Complaints over animal welfare rocketed by 65% in Northern Ireland
There was a dramatic increase in the number of animal welfare complaints received by the PSNI in 2017, new figures have revealed.
Police received 65% more complaints of this kind compared to the previous year, according to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs' (DAERA) Animal Welfare Service Delivery Statistics Bulletin 2017.
The bulletin is made up of data from the three animal welfare enforcement bodies here - DAERA, the police and the 11 local councils.
Councils saw a slight increase (2%) in complaints, while DAERA said it received fewer than in 2016, which is reflected in the level of follow-up action taken, such as the number of visits carried out, seizures of animals and prosecutions commenced.
DAERA carried out 70 inspections after an anonymous complaint in 2017 and 36 inspections following a non-anonymous complaint, representing year-on-year decreases of 44% and 64% respectively.
The department's head of animal health and welfare policy Jackie Robinson said the report highlighted the issue of animal welfare in Northern Ireland and the work carried out by the enforcement bodies to prevent mistreatment and cruelty.
"Obviously, prevention is better than cure when it comes to the mistreatment of animals, and the vast majority of owners and keepers comply with their duty of care," she added.
"However, these figures show that, when animal welfare cases arise, enforcement bodies will investigate and impose penalties where appropriate, and do so in partnership with the wider authorities."
The PSNI seized 54 animals in 2017 compared with 25 in 2016, and prosecuted 46 animal-welfare related cases, nine of which resulted in a conviction.
In 2016 there were 13 offences which were prosecuted, with five convictions.
Penalties after animal welfare-related convictions in 2017 included imprisonment, suspended sentences and fines.
Superintendent Brian Kee, the service lead for rural and wildlife crime in the PSNI, said the force took seriously criminal activity with links to animal welfare.
"The PSNI will continue to work with our partners in DAERA and councils to ensure those responsible for animal cruelty are investigated accordingly," he added.
Councils carried out more than 9,000 animal welfare inspections in 2017, with officers assessing over 2,400 animals.
"Faced with this level of activity, councils have utilised the full range of enforcement options to achieve the best outcomes, including where appropriate, prosecutions and disqualification from keeping animals," said Patricia Allen, chair of the local government animal welfare project board.