Startling figures show in the last two years more than 400 children in Lancashire have witnessed animal abuse on social media.
Animal welfare charity the RSPCA reports it sees nearly 5,000 incidents of cruelty and neglect on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube reported to it each year, more than 700 of which are in the North West.
The figures emerged as a Preston woman was banned from keeping animals for life after broadcasting footage of herself online biting and rough handling her pet cat, which was later found dead at her Ribbleton home.
Angela Roe, 35, was given a lifelong animal ban and a 12 week jail term, suspended for a year, after Preston magistrates were told the incident was screened on Twitter’s live-streaming video app Periscope.
Misty, a black and grey feline, was found dead at her home by police after the footage was reported by a sickened viewer.
It showed Roe bite the distressed cat’s ear, causing her to scream in pain.
It isn’t an isolated incident. One Preston mum previously shopped her teenage son to police after finding a video on his phone of him swinging her 13-year-old cat around by its tail.
The charity is concerned that young children in particular are being exposed to horrific incidents of animal suffering online in ways previous generations have simply not experienced.
The RSPCA report shows that in Lancashire there were 160 instances of animal cruelty on social media in 2016, and 152 in 2017.
Worryingly, there were 131 in the first six months of 2018 alone.
In response, it is launching Generation Kind - an education and prevention programme aimed at youngsters.
It has also launched a petition calling for animal welfare to be taught in all schools.
A new poll by the charity also revealed 75 per cent of people in the North West agree animal welfare should be taught in schools.
Chief Executive Chris Sherwood explains: “The number of children seeing animal abuse online is shocking - the current generation of children are witnessing horrifying animal cruelty and neglect through channels which simply didn’t exist for previous generations.
“The risk for children growing up in the 21st century is that frequent and casual exposure to animal abuse will desensitise them and may even make it seem acceptable.
“Animals need us now more than ever and we want to grow a new generation of young people who care, who are informed and who want to do their best for animals.”
The programme will target school children, children in care, young offenders or those at risk of offending and other disadvantaged young people.
The charity believes teaching animal welfare in schools would ensure children develop key skills such as compassion and empathy, as well as respect for animals and a basic understanding of how to care for them.
Chris continues: “This is the most important campaign we have ever undertaken.
“We are fighting animal abuse and neglect every day but we can only do so much.
“If we can foster empathy and responsibility towards animals in the consumers, politicians and decision makers of tomorrow, we can create a society which is truly kinder to animals.”
The nine projects making up RSPCA’s Generation Kind
This pairs up disadvantaged young people and traumatised dogs for a training course which educates young people about animal welfare, encourages empathy for animals nd teaches key skills. In return, it helps dogs recover from trauma through their care, attention and training.
Aimed at school children in deprived areas, young people who have been excluded, those out of employment or training, or from troubled families, Wild Things gives them an opportunity to engage with and understand animals and develop compassion and empathy for them.
Animal Care apprenticeships
This aims to capitalise on the enthusiasm for animals shown by many disadvantaged children who take part in the charity’s projects by offering a chance to pursue their passion through an apprenticeship.
This is an education project aimed at 7-11 year olds, featuring online videos and interactive content, to inspire compassion for animals through learning about their needs.
Looked After Children
Animal action days aimed at children in care, to help them develop positive relationships with animals. The project teaches compassion and empathy.
Encourages 11-14 year olds to actively engage in animal welfare and think critically about issues concerning animals.
Sessions for trainee teachers to help them shape young minds, so young people leave school knowing about the importance of kindness to animals.
Breaking the chain
Training members of Youth Offending Teams to help them rehabilitate young people who have harmed animals, promoting greater empathy for animals.
Speakers go into schools, youth groups and clubs to teach children about the five welfare needs of animals and promote a better understanding of animals.
Court is told of attack that left cat screaming in agony
Angela Roe live-streamed a sickening video of her pet cat screaming in agony as she bit and rough handled the suffering animal.
Misty, a black and grey feline, was found dead at Angela Roe’s Ribbleton home by police shortly after the incident - screened on Twitter’s live-streaming video app Periscope - was reported by a sickened friend.
Preston Magistrates’ Court heard a witness, who became online friends with Roe, saw Misty on her lap in a live-stream on August 26 last year, in which she was “squeezing and shaking” the animal and shouting she was a “psycho”.
The woman saw Roe bite the cat’s ear, causing her to scream.
Roe, who has mental health problems, was then seen to self-harm and rub blood on her fur.
The worried woman corresponded with Roe the next day. She was drunk and said her “other personality was going to come out. The bad side, the Jekyll and Hyde nasty side of me”.
Roe put Misty on her lap again and said: “Can she kill the cat and then kill herself?”
The witness pleaded with Roe saying she would give Misty a home.
Prosecuting for the RSPCA, Paul Ridehalgh said: “Around 25 minutes later the broadcast resumed and the defendant typed, ‘My cat has just attacked me’ and claimed Misty was ‘demonic’.” Roe claimed Misty was asleep but the concerned woman called the police.
A vet later concluded she died from being smothered but Roe was not charged because of a lack of evidence.
She was given a 12-week suspended jail term and a lifetime pet ban.
How the law stands today
The RSPCA charity can prosecute people for neglect or cruelty to animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
In 2017to 2018, investigators probed 4,770 animal cruelty cases in Lancashire.
Where possible the charity offers advice to improve animal welfare, including giving people time to make improvements to their standards of care - but this is not always possible or appropriate, such as if there has been a deliberate act of violence, or an owner won’t accept help.
The charity says it spends around £8 million annually on prosecutions.
Recent laws increased the penalty for animal abuse to a maximum of five years in prison.