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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 July, 2004, 04:25 GMT 05:25 UK
RSPCA warns over cruelty figures
Smiley the horse with his rescuer Steve Dockery
Smiley recovered and has a new home
New figures on pet cruelty show there is an urgent need for new laws promised by the government says the RSPCA.

For the first time the animal charity is detailing day-to-day visits by its inspectors as well as prosecutions brought in England and Wales.

Between June 2003 and May 2004 more than 100,000 complaints were made for more than 650,000 animals.

Of those, conditions were critical for 1,500 animals. Violent crime against animals also rose.

Basic requirements such as food, water and being taken to the vet if sick were lacking for more than 11,000 cases.

Protection laws

The figures come from new forms used by RSPCA inspectors during their calls to check up on animals thought to be in danger.

They follow the government's announcement of the biggest overhaul of animal cruelty laws for nearly a century.

Under a draft Animal Welfare Bill, RSPCA inspectors will be able to intervene earlier when there is a risk of cruelty .

JUNE 2003-MAY 2004
JD the dog and RSPCA Inspector Charlotte Baumann
108,000 complaints to RSPCA involving 650,489 animals
Advice given for 38,514 animals
Advice for 1,543 of those ignored
Basic care like food and water lacking in 11,150 cases

In addition, funfairs will no longer be able to give animals, including goldfish, as prizes, children under 16 will be banned from buying a pet, and cosmetic docking of dogs' tails will be outlawed.

Under current 1911 laws, owners are only prosecuted once an animal has suffered.

The RSPCA' s Andy Foxcroft said: "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 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.

Cruelty cases included Smiley, a former racehorse found in an "obscene" condition at a Kent stables in 2003.

He was thin and suffering from a serious skin condition and his owner was banned from keeping horses for 10 years and given 180 hours of community service.

Burmese mountain dog JD was found wandering the streets, underweight, covered in sores and in need of urgent vet treatment.

Animal welfare bill

Her former owner was convicted of causing unnecessary suffering and given a 90-day suspended sentence. Court case figures from the charity show 928 prosecutions - a rise of 18 cases on the previous year.

Violent cases also rose by three, with 93 people convicted.

They included a student jailed for hanging two puppies in a Derbyshire park and a Somerset man sentenced after pouring boiling water over his girlfriend's dog.

More than 1.2m calls came from the public during the year and 11,806 animals were rescued.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said the government had taken steps towards new protection laws by publishing the draft Animal Welfare Bill earlier in July.

Evidence on the proposals was being taken, he said, adding: "The Bill provides a unique opportunity to ensure we have laws in place that meet animal welfare needs for the 21st Century."

The BBC's Robert Hall
"Existing laws often mean no action can be taken"

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