Convictions for animal cruelty in the UK fell by 20% last year, according to new figures released by the RSPCA.
German shepherd Blade suffered neglect for two months
The charity said the 2006 fall to 1,647 convictions showed people were starting to heed its animal welfare message.
It also said new legislation introduced in April was enabling it to intervene earlier to prevent acts of cruelty.
The RSPCA review of 2006 did, however, include "shocking" examples of cruelty including a starving dog forced to eat dead companions to survive.
The charity's 2006 cruelty statistics showed overall that, although there were more complaints investigated, there were fewer convictions than the previous year.
Dog offences down
The figures reveal that 122,454 complaints of animal cruelty were investigated in 2006, up 10.5% from 2005.
A total of 898 defendants were convicted of a total of 1,647 offences in 2006, down 8% on the previous year.
There were 681 court orders banning offenders from keeping animals, down 9% on the 2005 figure.
There were 164,110 rescues and collections and 4,222 verbal warnings to prevent offences being committed, up 7.6% and 10% respectively.
A total of 38 prison sentences were imposed, compared with 28 in 2005, and there were 51 suspended prison sentences, up from just three the year before.
Offences against dogs and cats were down by 15.6% and 9.5% respectively, with 891 convictions for crimes against dogs and 240 against cats.
Starvation and failure to call a vet featured heavily in the worst cases, the RSPCA said.
The statistics revealed an increase in offences against horses, ponies and other equines, with 104 offences in 2006, up 33% from 2005.
The RSPCA rescued chickens forced to eat maggots to survive
RSPCA director general Jackie Ballard said the figures were encouraging and the Animal Welfare Act was helping inspectors.
"It's encouraging to see a fall in animal cruelty generally and we hope that's a sign that our animal welfare messages are being heard," she said.
"But the rise in crime against horses and ponies is a very worrying anomaly.
"Today's figures refer to last year and although the new Animal Welfare Act is only a few months old, so far it seems to be working extremely well.
"Many front-line RSPCA inspectors are reporting that people are responding well to the new law, and increasingly we are able to help prevent animal suffering before it begins."
'Starved to death'
Among the serious acts of cruelty to animals found by the RSPCA in 2006 was a dog in Stratford, London, starved to death in a couple's garden.
Inspectors also found an emaciated cat in County Durham that was so ill and frail it could not lift its face from the floor. Its owners saw it every day but did nothing, the RSPCA said.
In another case 1,000 hens were forced to survive on maggots and egg shells after falling into a droppings pit and being left.
Mrs Ballard said: "Neglect has always been the most common form of cruelty. But these cases defy belief.
"Its just so shocking to discover pet food in homes where animals literally starved to death waiting for their owners to open a packet or a tin.
"Animals depend totally on their owners to meet their day-to-day needs. Ignoring this basic responsibility has heart-breaking consequences."