Let's be tougher on animal cruelty
Once again a person guilty of horrendous cruelty to an animal has walked free from court in Northern Ireland. Aleshia McLaverty abandoned her dog Sam in a flat in Antrim and the animal was later found dead hanging from a blinds cord. It had desperately tried to escape out of the window after being left without food or water.
The public will wonder how the owner got off with just a suspended sentence. Today we print a photograph that reveals the full horror animal welfare officers found when they entered the flat. We accept that this photograph is distressing, but we make no apology for publishing it as we feel the public has a right to grasp - through this graphic image - the suffering the poor animal endured.
Of course, this is not the first time those guilty of animal cruelty have been able to walk out of court with nothing worse than a suspended sentence hanging over them. Last year four men from east Belfast were given suspended sentences on charges relating to keeping or training dogs for fighting. Three of them were also charged with causing unnecessary suffering to animals.
It later transpired that prosecutors could not appeal against the perceived leniency of these sentences as the charges did not fall under appropriate legislation for such a step.
It has to be stated clearly that judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police and remorse, as well as aggravating factors such as intent and excessive violence. Finding the correct balance can be a difficult task.
Perhaps what we really need are more prosecutions of people for animal cruelty and tougher sentences for those who are found guilty. Welfare officers investigate thousands of cases annually, but only a minute fraction of those result in people appearing in the dock.
Investigations can be painstaking and officers can be at personal risk when trying to obtain evidence of illegal dog fighting or badger baiting. Not every case is as straightforward as the one highlighted in this newspaper today.
One can only imagine their frustration when prosecutions are successful but people still walk out of court without spending a day in jail. It is a frustration shared by the public, and the legislators should consider tougher laws to protect our dumb animals.