RSPCA Cases Soar Amid 'Rising Tide Of Cruelty'

Jason Farrell, Sky News Investigations

The number of people convicted of cruelty and neglect to animals rose by nearly a quarter last year.

Figures from the RSPCA also show a 27% increase in prison sentences imposed by the courts.

Inspector Tony Woodley, from the charity, told Sky News: "Unfortunately what our statistics for 2011 tell us is that there has been a rising tide of animal cruelty and welfare problems across the board. 

"That's dogs, cats, horses and farm animals."

The RSPCA has seen a big increase in the number of calls they are receiving, up 13% on last year to 1.3 million. They investigated 160,000 complaints about animal welfare.

"People are taking on animals when they shouldn't," said Mr Woodley. 

"There's often a change in circumstances and perhaps because of the financial situation we're getting a lot of abandoned animals. People are perhaps not putting their animals as a priority."

As a result, the RSPCA says it is now struggling to deal with the increased workload. It looks after 120,000 animals a year, but is also taking out a growing number of private convictions against individuals.

Mr Woodley explained: "We offer advice, and we offer warning notices. Warning notices can be very effective.

"It is legal advice people must follow and we find in 90% of cases people do follow it. But we do also have to take legal action. Where animals are intentionally harmed for pleasure or for cruelty, we will find those people and we will prosecute them."

Recent convictions include a man from Leyburn in North Yorkshire who set two dogs upon a snared fox forcing it to fight for its life.

The whole thing was filmed on a mobile phone and he was jailed for 16 weeks by Northallerton Magistrates Court.

There has been a 22% rise in convictions involving dogs. The number of successful cases involving horses has risen from 386 to 428.

The RSPCA says it currently has over 500 horses in its care and it is becoming a huge drain on resources. The animals are often abandoned because people can't afford the vets' bills.

Chief executive Gavin Grant said: "The RSPCA faces a crisis that is stretching us to breaking point. We need the courts and councils, police and people who care to join us in standing up and getting justice for Britain's abused animals."

Farm animals are also subject to increased cruelty, according to the statistics. Last week two abbatoir workers pleaded guilty to welfare offences after their cruelty was exposed in a Sky News investigation .

There have also been some amazing stories of survival including a lurcher-type dog which survived against all the odds after two men broke her back and stabbed her with a potato peeler before dumping her and leaving her to die.

It is a worrying trend that this nation of animal lovers appears to be causing them so much distress.