Britain is widely recognised as a nation of animal lovers but shocking cruelty statistics released by the RSPCA will throw that notion in to doubt.

For the RSPCA, 2002 was a busy year and, while 2001 highlighted problems due to ignorance and neglect, last year exposed a darker side to the treatment of animals.

Some of the sights shocked even the most experienced RSPCA inspectors.

One of the worst cases involved a part-bred German Shepherd dog, which had both his eyeballs ruptured with a sharp instrument, and was found dumped in a canal suffering from a broken jaw. The animal was so traumatised he was immediately put to sleep by a vet.

An elderly pony named Duke (pictured), was found in an appalling condition. He was so emaciated he weighed less than half his correct body weight.

There was some good news in that the society saw a slight drop in the number of prosecutions, but one of the major causes for concern was the level of violence used against animals.

In one case a man stabbed his brother’s 10-month-old Whippet to death in a drunken rage. A post mortem revealed he had attacked the animal with such force the blade had penetrated her chest, lungs, diaphragm and liver.

However, it is acts of cruelty committed against animals by juveniles that is the charity’s biggest concern. In one case, a 15-year-old boy repeatedly tried to slit his pet dog’s throat with a blunt knife. When that failed to kill the animal he hung it from a lamppost where it took 15 minutes to die.

John Hancock, the RSPCA’s regional manager for the East Central region, said: “Every year we deal with cases that shock, but never before have we seen such a catalogue of horrifying and vicious acts of deliberate cruelty and torture towards defenceless animals.

“The fact that some of these acts involve children is particular cause for concern. The images from some of these cases will stay in our inspectors’ minds for a long time.

“The RSPCA fears that if this level of violence goes unchecked and is ignored by society then in the future many more people may cite cruelty as ‘normal behaviour’. These cases show the need to acknowledge there is a serious problem that needs to be tackled before it escalates further.”