4,000 acts of horrific animal cruelty in Northern Ireland but just one court case
New Animal Welfare Service blasted for lack of prosecutions
Just one person has been taken to court for animal welfare offences in a year – out of more than 4,000 incidents investigated by Northern Ireland's councils.
According to a report seen by the Belfast Telegraph, only two prosecutions were made between April 2, 2012 and April 2, 2013 after councils took over responsibility for enforcing laws aimed at protecting the welfare of pets and horses.
The revelation has prompted criticisms from animal welfare charities who levelled charges of apathy, a lack of knowledge and a lack of interest in making prosecutions.
The USPCA commented: "It's disappointing to the point of being alarming that there haven't been more prosecutions in the first year.
"We would like to see more people brought before the courts – we would like to see people banned from keeping animals.
"They need more personnel on the ground, better coverage at weekends and they need to tell people that they exist."
Until April last year, animal welfare abuses of pets and horses were handled by the PSNI, but a new council-led service was launched, handling 5,179 complaints in its first year.
The Department of Agriculture continues to handle welfare complaints for farmed animals and the PSNI deals with complaints relating to animal fighting and suspected criminality.
In its first year, the new Animal Welfare Service received 5,179 calls to its contact telephone numbers, resulting in 4,292 animal welfare cases. Most calls were received by northern region (1,200), followed by eastern region with 1,192, and southern region with 841 calls.
Western region received 769 calls, and Belfast City Council received 718.
Investigations resulted in a total of 189 improvement notices to owners and animals were seized in 63 cases. The annual report reveals only two prosecutions, both for the same case at North Down Court on November 16 last year.
David Price, of Hillcrest in Bangor, pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the needs of a dog had been met and was given a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of £103 and vets' fees of £882.
The black cocker spaniel, which had been found emaciated and suffering from a skin disease, was ordered to be handed over to an animal sanctuary for rehoming. Further cases are pending prosecution, the report said.
It also revealed that animal welfare officers have handled 750 cases involving horses between June 2012 and February 2013.
Of these, 472 were brought to their attention in the winter months between November and February.
"The poor weather during this period and the high feed costs as a result of the wet summer as well as the general financial impact of the current economic climate may have contributed to the equine cases during these months," the report said.
There are currently nine animal welfare officers to cover the 26 council areas, two in each sub region and one in Belfast, a spokesman for the Animal Welfare Service said.
"However, they are authorised to work in any part of Northern Ireland when required," the spokesman said.
"There were originally five officers so the number has increased. There are several pending legal cases and a number of these would relate to offences which occurred in 2012/13."
The PSNI was approached for figures relating to animal welfare investigations in previous years but said it could not provide such information without a Freedom of Information request.
The Rottweiler: abandoned and left for dead in a manhole
An abandoned Rottweiler was left for dead down an eight-foot manhole for three days in the scorching summer heat.
Kim sustained cuts to her head and face in a suspected case of animal cruelty, and she may have been attacked with bricks.
She was severely dehydrated and underweight when rescued by police from the manhole at a wasteland site in west Belfast in July.
The black Rottweiler, thought to be around four years old, underwent life-saving surgery at Earlswood Veterinary Hospital for a womb infection, and was also spayed.
A nurse said: "I was very shocked at how underweight she was. It was upsetting because she has such a beautiful nature; the wee tail never stops wagging."
The horses: standing in pools of blood from wounds on legs
A mother and two teenage children made a horrific discovery as they went for a walk on Divis Mountain at the start of the year.
As they arrived at the path, they found four horses with gruesome injuries close to the National Trust car park.
They had gaping gashes in their legs and were standing in pools of blood. The most badly injured horse had a missing eye.
It took five hours for a vet to arrive to examine the four animals.
One of the animals later had to be put down because of its injuries.
The mother, who stayed with the horses until help arrived, was critical of the lack of resources which left the animals having to wait for so long.
One man said he had witnessed two young men in the area with what he believed were a pack of hunting dogs.
The greyhound: dumped by the roadside with his ears cut off
A greyhound had its ears cut off before being dumped at Ballycraigy Road in Newtownabbey.
The 18-month-old animal was thought to be a former racing dog which had been written off and mutilated to prevent his owners being traced by the identifying tattoos on his ears after he was abandoned.
'Norman' has since been adopted by George Anderson, chairman of the management committee of the Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary, which cared for him as he recovered.
He described him as the "most beautiful, docile dog that you'll ever see in your life".
It's thought Norman's ears were cut off with a knife to prevent him from being traced back to his owner.
Mr Anderson said such mutilation is common practice.
The shih-tzu: caked in her own filth and nursing a broken leg
Rescuers who recovered nine dogs from a squalid Belfast terrace thought Lola the shih-tzu dog was dead when they found her caked in filth, confined to a small cat carrier and suffering from a badly broken leg that had gone untreated for weeks.
The floor of the house was six inches deep in animal waste and another dog found at the scene was so far gone she had to be put down.
Gilbert McKnight at Cedar Grove Veterinary Surgery, who treated the dogs, said it was one of the worst animal abuse cases he had ever seen.
Lola's broken leg couldn't be saved and had to be amputated.
Another dog, Sally, had a rancid mouth, her tongue was hanging out and swollen, her eyes were badly infected and she was crawling with fleas and lice.
She had to be put down because dementia had set in and she was walking in circles.