Pet lovers in big Belfast rally for stiffer penalties on cruelty
Hundreds gather outside Belfast law courts to claim serious offenders are not facing the full force of the judicial powers available
Hundreds of pet lovers staged a protest outside Belfast's main court complex to demand stiffer sentences in animal cruelty cases.
More than 500 people gathered on Saturday to call for the "full extent of sentencing powers" to be meted out to offenders.
It follows a spate of appalling cases of animal cruelty.
Among the crowd was George Anderson, the chairman of Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary, with his greyhound Norman.
The 68-year-old gave the dog a loving home after it was tortured by thugs who starved it, cut its ears off, and struck it on the head with a hammer before throwing it from a moving car.
Norman now takes 17 tablets a day to treat epileptic seizures caused by brain damage as a result of his abuse and has scars on his legs from road burns.
"I would like to see the people who did this given custodial sentences, but no one has ever been prosecuted," Mr Anderson said.
"When I first saw Norman his bones were sticking out everywhere because he had been starved for so long.
"The vet rang me and told me that he was getting stressed and really needed to go to a loving home, so I took him in and he's been with me ever since and that was three years ago. The people who did this were clearly trying to kill him, which was so unnecessary."
Daniel Barclay, who runs the Facebook page Northern Ireland Says No To Animal Cruelty (NISNTAC), said he was pleased to see such a turnout to support the call for stiffer sentences.
But he said the courts needed to use their full powers and give more custodial sentences.
He said: "Since the start of the year we have had 16 cases of people convicted of causing unnecessary suffering and animal cruelty and in nine of those cases the animals died.
"In none of these cases has there been custodial sentences.
"They have ranged from suspended sentences, community punishments to conditional discharges, which is not a fair and balanced system.
"We believe that low-end sentences should be reserved for low-end offences of cruelty, and higher-end and custodial sentences for serious neglect, prolonged suffering and torture."
Mr Barclay said that he would also like to see an immediate lifetime ban on keeping animals for those who were prosecuted. "It takes commitment to deliberately starve or neglect and abuse an animal every day," he added.
"The current sentences are not deterrents and they are not justice. To abuse an animal is a conscious decision.
"You hear in court cases that people have used excuses such as getting divorced or a relative dying, which is of course tragic, but it is not an excuse to abuse an animal and take it out on them.
"There are shelters and charities people could take their animals to, there's just no need for cruelty."
As well as pet owners and vets, a number of animal welfare organisations attended the demonstration including Born Free, USPCA and Cliff Duff from Badger Group NI.
Also in attendance was cat and chicken owner and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, and dog owning Alliance councillor Michael Long.
Mr Nesbitt was invited to give a talk to the crowd.
"We are here to support animal welfare, which is one of our seven principles," he said.
"The big issue is the leniency of the sentences.
"It's a very important issue in society and people are here today to make the call for harsher punishments as deterrents.
"We would like to see more done by the judiciary."