Differences in Animal Laws by US State

When you cross the border into a neighboring town, state, or nation; laws pertaining to animals vary widely. Some of these are beneficial and unique to the destination, while other municipalities do not protect animals in the same regard. Below we look into how laws regarding animals differ throughout the United States.

States in the United States are governed by the federal law known as the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 which is considered the minimal acceptable standard for animal care. This act’s purpose has three key directives:

  • To ensure that animals intended for use in research facilities,for exhibition purposes or for pets are provided humane care and treatment.
  • To assure the humane treatment of animals during transportation in commerce.
  • To protect the owners of animals from the theft of their animals by preventing the sale or use of animals which have been stolen.

Subsequent amendments have been added over the years; municipal and local laws which typically further animal protections.

Felony Penalties
Rhode Island and Illinois are considered some of the most progressive states as it concerns animal rights. They protect animals by maintaining felony penalties for crimes of abandonment, cruelty, neglect, fighting, and sexual assault. In states such as Kentucky and Wyoming, abandonment, neglect, or sexual assault of an animal are not considered felonies, and only select animals are covered under the cruelty and fighting charges. As of 2017, 32 of the 50 states extend domestic violence protections to animals and pets. The Pet & Women Safety Act (PAWS) of 2017 currently before the United States Congress will extend these protections federally across all 50 states and territories.

You may have seen award-winning documentaries such as “The Cove” and “Blackfish”. These films were only possible due to reporting on animal rights abuses from undercover whistleblowers. This undercover reporting of animal abuse has been of concern in some states, especially ones with a sustained agricultural industry. North Dakota as well as a few others actually limit the ability to take pictures or video of animals on farms without the consent of the owner. Often referred to as “Ag-gag” laws, they stymie whistleblower efforts targeted towards animal rights abuses in the Agricultural industry. One state, Kentucky, goes so far as to forbid veterinarians from reporting suspected cruelty or fighting and this is unique, as the majority of states actually make it mandatory to report it.

Dangerous Dog Laws
You or someone you know may have been one of about 5 million people annually who are bitten by dogs. Sometimes these dogs are classified as ‘dangerous’ and fall under Dangerous Dog laws currently in effect in 39 states and many municipalities.  Dogs are typically labeled dangerous if they’ve attacked, caused injury, or killed a human being or domestic animal. After a dog has been deemed dangerous, most have certain provisions required to protect others from the dangerous dog. If another incident happens or those provisions go unfulfilled – like not showing up for a court date regarding the animal, several states require mandatory euthanization or leave that discretion up to a deciding body.

States with no dangerous dog laws include Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming – however many municipalities in these states have laws governing dangerous dogs.  

Leash Laws
Did you know that only two states in the United States have specific leash laws? Michigan and Pennsylvania define these provisions statewide, while almost every other leaves that power with local municipalities to make and regulate laws regarding the restraint of dogs. Female companion dogs during their breeding period are almost always prohibited from being at large.

Leaving Animals In Parked Cars
Leaving anything living in your car during a hot sunny day is a huge no – and that extends to pets. Currently 27 states protect animals in the case of owners leaving their pets in vehicles unattended. Most of these states allow a bystander to forcibly enter the vehicle to rescue the animal – one state, Indiana, makes the bystander pay half the damages, while all other states make the owner of the vehicle liable. Penalties relating to this offense are typically fines and misdemeanors, but Connecticut makes it a felony after a second offense. It is quite surprising that more states do not have statutes covering this protection, but local municipalities fill in the gaps where states have not, as well as state anti-cruelty laws that inherently include this type of abuse.


Peculiar Laws

  • Some states and localities have extremely peculiar laws – like Northbrook, Illinois which prohibits dogs from barking for more than 15 minutes continuously and in Little Rock, Arkansas, where it is illegal for dogs to bark after 6pm.
  • In the State of Wisconsin, Farm Animals have the right-of-way and state highways and roads, not only at animal crossing signs.
  • There are five states where it is completely legal to own a skunk with little regulations: Wyoming, South Dakota, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. A few states make it legal with requirements for where you obtain the skunk and standard definitions of care.

These are some of the most common laws relating to animals and some of the differences in animal protections based on where you live in the United States. It’s important to be aware of these kind of laws when you’re traveling or considering a move. Have you experienced any laws that adversely or positively affect your animal? Let us know in the comments below!

Sources: Animal Legal Defense Fund, BarkPost, WhooNew, Paste Magazine, Government Publishing Office (GPO), Animal Legal & Historical Center – Michigan State University (AnimalLaw.info), Skunkhaven.net, NOLO.com