Inspectors found 17 dead pets among debris at a Sussex house
Torture and 'horrifying' cruelty towards animals is on the rise in the South East, acording to figures published by the RSPCA.
Investigations were carried out into nearly 7,000 complaints about animal cruelty in Kent and Sussex in 2002.
The figures, released by the RSPCA on Wednesday, show 63 people from the region were prosecuted for cruelty offences.
The prosecutions led to 57 prison sentences in the region - up from 46 in 2001.
RSPCA spokeswoman Klare Kennett said there was also a disturbing trend of animal cruelty by juveniles.
Never before have we seen such a catalogue of horrifying and vicious acts of deliberate cruelty and torture
While the total number of cases prosecuted fell, the proportion involving violence towards animals - rather than ignorance and neglect - rose compared to 2001.
Richard McCrow, the RSPCA's South East regional manager, said: "Every year we deal with cases that shock but never before have we seen such a catalogue of horrifying and vicious acts of deliberate cruelty and torture towards defenceless animals.
"The fact that some of the worst incidents involve children is of particular concern.
"The images from some of these cases will stay in our inspectors' minds for a long time."
This pet was one of the lucky ones rescued by the RSPCA
Among the cases was a 14-year-old boy from Cuckfield, in Sussex, who admitted trying to kill his own dog by stabbing it in the neck.
The boy, who had been told he could no longer keep the dog where he lived, was banned from owning a dog for 10 years.
RSPCA inspectors found animal carcasses and excrement littering the home shared by a woman in Seaford, Sussex, with over 200 mammals.
Among the debris were 17 dead pets, including a cat, bats, rats, guinea pigs, birds and a chinchilla.
A couple in Northfleet, Kent, caused four puppies to starve to death by shutting them in a cupboard and not feeding them.
And in Crayford, Kent, a starving greyhound with a painful bone tumour on its leg was left tied up in a garden and ignored by its owners.
The charity said it feared that if this level of cruelty towards animals continued unchecked, people might in the future see it as 'normal behaviour'.
Many of the animals rescued by the RSPCA in the South East are cared for at Plumpton College, near Lewes, Sussex, and at Leybourne, in Kent.