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Animal cruelty on the increase

A typical victim – a sickly dog recovered from appalling conditions by RSPCA Inspectors

STARTLING NEW figures released by the RSPCA detail the true picture of animal welfare concerns across England and Wales - and highlight the urgent need to improve existing legislation which is nearly 100 years old.

Under current legislation, - The Protection of Animals Act 1911, an animal has to actually suffer before its owner can face prosecution - the RSPCA wants legislation to change so that suffering is prevented and owners accept their responsibilities and are legally bound to follow advice when it is given. They hope to achieve this via the Animal Welfare Bill which contains harsher penalties for animal cruelty and which may also give RSPCA Inspectors the right to enter premises if they believe cruelty is taking place – or is about to take place.

Assessment statistics

The RSPCA's new animal welfare assessment statistics show that between 1 June 2003 and 31 May 2004:

l More than 108,000 complaints were made to the RSPCA involving 650,489 animals
l RSPCA inspectors gave advice in relation to 38,514 animals
l 1,543 animals are still on the `critical list', i.e. the advice given has, so far, been ignored
basic requirements for animals such as food, water, adequate living conditions or access to veterinary care were found to be lacking in 11,150 cases.
l Dogs are causing the most concern, with 11,133 failing to be looked after correctly
l Farm animals (sheep, cattle and pigs) are the second most common call out (10,008) followed by rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters (4,270), cats (3,898) and then horses (3,523).

The Society hopes that these shocking new figures will add weight to the argument for tougher welfare legislation. A new Animal Welfare Bill would help ensure that animal owners recognise the gravity of their responsibility, and make it an offence for them if they fail to provide a basic level of care for their pet.

Powerless to act

Andy Foxcroft, chief officer of the inspectorate, said: "We often get calls from the public believing the RSPCA hasn't acted when they've called us. The sad reality is that, in many cases, we are powerless to do anything except give advice on how to improve the situation for the animal because the law only allows action to be taken when the animal is suffering.

It is extremely frustrating when the advice isn't taken and we know that, further down the line, we may well be dealing with a case of suffering."

Rise in prosecutions

The year 2003 was another busy year for the Society: 1,279,953 calls were received; 11,806 animals were rescued; and 182,570 animals were collected. A total of 928 people were prosecuted in 2003 - up from 910 in 2002. Of these:

l 541 (55 per cent) failed to provide veterinary treatment
l 326 (34 per cent) didn't provide adequate food or water
l 129 (10 per cent) had unsuitable living conditions.

Dogs were the animals most likely to be involved in prosecution cases, followed by cats and then horses.

Violent cases continued to rise in 2003 with 93 people convicted for a deliberate act of violence towards an animal. Juvenile convictions also rose with 19 individuals convicted (up from 15 in 2002).

Cases highlighted in 2003 included a student jailed for six months after hanging two puppies in a Derbyshire park, a Somerset man given two-and-a-half months in prison after pouring boiling water over his girlfriend's dog and a couple from Cambridgeshire who had 74 animals removed from appalling conditions.