More than 21,000 calls were made last year to the helpline of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA).
While many ISPCA supporters demand tougher penalties for offenders, the society’s chief operating officer, Dr Andrew Kelly, said many animal owners still do not know their legal responsibilities.
“It still comes as a surprise for many people that tail docking is illegal,” he said.
In its first annual report, the society reported an increased number of calls from concerned members of the public reporting, through the ISPCA website and helpline, suspected cases of abuse.
Currently, more than 40 court cases relating to alleged abuses are pending.
The annual report said while it, and the public, “might welcome higher penalties and a ban imposed on offenders keeping animals, it is equally important the outcome of these cases [be used] to educate and inform the public”.
Many of the reported allegations of cruelty, it emerged, had been “cases of ignorance” on behalf of the owner or those responsible for the animals on how they should be treated.
The report highlights and details in graphic images of abuse and neglect in Ireland that came before the courts from 2010 until last year.
Due to the public’s reporting of alleged cruelty cases, 4,000 investigations are carried out yearly and, on average, 700 animals are seized or surrendered to the society.
The report claimed a number of appalling cases of animal cruelty had been reported.
In one case, 160 dogs had been mistreated by a woman in the north-west while the oldest person convicted had been a man, aged 77, who had neglected 18 dogs.
The majority of cases before the courts involved dogs, horses, and donkeys. There had been one report of someone abusing birds.
Among the penalties imposed had been hefty fines and jail sentences, many suspended, while lifetime bans on animal ownership had also been handed out.
Mr Kelly said some supporters had indicated concerns over penalties not being severe enough in some animal welfare cases.
“We will continue to do our job and bring offenders to court,” he said. “How the offenders are dealt with remains a matter for the courts. It still comes as a surprise for many people that tail docking is illegal. What is important for the ISPCA is that we use these cases, regardless of the penalties imposed, to inform the public of their legal responsibilities.
“The ISPCA would like to see animal welfare taught to primary school children as part of the curriculum and we are intent on lobbying government to make this happen. In the meantime, every time there is a successful prosecution, the ISPCA will do its best to get the message out that abusing animals, in any way, will not be tolerated.”
In March last year, ISPCA inspectors became authorised officers under the Animal Health and Welfare Act, allowing them to submit case files to the Department of Agriculture’s legal team for possible prosecution.