Local animal lovers were disheartened earlier this week when a national advocacy group released a report ranking Kentucky at the very bottom when it comes to animal protection laws.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund's annual U.S. Animal Protection Laws Ranking Report, the commonwealth is in last place for the 12th year in a row. The report, covering 2018, assesses the relative strengths and weaknesses of each state based on 19 categories such as the definition of "animal," laws that allow individuals to rescue dogs from vehicles and breed-specific legislation.
Kentucky's rank was attributed to being:
the only state that prohibits veterinarians from reporting suspected animal abuse.one of the few without a prohibition of sexual assault of animalslimited to certain species regarding felony animal cruelty and animal fightingwithout statutory provisions for post-conviction restitution or forfeiture, except in cases involving horses.The report did note as a positive that Kentucky has sentence enhancements for repeat animal abusers.
While the commonwealth's animal protection laws are rather broad, Pulaski County Attorney Martin Hatfield noted that Kentucky state law gives local entities leeway to pursue animal cases more aggressively.
The prosecutor continued that both the county and city of Somerset have ordinances in place which go beyond what the commonwealth calls for. "Both ordinances do a good job giving our animal control officer the tools he needs to better serve the public and animal population," Hatfield said.
He did acknowledge one area where he feels state law is too broad -- the definition of shelter. "It puts our officers between a rock and a hard place," the county attorney said. "I wish the legislation was more specific in determining adequate shelter for animals."
Hatfield did explain that the sets of statutes addressing animals such as cattle and horses are separate from those involving dogs, cats and ferrets. He added that most local cases allege abuse with some involving neglect or animal cruelty.
From a philosophical standpoint, Hatfield said his office seeks first to raise public awareness. The office has worked with Advent eLearning to develop an online program (similar to the traffic school program) that can help educate accused offenders about proper animal care.
"Our office tries to educate people before we make criminals out of them," Hatfield said. "I was raised on a farm and taught to care for our animals, but a lot of people do what their parents or grandparents did; they think animals can see to themselves."
That education could also extend to the general public, with Hatfield noting one case that was presented to the grand jury for possible felony charges. Instead the jurors charged the individual with a misdemeanor.
"I think most people are humane but just don't know where the line is," he said, adding his respect for the jury's decision. "I truly believe our animal care online program has helped with cruelty and neglect cases; we're not seeing nearly as many."
Hatfield also had nothing but praise for Pulaski County Animal Control Officer Adam Scales. "He's done an amazing job at the animal shelter and as animal control officer," he said. "He goes to training and is talking to our office all the time about ways to improve the shelter and our animal welfare efforts. We have a great shelter here."
The full report can be found at aldf.org.