An animal protection charity has called for an increase in prosecutions for cruelty offences in Northern Ireland.
The plea from the Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) came after it emerged nearly 240 such offences had been tackled by courts here in three years.
Out of 236 prosecutions to the end of 2019, a total of 167 led to convictions.
Only 14 of these led to custodial sentences, with 76 resulting in fines.
The remaining 21 convictions were categorised as 'other'.
The figures were released by Justice Minister Naomi Long after an Assembly question by DUP MLA Robin Newton.
In 2017 there were 70 prosecutions, compared to 97 in 2018 and 69 in 2019.
Brendan Mullan, the USPCA's chief executive, claimed the data showed that not enough people were being processed by the judicial system for animal cruelty offences.
"The increase in the number of prosecutions between 2017 and 2018 is to be welcomed and hopefully reflects increased effectiveness from the statutory agencies in enforcing the animal welfare act and holding abusers to account in the courts," he said.
"Similarly, however, the decrease in prosecutions between 2018 and 2019 may be a cause for concern, unless as a community we have suddenly become more caring towards animals, which is unlikely."
Recent high-profile cases of animal cruelty include a Maltese dog that was found drowned in a Co Down lough with a red Christmas ribbon tied around its muzzle last December.
In February the PSNI launched an investigation after an Alaskan Malamute called Junior was poisoned at a Co Tyrone dog rescue centre.
Last month police in west Belfast investigated a "barbaric" incident in which a cat was allegedly killed and set on fire in Falls Park.
Mr Mullan said these incidents underlined the importance of ensuring perpetrators were prosecuted in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act.
"We have the toughest animal welfare legislation in Europe with five-year custodial sentences, lifetime animal bans and £20,000 fines available to judges, but this is of no consequence if abusers are not brought before the courts," he added.
In 2018 local courts banned 45 people from keeping animals after they were convicted of animal cruelty, which included offences against wildlife, farm animals and pets.
Figures obtained by the BBC showed that this was an increase from the 26 people who had been banned in 2015.
The animal charity chief, however, said that more needed to be done to ensure the bans were enforced, preventing those who are convicted from obtaining more pets or animals.
Mr Mullan repeated calls from the charity for a register of animal abusers to be established, which he said would help mitigate against this issue.
"The USPCA again calls for the establishment of an animal abusers' register to record individuals banned from keeping animals, which is accessible by reputable breeders and animal re-homing charities," he added.
"Such a register may not completely solve the problem, but it would be a significant step to closing the current loophole.
"As it stands, the ultimate penalty for the most serious animal welfare offences is relatively ineffective."