Kentucky: The Best State to Claim Residency for Animal Abusers

Gabrielle Fulton, KLJ Staff Editor[1]

According to a recent study conducted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Kentucky ranks dead last out of the 50 states for its animal protection laws, for the ninth year in a row.[2] That makes Kentucky the number one state to live in for animal abusers. This deficiency is reflected in the state’s statutes and sentencing policies.

For starters, cruelty, neglect, or abandonment of animals is not even considered a felony in Kentucky.[3] The only felony provision available for animal cruelty is “whenever a dog is knowingly caused to fight for pleasure or profit.”[4] Furthermore, animal abusers face minimal punishment in Kentucky. For example, in United States v. Chamness, nine dogs died as a result of severely uninhabitable living conditions provided by the defendant.[5] The carcasses of the dogs were found in various states of decomposition at the defendant’s residence.[6] Four of the dogs’ remains were found sealed inside of a storage container containing air holes in the lid to facilitate breathing.[7] Because of Kentucky’s limited felony provision, the defendant did not face a single felony charge for any of the cold-hearted, inhumane deaths.[8] The defendant was found guilty of nine counts of cruelty to animals in the second degree.[9] However, the judge imposed a sentence of merely two years probation, demonstrating the sort of minor penalties that animal abusers face in Kentucky.[10]

Fortunately for animal abusers, cruelty to animals is only a misdemeanor in Kentucky. A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the second degree if he or she intentionally or wantonly subjects an animal to mistreatment through abandonment; participates in causing it to fight for pleasure or profit; mutilates, beats, tortures an animal other than a dog or cat;[11] torments, fails to provide adequate food, drink, space, or health care; or kills any animal other than a domestic animal killed by poisoning.[12]  The maximum sentence for cruelty to animals in the second degree is a measly 12 months in jail, and fines do not exceed $500.[13] Additionally, Kentucky’s animal protection statutes do not provide adequate definitions or standards of basic care; whereas Illinois, the top state in ALDF’s rankings, provides thorough definitions in its statutes.[14]

Furthermore, many states place a statutory duty on veterinarians to report suspected cruelty.[15] Some states allow veterinarians to report suspected cruelty.[16] However, in Kentucky, veterinarians are prohibited from the voluntary reporting of suspected animal cruelty or fighting without a waiver from the client, court order, or subpoena.[17] Thus, a veterinarian is essentially required to be complicit in acts of animal abuse or neglect unless an investigation is somehow initiated.

In the rare circumstance that an abuser is convicted, Kentucky courts are not required to seize the animal from the abuser.[18] Courts are not required to restrict future ownership of animals after a conviction.[19] Moreover, courts do not mandate mental health evaluations for animal abusers.[20] In contrast to Kentucky law, Illinois’ animal cruelty statute allows a court to order a convicted person to forfeit the animal.[21] A court may also order that the convicted person may not own any other animals for a reasonable period of time.[22] Other Illinois statutes provide that courts may order convicted persons to undergo psychological or psychiatric evaluations.[23] Illinois’ torture statute mandates such evaluations.[24]

In order to catch up to society’s values, Kentucky must provide more protection to animals. The top tier states in ALDF’s rankings, among others, have felony provisions for cruelty, neglect, fighting, sexual assault, and abandonment, while Kentucky law contains only a single animal abuse felony for dog fighting.[25] The top ranked states’ statutes provide for adequate definitions and standards of care, higher penalties for repeat abusers, forfeiture of abused animals, mandatory reporting of suspected cruelty, and many more provisions that Kentucky lacks.[26] Kentucky’s current stance on animal protection laws is unacceptable, and stronger laws must be implemented to protect those animals without a voice.

[1] J.D. expected May 2018.
[2] Animal Legal Defense Fund, 2015 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings (2015), http://aldf.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Rankings-Report-2015.pdf.
[3] Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 525.125 (West 2016).
[4] Id.
[5] United States v. Chamness, No. 5:11-CR-00054-R, 2012 WL 3109494, at *1 (W.D. Ky. July 31, 2012).
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.; Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 525.125 (West 2016).
[9] Chamness, 2012 WL 3109494, at *1.
[10] Id. at *2.
[11] Torture of dogs and cats is covered by Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 525.135 (West 2016).
[12] Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 525.130 (West 2016).
[13] 1992 Ky. Acts 534.040.
[14] 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 70/2-70/18 (West 2016).
[15] Rebecca F. Wisch, Table of Veterinary Reporting Requirement and Immunity Laws, Animal Legal & Historical Center (2015), https://www.animallaw.info/topic/table-veterinary-reporting-requirement-and-immunity-laws.
[16] Id.
[17] Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 321.185 (West 2016) (this is in place to protect client confidentiality).
[18] Kristen Kennedy, Realty Check: Why Kentucky is in the dog house for animal abuse, WKYT (Feb. 08, 2012, 7:29 PM), http://www.wkyt.com/home/headlines/Kentucky_worst_in_nation_at_fighting_animal_abuse_138760019.html.
[19] Samantha D. E. Tucker, No Way to Treat Man’s Best Friends: The Uncounted Injuries of Animal Cruelty Victims, 19 Animal L. 151 (2012) (describing laws on owning future pets after being convicted of animal abuse).
[20] Id.
[21] 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 70/3.04 (West 2016).
[22] Id.
[23] See 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 70/3.01, 70/3.02.
[24] 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 70/3.03.
[25] Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 525.125 (West 2016).
[26] See supra note 2.