The Scottish SPCA had its busiest ever year in 2013, with calls to its animal helpline increasing 17%.

The animal welfare charity dealt with a record 228,143 reported incidents as demand for its help soared.

It also carried out a record number of investigations, with 58 people banned from keeping animals.

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Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn attributed the surge in calls to a possible rise in awareness about the charity and its services.

He said: "In 2013 our investigations increased from 17,373 to 20,111, we found loving new homes for 6,563 pets and we were able to rehabilitate and release 2,939 wild animals.

"These were all records in what was our busiest ever year.

"We can't be certain if cruelty is increasing as more people are aware of how we can help animals, which means we are possibly uncovering cases which may not have been reported in previous years.

"However, we know our inspectors were faced with a catalogue of neglect and abuse. While most of the cases we dealt with were caused by ignorance and a lack of understanding of what an animal needs, many involved wilful and mindless cruelty.

"Last year 58 people were banned from owning animals, which is a shameful average of more than one a week."

These included Perthshire farmer John Ferguson, 51, of Alyth, who received a lifetime ban last January at Perth Sheriff Court after he admitted neglecting more than a thousand sheep and cattle. He was also ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work in the community.

Others dealt with by the courts included Charles Swan, 68, of Stirling, who was jailed for eight months after he admitted neglecting 57 dogs while running an illegal puppy farm on the outskirts of Airth, Falkirk.

He was also banned from having any contact with animals for 10 years at Falkirk Sheriff Court in March.

Mr Flynn said the rise in calls to the charity's helpline could be seen to be encouraging as it showed that many people care for animals.

"That's a very positive sign and suggests overall we are still a nation of animal lovers," he said.