Legal Advice: I think my new neighbours' dog attacked my sheep - what can I do?
A new family moved into a house beside my farm. They have two massive German shepherds and anytime I pass they seem extremely aggressive.
We have a sheep dog on our own farm and I love the company of the dog, as well as the extra helper with the sheep. However, when I was walking past the neighbour’s house the other evening I spotted that the dogs do not appear to be on a leash.
There is a fence around the house, it’s about four-foot high, but there seems to be a number of weak spots in it.
Also the neighbours both seem to work during the day, so the dogs are unattended.
Last week I went to count my sheep and I found two sheep mauled to death. In my opinion it was clearly the neighbours dogs but I have no proof. What can I do?
Unfortunately, the issue of dogs attacking livestock is a common one and many farmers across the country face a similar dilemma to yours at some point or another.
At the outset, it is important to note you have no proof that it was your neighbour’s dogs which mauled your sheep and therefore, you are on the backfoot so to speak. They could well argue that your own dog or another dog caused the death so you need to be careful.
The law treats dogs differently to other animals such as livestock. The Control of Dogs Regulations 1998 places controls on ten breeds of dogs, which includes German Shepherds (Alsatians). This means that such dogs, when in public places, must be kept on strong short leads by a person over 16 years of age who is capable of controlling them and they must be securely muzzled. If a dog is proven to have caused injury to a person or livestock, then a complaint can be made to the Local Authority and if you do not get a satisfactory response there, then a complaint can be made to the District Court.
I note you state the fence around your neighbour’s house has a few weak spots in it. Your neighbours should ensure their dogs are properly fenced in so they do not stray onto public or other private property and cause damage. Otherwise they could be liable for that damage.
The law clearly states that an owner of an animal, or the person having charge of an animal, has a duty of care to prevent damage by that animal. In particular, the owner of a dog shall be liable in damages for injury or damage caused where that dog attacks a person or livestock.
The injured person or livestock owner will not have to prove the dog had a mischievous tendency and will only have to prove that the incident occurred and that the other person’s dog caused the damage. This is what is called “strict liability”. An exception to this would be where livestock wandered onto the dog owner’s property and the dog attacked the livestock there and then.
If a dog attacks, kills or chases livestock in a manner which may reasonably be expected to cause death, injury or suffering to livestock or results in financial loss to a farmer, then the owner of the dog is guilty of an offence and the matter should be reported to the Gardai.
Under Irish law, farmers are entitled to shoot dogs when the dogs are out of control, in either public or private land. However it must have been reasonable for the farmer to do so otherwise he could find himself liable to the dog’s owner and the subject of a criminal charge.
A farmer must weigh up the circumstances and establish if the conduct of the dog was such that it was legitimate to shoot the dog so as to protect his property. A farmer would, before shooting, have to be sure that the dog was at least worrying livestock, was still in the vicinity of the livestock and was not under anyone’s control and its owner could not be established.
What is 'worrying'?
Worrying livestock means to attack or kill or chase livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause death, injury or suffering to the livestock or result in financial loss to the owner of the livestock. If you do shoot a dog, then you must report the shooting to the Gardai within 48 hours of the shooting.
It is important to note that shooting a dog could give rise to a Firearms difficulty for the farmer. The advice is to approach a situation with caution and to shoot as a last resort.
It is a good idea for farmers to speak with their neighbours who have dogs and educate them on the issues they face with dogs and the threat to their livestock so they are aware of the possible financial threat to farmers’ livelihoods. This is something you could do and it may prompt your neighbours to ensure they have adequate fencing in place to prevent their dogs from straying in the future.
Deirdre Flynn is from a farming background and practices as a Solicitor at Deirdre Flynn Solicitors, Cathedral View, Ardfert, Co. Kerry Tel: 066 7115695 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The information in this article is intended as a general guide only. While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information provided, Deirdre Flynn does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising. You should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.
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