Animal welfare policies are ever-changing throughout the U.S. While these policies are created and implemented at every government level, some states stand out for their strict rules and regulations, while others miss the mark.
Northeastern states are among the best when it comes to protecting animals from neglect and abuse. In fact, one New England state is celebrated as being the #1 state in the country for its progressive and effective animal welfare policy.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has compiled all of the necessary information to rank each and every U.S. state from best to worst regarding animal protection laws. As New Englanders, we’re proud that three of our states rate among the top 10 in the country, and all of our states are considered top and middle tier. No New England states are included in the bottom tier, meaning our legislation is doing a great job overall.
From Best to Worst: How New England Animal Welfare Policies Rank:
Below, we’ll cover all six New England states’ policies, including what’s currently working—and what improvements need to be made. We’ll also share tips and tricks to help improve animal welfare in your state at the individual and community levels.
Maine (#1 in the nation)
The Pine Tree State leads the nation with its clearly-defined laws regarding animal protection.
What Maine Is Doing Right:
Maine’s animal welfare rights are described at length in a 182-page law book. The state’s regulations are stricter than most, with lawmakers enforcing both pre and post-conviction bans for certain crimes related to animal cruelty. Investigations include the severity of the neglect or abuse, along with the number of animals involved and previous offenses.
In addition to criminal action, the state has initiated a courtroom animal advocate program in which supervised students and volunteer lawyers advocate for mistreated animals.
How Maine Can Improve Its Policy:
While Maine is highly ranked for its strict and well-written animal welfare policy, there’s certainly room for improvement. To date, sexual assault involving animals may only be a misdemeanor depending on the severity of the crime. Felony charges only occur if a minor is coerced into sexual activity with an animal, or if the violator has been previously charged with sexual abuse to an animal. In spite of the egregiousness of this offence, this is an extremely rare occurrence.
Rhode Island (#5 in the nation)
Ranked fifth in the U.S., The Ocean State lists its regulations regarding animal welfare among its general laws.
What Rhode Island Is Doing Right:
Although sifting through the 26 chapters of Rhode Island’s animal rights laws is not an easy task, the state takes animal cruelty seriously. In fact, there’s a mandatory post-conviction possession ban for violators.
Additionally, Rhode Island requires veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse or neglect. These professionals are granted immunity once they’ve reported the suspected crime.
Rhode Island also ranks highly due to its felony provisions for animal neglect, cruelty, and sexual assault.
How Rhode Island Can Improve Its Policy:
Rhode Island is ranked #5 for good reason; however, the state could improve its policy by implementing stricter reporting policies. Currently, organizations are not required to report suspected animal cruelty. Many animals could be saved by amending the state’s mandatory reporting laws.
Massachusetts (#6 in the nation)
Closely following Rhode Island for its progressive animal welfare policy, The Bay State is progressive in reporting and prosecution of animal cruelty violators.
What Massachusetts is Doing Right:
Massachusetts gets top marks for its clear and concise animal cruelty laws. In addition to veterinarians, animal control officers and social services employees are also mandated to report suspected abuse or neglect.
The state doesn’t take animal endangerment lightly, with civilians being permitted to remove animals from vehicles in certain conditions. If following the proper protocol, any individual who rescues an endangered animal from a vehicle is immune from criminal action.
How Massachusetts Can Improve Its Policy:
Massachusetts has an excellent animal welfare policy in place, but there are several concerns that have prompted a push for multiple amendments. One pending act would prevent animal cruelty offenders from owning, adopting, or fostering any animal for a minimum of five years, with subsequent offenses resulting in longer bans.
Other pending bills would prevent traveling exhibits from bringing certain animals into the state, and prohibiting convicted poachers from hunting wildlife.
New Hampshire (#14 in the nation)
The Granite State is the last of the top-tier states in New England. With clear instructions for reporting. and advanced laws regarding protections orders, New Hampshire has earned its high rating.
What New Hampshire Is Doing Right:
One of the most progressive laws the state has enforced is the inclusion of animals in protection orders. This particular law protects animals from violent owners, and ensures each animal stays with a caring owner.
The state also enforces mandatory post-conviction bans, so violators are less likely to commit repeat offenses.
The New Hampshire court system also prioritizes animal welfare cases when an animal is in custody of the state.
How New Hampshire Can Improve Its Policy:
Unfortunately, New Hampshire does not currently mandate suspected animal welfare violators to forfeit abused or neglected animals prior to conviction.
Additionally, there are no mandatory reporting laws in place for veterinarians who suspect animal abuse or neglect.
Vermont (#21 in the nation):
The Green Mountain State may be ranked amongst the middle tier when it comes to animal welfare, but the state is intent on preventing animal cruelty.
What Vermont Is Doing Right:
Vermont gets top marks for its clearly-stated policies and care standards involving animals, including companion pets. The state’s animal welfare policy includes standards for food, water, shelter, and space to ensure animals are cared for properly.
