For a supposed nation of animal lovers, our record is appalling. In a single year nearly 4,300 animal welfare cases were recorded in the province. And that does not include instances where farm animals were the subject of ill-treatment or where police investigated dog fighting and other barbaric examples of cruelty. The worrying aspect of this is that the real total of cases of neglect or ill-treatment, without doubt, is higher.
The new local authority-led Animal Welfare Service has only nine officers to cover the whole province for welfare cases involving pets and horses. That is an enormous workload for the individuals concerned and may partly explain why only one person was prosecuted in relation to animal welfare in the 12 months to April this year. A number of other cases are pending and some animals have been taken away from owners, but that is not a sufficient deterrent.
There may be some cases where genuine economic distress or other mitigating factors have led to animals being poorly treated, but it is inconceivable that the vast bulk of the cases investigated have any excuse. It is clear that more resources need to be devoted to the task of discovering cases of ill-treatment or neglect, building up a strong legal case and bring the perpetrators to justice. Already some animal charities are querying if those charged with protecting animals' welfare are being given sufficient training and assistance to discharge their duties fully.
Of course the public also has a role to play. If they suspect ill-treatment or neglect of animals they should contact the relevant authorities. It is impossible even with much greater resources for animal welfare officers to be everywhere. They need tip-offs and in the last year the public responded very well, making more than 5,000 complaints. However, they too will wonder if the results justified their intervention. They will be expecting much sterner action, including more prosecutions, in the coming months and years.