Renato Castello on News.com.au
The sudden surge in prosecutions could be linked to new powers introduced last year which let inspectors investigate complaints without warning.
The number of people prosecuted for animal cruelty has more than doubled in the past 12 months.
South Australia's peak animal welfare body has attributed the rise to tough new laws.
A wounded dog "bandaged" with gaffer tape, a kelpie starved to death and rabbits dumped by a roadside were among a mounting number of cruelty cases making it through Adelaide's court system in the 2008-2009 financial year.
The RSPCA prosecuted 44 people in connection with 40 cases of animal cruelty last financial year - up from 17 cases in the previous 12 months - leading to $78,000 in fines.
But the society's soon-to-be released annual report also reveals the number of cruelty cases investigated by inspectors fell by by 9 per cent to 2894 over the same period - with dogs (1627), cats (407) and horses (239) making up the bulk of the reports.
RSPCA spokeswoman Aimee McKay said the sudden surge in prosecutions could be linked to new powers introduced last year which let inspectors investigate complaints without warning.
"That gives us more power to inspect properties without needing a police warrant, we can just go straight in and see the reality of the situation," Ms McKay said.
"There is now more of a surprise element in our inspection powers.
"Our main concern is getting to the animal that needs help, that's the key to the new powers."
Among the people prosecuted were:
A PORT Pirie man banned from owning pets after inspectors found he had starved a kelpie to death; AN elderly man fined $400 after his staffordshire terrier died while left alone in a shopping centre car park on a 31C day; A DOG owner fined $500 and restricted to owning just one animal for 18 months after he had "bandaged" his wounded Rottweiler's leg using gaffer tape, and; A MAN fined $600 for failing to trim the horns of his cattle which had grown into their faces.
The biggest penalty was handed out to convicted dog hoarders Joseph and Magarete Higham who were given two-month suspended prison sentences, banned from keeping animals and ordered to pay nearly $20,000 in fines.
They were found guilty of mistreating animals at properties in Swan Reach and Eudunda in 2006 and 2007. The RSPCA seized 120 dogs; 70 more were left, 70 were destroyed and another 15 were re-homed or died while under observation.
The pair were arrested before new penalties for animal cruelty were increased under the new Animal Welfare Act, which saw fines and prison terms for the for ill-treatment of and cruelty towards animals doubled to a maximum four-year jail term or a fine of $50,000.
The Government also increased the society's annual grant from $580,000 to $660,000 - of a $6.5m operating budget - during the last financial year to fund two extra inspectors, bringing the number to nine.
"The vast majority (of cases) is the owner not taking the animal to the vet and failing to seek out treatment," Ms McKay said.
"Definitely there is a growing awareness of what animal cruelty is and what constitutes animal cruelty.
"People in the community are also not tolerating animal cruelty and hopefully they are more aware of the channels to which they can report it."
The RSPCA's annual report also shows there were 3359 animals seized, rescued or received by the society, more than half of them cats.
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