California placed first and South Dakota last in the annual ranking of state animal protection laws released Jan. 17 by The Humane Society of the United States. The 2011 report, "Humane State Ranking" rated 50 states and Washington, D.C., on their animal protection laws, including those addressing animal cruelty, use of animals in research and wildlife abuse.

California topped the list for the third year in a row, followed by New Jersey and Oregon (tied for second place), and Illinois and Massachusetts (tied for fourth). South Dakota earned the lowest score, with Idaho (50), North Dakota and South Carolina (tied for 48) and Mississippi (47) also bringing up the rear.

California lawmakers and the governor "worked to enact nearly a dozen new measures," according to a news release from The Humane Society.  California law prohibits animals being sold along roadsides, bans steel-jawed leghold traps for wildlife and protects farm animals from extreme confinement.

South Dakota, North Dakota and Idaho ranked low "in part because they are the only three states in the country with no felony penalty for egregious acts of animal cruelty," according to the news release. Those states are also among 11 states where cockfighting is not a felony.

Several states moved up in the rankings, including Ohio (moving from 45 to 36), Texas (from 36 to 25) and Oregon (from 10 to a tie for second). The states all passed new animal protection measures in 2011.

"There are some states that are adopting innovative and strong policies to protect animals, while others are lagging badly," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society. "Animal protection is a serious matter for tens of millions of Americans, and we hope state lawmakers fulfill their moral responsibility and help us crack down on abuses."

View the complete 2011 Humane State Rankings.