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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 15:40 GMT
Animal cruelty 'must be tackled'
The police need to do more to tackle animal cruelty across Northern Ireland, a dogs welfare charity has claimed.

Stray dog
The charity says dogs across the province are being mistreated
Ronnie Milsop of the Dogs Trust was speaking after a dog was tied up and burned to death on a Halloween bonfire in County Tyrone.

People attending the bonfire in the Glebe area near Sion Mills on Sunday night tried to rescue the animal, but were beaten back by flames.

However, Mr Milsop said such incidents were merely the tip of the iceberg, and the wider problem needed to be addressed.

"We take in dogs that are very badly treated and this is happening across Northern Ireland," he told BBC News Online on Tuesday.

"Yes, we should give some space to this poor dog tied to the bonfire and burned to death, but what we need to do is look at the big picture."

Mr Milsop said police officers and new recruits needed to be trained to deal with animal cruelty.

"They are there to actually track these people down," he said.

"We can't rely on voluntary organisations or charities - we need a special department within the police."

Mr Milsop said he realised that police resources were overstretched, but "it is under their jurisdiction, and it has to be taken seriously".

He also called for judges to apply stricter sentencing for offenders "to send out a message that we are taking animal cruelty very seriously in Northern Ireland".

Bonfire scene
A dog was tied up and burned on a bonfire
A police spokesman said there was no officer who dealt specifically with animal cruelty.

"Anyone who wishes to report any sort of cruelty should call the police and it will be dealt with," he said.

He said the PSNI enforced the Welfare of Animals Act 1972.

"The USPCA can take animals into care on the PSNI's behalf, and the PSNI then goes forward for possible prosecution," he said.

Officers can seek advice from the PSNI's wildlife liaison officer when dealing with cases of animal cruelty, he added.

Mr Milsop said education was important in making people aware of cruelty to dogs.

A qualified teacher is employed by the charity to visit schools and "teach young children how to look after dogs, and critically, teach them what is right and what is wrong".

Dog tied up and burned to death
02 Nov 04  |  Northern Ireland
NI 'worst for stray dogs'
20 Jul 04  |  Northern Ireland
Dog deaths 'unacceptable'
09 Oct 03  |  Northern Ireland

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