eight-point agreement worked out between The HSUS, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural commodity groups.

Texas (tied for 25) moved up from 36 the year before, after passing legislation to upgrade its anti-cockfighting law and to pass humane breeding standards for dogs and cats. Hawaii (tied for 38) climbed from 45 because it strengthened its anti-dogfighting law, just a year after it banned the sale and possession of shark fins. Maryland (tied for 15, from 19) worked to improve the state’s puppy mill law. Oregon (tied for second place) surged from 10 a year earlier after another set of solid policy-making advances. Both California and Oregon, along with Washington state (tied for sixth place), enacted legislation to prohibit the sale and possession of shark fins.

In 2011, The HSUS helped pass 90 new laws and regulations to protect animals and helped to defeat more than a hundred harmful measures.

The ranking was based on 66 different animal protection issues in 10 major animal protection categories including: animal fighting; animal cruelty; puppy mills; use of animals in research; equine protection; wildlife abuse; factory farming; fur and trapping; exotic animals; and companion animal laws. The HSUS ranking provides a different frame of reference than the recent report published by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which are focused on the broad range of provisions that are included in state and territorial anti-cruelty statutes. Together, both the HSUS and ALDF ratings provide important yet distinct measures of how states are dealing with a broad range of animal welfare problems in society.

“There are some states that are adopting innovative and strong policies to protect animals, while others are lagging badly. Animal protection is a serious matter for tens of millions of Americans, and we hope state lawmakers fulfill their moral responsibility and help us crack down on abuses.”

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