North East dog owners are being reminded of their responsibility for keeping their pets under control and out of danger in the countryside – and of the potential consequences of failing to do so.
Rachael Leathley, a solicitor with the specialist rural team at Hay & Kilner Law Firm in Newcastle, was speaking as the lambing season was getting into full swing right across the region.
And Rachael is keen to stress that the legal definition of worrying does not just include a dog physically attacking livestock, but also entails them chasing sheep and cattle in a way which could reasonably be expected to cause injury.
It is a criminal offence for a dog to worry livestock under The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, with owners found guilty of such an offence being liable for a fine of up to £1,000.
If a prosecution is brought under the Act, a charge will usually also be brought to bring controls over the dog, which could potentially include an order for its destruction, while the keeper of a dog which has killed or injured livestock is liable for meeting the cost of the damage caused.
Rachael Leathley says: “While most dog owners are fully aware of their responsibilities, there are enough out there who do not live up to them to make dog attacks on livestock a very real concern for many of the farmers with whom we work.
“Outside of any criminal repercussions, potentially costly civil action may result from a livestock worrying incident, as such animals are ‘possessions’ and just as with any other property, claims can be made to rectify any damage caused to them by another.
“Farmers have also the right to take ‘reasonable action’ to defend their livestock where a dog is worrying or about to worry livestock, and are entitled to injure or kill it if there are no other reasonable means of preventing the worrying, which is a situation that no-one wants to happen.
“Even if they believe their dog remains totally in their control while off the lead, dog owners would be well advised to take a cautious approach in the countryside as unexpected problems can arise very quickly and can leave owners with no time to react to them, especially if their dog has disappeared from view.
“Keeping dogs on a lead is the only certain way of owners avoiding problems with livestock, especially in areas that owners don’t know well, and it makes sense for them to do everything possible to avoid an enjoyable day on the countryside ending up in a tragic and avoidable situation.”