Many of us will be out walking with our dogs this month as we appreciate the autumn colour.
So the NFU is reminding us to take extra care and avoid situations where our pets could scare and even harm farm animals, especially sheep. And West Sussex County Council has some tips for dog walkers too.
Sadly, there has been a spate of attacks by dogs on sheep across Sussex this year. Sheep can die the most terrible deaths in dog attacks. Female sheep (ewes) will be becoming pregnant this autumn and can lose their lambs when chased by dogs.
Sussex NFU Adviser James Osman says: “Farmers spend countless hours tending their livestock and helping to care for our grazed countryside.
“Please avoid potential problems and keep your dog under close control and on a lead around cattle and sheep. Don’t be tempted to let your pet run freely in open fields as there may be sheep around the corner – even the best behaved dogs have a chase instinct. Dogs can inflict the most terrible injuries on sheep which often result in death.”
If a dog chases and/or bites livestock, the dog owner or the person responsible for the animal at the time is guilty of an offence (of livestock worrying) under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.The dog owner or walker may be sued for compensation by the farmer, besides facing a maximum fine of £1,000. Mr Osman adds: “The law allows farmers to shoot dogs that are threatening livestock. Don’t put your pet in danger, keep it on a lead and under control at all times. Dog attacks on sheep should be avoided at all costs.”
Owners should also check that properties are dog proof, to prevent dogs roaming freely.
West Sussex County Council Access Ranger Sue du Chemin says she regularly hears of walkers straying off paths. “This is becoming a real problem for farmers, often resulting in footpaths being fenced in. Most people don’t like this and it causes more maintenance issues for the Council too. Under the legislation that governs public rights of way, walkers and their dogs must stay on the legal line of the path. Unless your dog remains at heel, the only way for this to happen in reality is having the dog on a lead. If either the walker, or their dog, strays from the path they are trespassing as the right of access applies only to the path’s legal line.
“We want to encourage responsible access to the countryside and do not like having footpaths fenced in. But when a few irresponsible dog owners think they have the right to allow their dogs to run free this can ruin the experience for other walkers, besides causing all kinds of issues for the landowner,” adds Mrs du Chemin.
New legislation makes it illegal to let a dog be out of control in a public place, in a private place, such as a neighbour’s garden, or in the owner’s home. An unlimited fine or a six month prison sentence (or both) applies if your dog is dangerously out of control. You may not be allowed to own a dog in the future and your dog may be destroyed.
A court could decide that your dog is dangerously out of control if it attacks someone’s animal, and/or the owner of an animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal.