A national group has released its annual list of animal protection laws, highlighting the top five states "to be an animal abuser."
Wyoming, Iowa, Kentucky, Utah and New Mexico have the weakest animal cruelty laws, according to a new report released by the Animal Legal Defense Fund  (ALDF).
And rounding out the bottom tier in the rankings of 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and U.S. territories?
Pennsylvania.
The Commonwealth slid to 44th in the group's rankings of states from 41st last year. ALDF - which is suing Pennsylvania over the dog law  - explained that the drop in the ranking did not reflect a weakening of Pennsylvania's laws but rather that other states moved forward with stronger protections.
To compile its ninth annual list of rankings, ALDF researchers examined 4,000 pages of statutes and developed rankings based on 15 categories.
Among the areas that ALDF found Pennsylvania statutes lacking were:

· - Requirements of care are not well-defined

  - Lack of a reckless endangerment law

  - No felony penalty for neglect or abandonment of an animal

  - Protective order statute does not explicitly allow for the inclusion of animal victims in domestic violence protective orders

  - Courts are not required to prohibit convicted offenders from future animal possession

  - Veterinarians are not required to report animal cruelty

  - Sexual assault of an animal is not a felony offense

Animal welfare advocates point to two important pieces of legislation that passed this year in Pennsylvania - Rocco's law increasing the penalties for killing a police dog and cost of care, requiring individuals charged with animal cruelty to pay for the cost of the care of their animals while the case progresses through the court or surrender the animals to a shelter.

Sadly, those measures came too late for Rocco, the Pittsburgh police K-9 whose killer was convicted this week or the more than two dozen Morgan horses seized outside of Harrisburg in 2012 whose owner was convicted but has appealed the case as bills for care approach $200,000.
Some animal welfare advocates point to the "revolving door of justice" in Pennsylvania through which individuals violate the dog law governing kennel operations, pay small fines only to return again years or even months later. Companion animal abusers too, rarely see jail time or pay significant fines (Compare that to violating the state game law that covers wild and endangered animals where fines start in the thousands and jail time is common.)
"Legislators across the country have realized that animal protection and anti-cruelty laws are increasingly important to their constituents," said Marsha Perelman, a member of the governor's dog law advisory board. "Elected officials here need to do the same."

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf was endorsed by Humane PA PAC based on the strong statement he made during his campaign on animal welfare. In his first action since being elected in November, he appointed Sarah Speed, the director of the Humane Society of the United States to his transition team on agriculture issues - almost certainly the first animal welfare advocate ever to play a role in a gubernatorial transition.

For a status list on Pennsylvania's animal-related bills from last session click here. The legislative session ended last month and any bills that were not approved will have to be reintroduced when the new session begins in January.