Violators of animal welfare laws may be mandated to forfeit their animal(s) prior to conviction if abuse or neglect is suspected.
How Vermont Can Improve Its Policy:
Although many of Vermont’s policies regarding animal cruelty are progressive, abandoning, neglecting, and/or sexually assaulting an animal are not considered felonies.
Sadly, the state does not implement a mandatory post-conviction ban, so violators may be more likely to reoffend.
Additionally, organizations and agencies in Vermont are not mandated to report suspected animal abuse or neglect.
Connecticut (#27 in the nation):
Our second mid-ranked tier state in New England is The Constitution State. While Connecticut isn’t necessarily known for its progressive animal welfare policy, the state does have many protective laws in place.
What Connecticut Is Doing Right:
The Connecticut court system implements a courtroom animal advocate program to ensure animal rights are protected.
Many agencies in the state are required to report suspected cruelty, ensuring professionals are on the lookout for potential cases of animal abuse or neglect.
How Connecticut Can Improve Its Policy:
It’s unfortunate that Connecticut fails to mandate any post-conviction forfeiture of animals or possession bans.
Because the state’s laws pertaining to animal welfare are limited and, in some cases, ambiguous, the standards can be difficult to fully comprehend. The policy would benefit from amendments to clarify specific violations and consequences for violators.
How to Improve Animal Welfare in Your State:
There are several ways you can prevent animal welfare and ensure animals in your state live happy, healthy, cruelty-free lives. Here’s what you can do:
- Spay or neuter your pets. This one-time procedure prevents overpopulation. As an added bonus, spaying or neutering your pet(s) could result in reduced health problems and a longer lifespan.
- Stop the cycle. If you’ve witnessed animal abuse or neglect, you can help stop the cycle. Sadly, cruelty may seem “normal” to individuals whose caregivers treat animals poorly. Educating children and others in your community about animal cruelty could save a life.
- Report suspected cruelty. If you witness or suspect animal abuse or neglect, contact local law enforcement or search for the protocol to report cruelty in your state.
- Advocate for change. Don’t be afraid to contact local legislature with any concerns you have regarding your state’s animal welfare policy. Social media is a great place to start, but a personalized email is more likely to receive a response.
How to Stop the Cycle:
Just like survivors of domestic abuse, children who witness animal abuse are likely to perpetuate the cycle. It’s heartbreaking that many boys and girls who grow up in abusive households see animal cruelty as “normal.” If a child engages in or witnesses animal abuse, the Animal Welfare Institute encourages parents to reach out to a mental health professional for help. Being a proactive parent can help break the abuse cycle.
If you are the parent of a child in a pet-free home, or if your child hasn’t engaged in or witnessed animal abuse, you can set an excellent example by teaching your kiddo to treat animals with respect—and advocate for those who are mistreated or otherwise in need.
Reporting Animal Cruelty:
If you’ve ever witnessed animal abuse, you know it’s downright gut-wrenching. Although it’s difficult to observe this type of cruelty, it’s crucial to take note of the events and contact law enforcement right away.
Some states require a call to the local police precinct, while others urge witnesses to contact a local animal shelter or animal control agency. Be sure to research the requirements in your state, so you’ll know who to call in case of an emergency.
Below, we outline important information to gather to help ensure an effective investigation:
- A written statement – You’ll need to provide your local agency with a written account of the witnessed abuse or neglect. It’s important to write legibly, include dates and times when possible, and to only state the facts. You’ll likely need to answer a series of questions during the interview process, but writing down everything you remember about the incident will ensure you don’t omit any important details.
- Contact information – A vital component of reporting animal cruelty is providing contact information. Include your own contact details, along with the information of any other witnesses and the perpetrator’s info, when possible.
Note: While you can report animal cruelty anonymously, law enforcement is most likely to follow through with an investigation when credible witnesses are involved. Witness accounts are also important when a cruelty case goes to court.
- Photographic evidence – If you can take photos without putting yourself in harm’s way, this evidence could be the proof law enforcement needs to complete a full investigation. If possible, take photographs of the abused or neglected animal, along with photos of the immediate and surrounding areas.
Note: Never risk your own safety, and don’t enter private property without permission. While photos are helpful, they aren’t required to launch an investigation.
- Copies for your records – While we wish every animal cruelty case led to a fast, thorough investigation, this isn’t always the case. Be sure to keep copies of your statement, along with written accounts of any interactions with other witnesses and law enforcement officers. Jot down detailed notes following every conversation, and continue to be proactive. If investigators don’t follow-up regularly, check in with the investigating agency for updates on the case.
Animals are vulnerable, as they aren’t able to voice their feelings, ailments, concerns, etc. It’s our job as animal lovers to advocate for these precious creatures and ensure they are being treated with the care and respect they deserve.
As Albert Schweitzer famously said, “Until we extend our circle of compassion to include all living things, humanity will not find peace.” We couldn’t agree more. We must help those who cannot help themselves.
(All images courtesy of Pixabay)