Page last updated at 23:27 GMT, Tuesday, 29 July 2008 00:27 UK

Rise in dog cruelty convictions

Staffordshire bull terrier Saffron
A London couple cut the ears off this dog to make it look more macho

Convictions for cruelty against dogs rose by more than a third last year, the RSPCA has said.

A Staffordshire bull terrier whose owners cut its ears off to make it look more macho is included in the charity's annual cruelty report.

It highlights a 12% increase in all RSPCA cruelty investigations leading to 1,149 convictions.

But new powers introduced in 2007 mean the increase may not represent higher levels of actual cruelty.

Tim Wass, chief officer of the RSPCA Inspectorate, said dogs had always borne the brunt of animal cruelty.

"That's what makes this year's horrendous 34% increase even more shocking: it's a massive increase on an already high figure," he said.

One case highlighted in the report was the 2007 conviction of Abishai Hayes, 22, of Holloway, north London, who admitted torturing his 10-month-old dog.

Cruelty to dogs - 34% increase
Cruelty to cats - 15% increase
RSPCA cruelty investigations - 12% increase
Banning orders - 26% increase

The collie cross-breed was found with two broken legs, slash wounds to the face and deep stab wounds to the neck, legs, back and chest.

In another separate case, a dog was found in such a bad state of malnutrition that RSPCA workers struggled to identify the breed.

As well as dogs, convictions against cat and horse owners have also risen.

"These animals are the helpless victims of our throwaway society," says Wass.

"They're bought on a whim and discarded when the novelty wears off."

The statistics may not, however, represent an increase in the actual amount of animal cruelty taking place.

The Animal Welfare Act, which came into force in 2007, sets out the basic needs an owner is required to provide for their animal and allows for faster prosecution when cruelty is suspected.

Julie Stainton, an RSPCA spokesperson, says the act has had a hugely positive impact on the charity's productivity.

"The figures don't mean cruelty has necessarily risen," she says.

Buster, a boxer/bullmastiff starved  to half his healthy weight
Identifying this dog's breed was difficult because of neglect

"Before the act animals would have to suffer significantly before a case could be brought. Often that was too late for the animal involved.

"Now we are able to get to the hardcore of persistent offenders."

A clause in the act obliges courts to explain their reasons for not imposing a ban when cruelty has been found.

This has led to a 26% increase in banning orders in 2007 after a fall the previous year.

The act also means that advice given by the RSPCA in cases of suspected neglect comes with a legal requirement to act.

In 92% of cases the advice was followed and no further action was necessary.

Animal Welfare Bill
27 Jan 06 |  BBC Parliament

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