Even the hardest-hearted Americans accept that violent animal cruelty is a serious crime, and recent high-profile cases of animal cruelty have captured the public’s attention. Forty-three states, plus Washington D.C., the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, recognize the gravity of these crimes and have felony animal cruelty laws on the books. Unfortunately, seven hold-out states have not kept up with the national trend of upgrading anti-cruelty laws, and still consider the torturing and killing an animal a simple misdemeanor charge.

“Legislators in these seven states have been hard on animals and soft on crime for far too long,” said Dale Bartlett, The HSUS’ deputy manager for animal cruelty issues. “It’s past time for them to listen to their humane-minded constituents, and to pass felony animal cruelty legislation to protect both the animal and human members of their communities.”

The Humane Society of the United States has analyzed these seven weak state statutes. Following is a list from best to worst:

Alaska: Alaska offers the strongest penalties of the Shameful Seven. Animal cruelty carries maximum penalties of one year in jail and $10,000 in fines. Judges may also prohibit a convicted animal abuser from owning an animal for up to 10 years.

Arkansas: Arkansas caps penalties at one year and $1,000, but allows judges to order convicted animal abusers to undergo mandatory psychological evaluation and, if warranted, treatment.

North Dakota: North Dakota edges out its southern neighbor by $1,000. Convicted animal abusers are eligible to serve up to one year in prison and a $2,000 fine.

South Dakota: Maximum penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty in South Dakota are a measly one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Idaho: For a first conviction, an animal cruelty convict may be sentenced up to six months in jail and/or be ordered to pay up to a $5,000 fine. Upon a third animal cruelty conviction, penalties rise to one year and $9,000 fine.

Utah: Utah caps penalties at one year and $2,500. Strong Utah cruelty provisions include a psychological counseling component and a ban on possessing or retaining custody of an animal for any designated period. But a unique definitions section of the statute that exempts all wildlife and all animals kept for agricultural or rodeo purposes from even being considered “animals” under the law makes this one of the worst two cruelty laws in the nation.

Mississippi: Mississippi’s misdemeanor cruelty statute caps penalties at six months and $1,000. The Mississippi Supreme Court found the statute to be unconstitutional in December 2001. The court, in Davis v. Mississippi, ruled the statute was too vague to be understood by an ordinary person. The law was ruled void against Davis, but not in cases across the state. Confusion over the constitutionality of the statute, coupled with its extraordinarily weak penalties, makes Mississippi’s animal cruelty law the very worst in the nation.


  • Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah have no felony animal cruelty provisions.
  • Five of The Shameful Seven’s states’ legislatures meet this year. Utah and Mississippi, at least, are expected to consider felony animal cruelty bills.
  • Animal cruelty is linked to violence against people. Many violent criminals have pasts riddled with unaddressed acts of serious and repeated violence against animals.
  • Research has shown perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse, spousal abuse and elder abuse, also have histories of committing animal cruelty.
  • The HSUS has been a leader in advocating for felony animal cruelty laws. Of the 47 states and U.S. territories with such provisions, 42 were passed within the last 20 years, pushed by The HSUS as the link between animal cruelty and human violence became increasingly clear.

Source – HSUS

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