RSPCA wants harder line to fight cruelty

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The RSPCA yesterday called for harsher penalties for animal cruelty as it unveiled national figures showing a sharp increase in cases of neglect. Last year incidents of basic neglect, as opposed to direct ill- treatment, rose by 7 per cent, accounting for three-quarters of all RSPCA convictions for animal cruelty.

Revealing that 1,648 cases of neglect were discovered in 1995, the animal- welfare charity argued for tougher penalties and a scheme to microchip and nationally register dogs. Phone calls to the society had increased by 19 per cent to more than 1.2 million, with officials responding to an animal-welfare inquiry every 26 seconds.

Cases of deliberate ill-treatment had fallen for the second year running, with the number of cruelty convictions falling by 4 per cent to 2,201. However, attacks on horses had risen by 66 per cent, from 124 in 1994 to 206 in 1995.

Yesterday the charity displayed some of the worst-neglected animals it had rescued last year, including a wealthy businessman's dog which had been left to starve in a filthy shack, and a miniature poodle which no longer resembled a dog when it was discovered.

Bairbre O'Malley, an RSPCA veterinary surgeon who last year had to destroy a puppy which had been beaten around the head with a hammer, said: "It can be very difficult not to get disheartened. Sometimes I am staggered when people say they didn't know their animal was suffering."

Richard Davies, the RSPCA's chief inspector, described how his officers were forced to deal every day with the symptoms of neglect, including animals with illnesses left untreated for months. "It outrages me that so many of the cases that RSPCA inspectors come across could have been avoided," he said. "In terms of the suffering inflicted, neglect is as unforgivable as outright brutality. No one should take on an animal unless they have thought carefully about the cost, the time and the commitment involved in looking after it. The keeping of an animal brings with it moral and legal responsibilities."

He added that dogs remained the main target of abuse and compulsory dog registration was an initiative which "any enlightened society would introduce without resistance".

The RSPCA has sought to stamp out the impulse buying of pets - one of the main reasons for animals being neglected -and hopes a government- backed registration scheme to replace the old dog licensing system can be introduced soon.

One of the worst cases of neglect the RSPCA dealt with last year was that of the miniature poodle, Snowy, whose plight only came to light when it was dumped at a London police station. Underweight and uncared for, its hair was so matted it could barely see. As well as suffering from scabies, her skin was burnt from where she had lain in her own urine. She later recovered and was fostered to responsible owners.

In another case, RSPCA officials were astonished to discover that a wealthy business man was keeping a starving Great Dane in his garden outhouse. The dog, called Duke, was barely able to walk after months of neglect and was suffering from severe mange.

His owner, a property consultant from Kilburn, north-west London, was eventually banned by a court from keeping a dog for five years. Duke has since been found a new home.

The RSPCA's 24-hour national helpline number for reporting cases of cruelty and neglect is 0990-555-999.