South Carolina's refusal to make cockfighting a felony, like the state's classification for dogfighting, is one reason it lags near the bottom of the Humane Society of the United States' ratings.
The society on Tuesday released its second annual "Humane State Ranking." It rates the states on their laws regarding animal cruelty, wildlife, animals in research and farm animals.
California, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts topped the list as animal-friendly states, while South Carolina tied with Arkansas, Kentucky, Montana, Utah and Wyoming for 38th place.
Mississippi, North Dakota, Idaho and South Dakota ranked at the bottom.
Charles Karesh, incoming president of the Charleston Animal Society's board of directors, said he isn't surprised by the ranking.
"We realize that, in the last four or five years, we haven't had anything passed statewide," he said. To change that, humane societies across the state recently came together to hire a part-time lobbyist who starts work next week.
Karesh said their priorities include a bill that would require owners to post bail for their animal's care if the animal is seized in a criminal or civil case. Another priority is outlawing the controversial practice of bear baying -- or bear baiting -- in which hunting dogs train on a captive bear.
On its website, the Humane Society of the United States praised South Carolina for prohibiting Internet hunting and requiring that animals from shelters be spayed or neutered.
But it was critical of the state for having no felony penalties for cockfighting and no protections for animals on factory farms or puppy mills. Karesh said tackling the puppy mill issue will be difficult. "We need to get some wins under our belt first," he said.
Outgoing S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster has backed stricter cockfighting penalties for years, but while the Legislature has toughened penalties, it has been reluctant to classify cockfighting as a felony.
A recent federal investigation centered in Williamsburg and Lexington counties led to federal felony charges against 21 people.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said the rankings provide "a big picture look at how states are faring on animal-protection policies."
The Humane Society's ranking considered 65 animal- protection issues in the following 10 areas: animal fighting, animal cruelty, puppy mills, use of animals in research, equine protection, wildlife abuse, factory farming, fur and trapping, exotic animals and companion animal laws.