A timely reminder for all dog walkers
AS MARCH marches on, heavy winter curtains are slung open to let in the ever- thickening sunlight and people are lured out to gulp down lungfuls of wet spring air.
And as they tramp across hill and dale, many walkers are joined by a four-legged friend, keen to romp off the lead.
However mid-March also heralds the middle of one of the busiest periods in the farming calendar – lambing season.
During this time, the devastating effects of sheep worrying are amplified.
Heavily pregnant ewes can abort after suffering the stress of being chased by dogs.
Every year, sheep are killed, maimed and miscarry after being chased and attacked by dogs.
So the National Sheep Association and RSPCA are urging dog owners to take extra care during this crucial farming period.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “It is not only the harrowing injuries which out-of-control dogs have inflicted, but also the losses they have suffered as a result of dogs simply chasing livestock.
“The risk of heavily pregnant ewes aborting is extremely high after suffering the stress of been chased by dogs, not to mention the risk of young lambs becoming separated from their mother at a critical early bonding stage.
“Lambs will die from starvation or hypothermia when they become separated from their mother and fail to find her again.”
Last April, the National Sheep Association appealed to farmers to complete a survey on the effects of sheep worrying by dogs.
Seventy two per cent of those who responded said that sheep worrying attacks were caused by owners not putting their dogs on a lead.
And complacency was cited as the second most common reason, with 71 per cent of farmers saying that attacks took place due to dog owners assuming their pet wouldn’t attack livestock.
RSPCA inspector Tony Woodley said: “Many dogs, if given the opportunity, will chase or show interest in livestock, so even if your pet is normally calm, gentle, obedient and docile, don’t be complacent; they can be still be a danger.
“The aftermath of these attacks can be absolutely horrific – sheep with their ears ripped off, their legs bitten down to the bone and their throats torn open.
“Dog owners should also remember that they could be prosecuted and their dog could be shot dead if they are caught worrying sheep.”
The statistics back up this claim. The 2016 NSA survey found that 81 per cent of farmers said that dog attacks resulted in injuries to their sheep.
Sixty three per cent said the attacks resulted in death from dog bites and 61 per cent resulted in lambs being miscarried.
Eighty three per cent of those responding to the survey said the attacks took place on private, enclosed fields.
Blanchland farmer Ken Lumley said: “You get to spring and there’s more people coming out.
“But this environment is the sheep’s home; it’s their patch and suddenly there’s a dog there – it’s a shock and is stressful for them.
“To them, it’s like something has arrived from outer space.”
Any person in charge of a dog worrying sheep is guilty of an offence under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.
And the Countryside and Right of Way Act (CROW Act) allows anyone on to open access land.
However, the Act goes on to state that the public may only access this land if they keep dogs on a fixed lead of two metres or less near livestock.
And to reduce dog worrying attacks, the RSPCA and NSA have issued guidelines and advice for both dog walkers and farmers.
John Avizienius of the RSPCA farm animals department said: “We want everyone to enjoy the countryside, but please remember that it is the farmers’ workplace and the livestock are their valuable assets.
“Sheep can suffer terrible injuries and can abort their lambs when they are attacked or chased by dogs.
“Please ensure that your dog is kept on a lead at all times when walking with them in the countryside.”
Walkers are advised to watch for signs warning of livestock and keep dogs on a lead around farm animals, areas animals may be grazing, or even avoid such areas completely.
If a dog does chase sheep, owners are advised to report it to the farmer even if there is no apparent injury, as the stress caused can cause sheep to die and pregnant ewes to miscarry their lambs.
Farmers are advised to put up signs warning of where livestock are grazing.
Fencing should be kept in good repair to ensure that sheep don’t stray from their field.
Free signs are available from the NSA by emailing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more advice visit: www.nationalsheep.org.uk/dog-owners