The Animal Legal Defense Fund ranked Kentucky last on its annual state animal protection laws rankings last year. The list compares overall strength and comprehensiveness of each state's laws.
It wasn't the commonwealth's first time at the bottom.
Pam Rogers, Kentucky state director for The Humane Society of the United States, has worked to combat those low rankings for nearly 20 years. Rogers said animal cruelty is rampant statewide because of loose laws, loopholes and sparse resources.
"The situation is pretty pitiful," Rogers said. "Our laws only state that an animal be provided with food, water, veterinary care and what they call 'space' — and that's not really defined. The problem is that there is no requirement for shelter at all. An animal could be out in the freezing rain or in the sweltering heat, and we couldn't do anything about it."
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Some Kentuckians, though, aren't standing idly by. Some, like Jo Barnes, give helpless animals hope.
Barnes has been involved with animal rescue for nearly 20 years, and her dedication — and her ambition — have grown.
After her 3-year-old son died in an automobile accident in 1991, Barnes got her first dog to help her cope with the loss. Since then, she has adopted numerous dogs and has been touched by what she calls "unconditional love."
"I have done this for many years along with my vet, Scott Nieves of the Belmont Veterinary Center," Barnes said.
Her love of animals led Barnes to recently start Jo's Hope for Kentucky Animals Inc. In her home, she offers a "safe haven for mentally and physically impaired animals" by providing "loving, compassionate hospice care for those in their last days," she says.
Nieves says that many people have tried to do what Barnes does, but none has been quite as prepared or able as Barnes is.
"There are a ton of rescues, and a ton of do-gooders, and I've been involved with several groups," Nieves said. "What sets Jo apart is that she didn't just do it as a spur-of-the-moment thing. She has wanted to do this for a while. She only takes in what she can handle. Jo has been doing a very good thing and is very well prepared."
Animals that are sick and dying aren't adoptable, Barnes said.
"I have taken in animals that are very sick, while working closely with Dr. Nieves to make sure their suffering doesn't become a little much for them," she said. "I concentrate on comfort and quality. A lot of these animals have not really known much love. I want the last things for them to know and feel to be love and acceptance."
Barnes, who works as a paralegal, has bold plans. Through donations, fund-raisers and volunteers, she plans to expand and build a large cage-free shelter that will house dogs comfortably in their final days or help rehabilitate them to make them adoptable.
"We want to build a tasteful place that is inviting," Barnes said. "We don't want or need small spaces and cages. That confinement is often the cause of many health problems. With large comfortable areas, we can perform proper physical and mental therapy. It will help especially with the arthritic dogs. We need to concentrate on expanding because the need is so huge in Kentucky."
For now, Jo's Hope for Kentucky Animals Inc. is run from Barnes' home. The foundation has a veterinarian, Nieves; a grant writer, Jackie Long; and an attorney, Laura Tzanetos.
Tzanetos, who works with Barnes at the law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden, praised Barnes' work and said she sees expansion in the future.
"I think Jo has found her passion in animals," Tzanetos said. "I've been to her house and seen how she interacts with these animals that have no one else to help. Whenever she finds out about an animal that needs help, she will do whatever it takes; be it finding a foster or taking it in herself."
"I think she has the passion necessary to create a thriving important charity. I see it expanding into a larger facility; hopefully, one day we'll be able to purchase some land and get things going."
Jo's Hope is limited on space, which is another reason Barnes wishes to expand. In the meantime however, she is banking on the help of those who offer foster care for the dogs.
"I do have some help with fosters," Barnes said. "But I can always use more good foster homes. Anyone who has seen the look on the face of an abused dog when it first realizes it is safe knows why rescuers do what they do."
For more information, go to Facebook and look for Jo's Hope for Kentucky Animals.