Just one person has been prosecuted for animal neglect in Bermuda in the past five years, prompting concerns from campaigners.
SPCA director Kim Sherlaw says the charity is hampered from taking court action because there is no police officer assigned to tackle the problem.
According to her, there are “very very few” prosecutions as a result, and the situation is “a challenge”.
The last person taken to court for abusing animals was Calix Darrell, who pleaded guilty in April 2006 to a catalogue of cruelty against six horses and a rabbit.
The senior, who owned stables in Southampton, was banned from keeping animals for five years and handed a suspended prison sentence.
Ms Sherlaw said she’s had several discussions with police over the issue because the service has not had an animal enforcement officer for six or seven years.
Although the SPCA can investigate and collect evidence of animal neglect, it does not have the authority to arrest, caution or charge those who break the law.
Neither can it prepare a court case in tandem with the Department of Public Prosecutions.
“That needs to come from a law enforcement officer and there is not one. That is where we are falling short,” she remarked.
The SPCA is now looking to recruit an experienced inspector to build a prosecutions department and work with the police.
“We would like to see that [enforcement officer] post reinstated to become part of the prosecution team,” said Ms Sherlaw.
She explained the Department of Environmental Protection has animal wardens who can gain warrants from a magistrate more quickly than the SPCA to seize animals from neglectful owners.
The department also has the ability to prosecute, and there have been joint prosecutions between it and the SPCA, but the last one was in the Darrell case in 2006.
Ms Sherlaw added that an additional problem is members of the public appear unwilling to report animal neglect. The SPCA recently discovered two dogs starving to death on the end of chains in full sight of neighbouring houses.
“I very much feel that people are hesitant to get involved. The SPCA would like to maintain that all complaints are anonymous,” she said.
Visiting British MP Andrew Rosindell, who has an interest in animal welfare issues, raised the lack of prosecutions with Police Commissioner Michael DeSilva last week.
Mr Rosindell, a backbench member of the Conservative party, was Shadow Minister for Animal Welfare until his party took the helm of a coalition Government last year.
He told The Royal Gazette: “I would strongly hope that where there is evidence of animal cruelty, the full force of the law will be brought down on those people.
“We share this planet with the animal kingdom and we have a duty to ensure that they are not ill-treated and harmed in any way and the law should be used to protect them.”
According to Bermuda Police Service statistics posted on its website, 21 people have been arrested since January 2005 for “animal offences”.
The Royal Gazette asked Mr DeSilva to comment on the lack of prosecutions and lack of an enforcement officer. A spokesman responded: “The Bermuda Police Service provides support where necessary to the Government animal wardens at the Department of the Environment who take the lead on education and enforcement concerning animal care and cruelty issues.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Environment said: “The Ministry does not wish to respond at this time.”