Animal Cruelty in Kentucky

Underwhelming Efforts to Prevent Cruelty

Under the Radar

Julia Radhakrishnan

May 13th, 2017

Being the daughter of a veterinarian, having a lot of pets is a given for me. My family has five dogs, each with their own unique story.

Cha Cha was adopted from the pound.


Maverick was found abandoned on the side of the road by my father’s colleague, who asked us to watch the dog and then never asked for him back.


Dazey was brought to my dad with encephalitis, a disease in which the brain swells. He saved her, but the owner refused to take her back.  


Skippy was found as a stray with a peculiar bald spot near his tail that, two years later, still has not grown back.  


The most recent addition to our family was brought into my parents’ clinic with pneumonia. The owner insisted that he had tried to save the dog by performing CPR on her. He then proceeded to say that he would drown her when he got home. An employee convinced him to sign over the rights to the dog.


Animal abuse comes in many forms, ranging from neglect to lab testing to hoarding to physical violence. And while every time we hear “In the Arms of an Angel,” it weighs heavily on our hearts, the issue persists across the nation and runs rampant in the state of Kentucky.


In the 2016 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rating, The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) ranked Kentucky as the worst state in the nation in terms of legislation designated to protect animals.  Kentucky only applies felony penalties for cruelty and fighting of specific species. By contrast, Illinois was determined to be the best state for animals, as it applies felony penalties for cruelty, neglect, fighting, abandonment, and sexual assault of any species.


The ALDF compared select provisions among the five best and five worst states. The only provisions Kentucky legislation upheld are increased penalties for repeat abusers and hoarders and granting police officers affirmative duty to enforce animal care laws. Kentucky law lacks an adequate definition of ‘basic care,’ and the state does not allow courts to order forfeiture of abused animals or restrict ownership after a conviction. In addition, veterinarians are prohibited from reporting suspected animal cruelty or fighting.


This is not the first year that Kentucky has been named the worst state for animals. According to the State Journal, the ALDF has released state rankings for 11 years; Kentucky has been ranked last for the past 10.


A Franklin County cruelty case that took place in January drew attention to the poor state of animal protection laws in Kentucky. Two youths were charged with animal cruelty and complicity after a video spread across Facebook. Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton called concerned citizens to focus on “the real issue” of strengthening animal cruelty laws.


Representative Wesley Morgan (R) of the Kentucky Legislature filed two bills which would strengthen animal cruelty laws by criminalizing sexual assault of a dog or cat and expanding the current animal torture statute. Last month, House Bill 200 was passed unanimously. This law grants courts the ability to terminate a convicted person’s ownership rights for equines. Prior to this bill’s passing, the state had no legislation protecting our beloved horse population.


While this is a step in the right direction, there is still plenty of work to be done. Like Melton said, as concerned citizens, we ought to be focusing on strengthening Kentucky laws. Change will not occur on its own; it is up to us to urge our legislators to make it happen.