'The sheep were petrified - they spent the night sitting at the gate where I was'

Speaking out: Damien Hanratty has appealed to members of the public to report dangerous dogs. His flock of sheep, at Togher, Co Louth was attacked by dogs last month. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson
Speaking out: Damien Hanratty has appealed to members of the public to report dangerous dogs. His flock of sheep, at Togher, Co Louth was attacked by dogs last month. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson

Elaine Keogh

A farmer who stayed overnight in the fields with his sheep after they were attacked by dogs twice last month has said everyone, not just farmers, needs to report incidents involving dogs.

Damien Hanratty, from Togher, Co Louth said he will not know the full impact of the attacks on his sheep until April when they are due to lamb.

He spoke to the Farming Independent last week about the attacks and thinks that the subsequent publicity combined with the work of the Louth County Council dog warden stopped the attacks.

After the second attack two weeks ago, Damien stayed overnight with the sheep. "I sat in the jeep and went out every hour and shone the light around. There was nothing to be seen."

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"The sheep were petrified, they spent the night sitting at the gate beside where I was. They should not be there. Usually they would be scattered a wee bit, lying out in the field wherever they want. As soon as it got light they drifted off again."

Last year he delivered 250 lambs and was hoping for 300 this year but he is fearing the worst because of the dog attacks.

"Most of them should be in lamb. After the dog attack there will be a certain percentage that will abort because of the scare."

Damien has suffered two previous dog attacks since 2004. In the first one he says "a total of €5,000 worth of damage was done including the sheep, fencing, vets and animals being rejected by the factory because of dog marks and through abortions."

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"It is a worry the whole time but it just seems to happen this time of the year and is to do with the dark nights. The dogs get brave in the dark."

He said everyone needs to report incidents involving dogs. "Everything needs to be reported not just by farmers but other people too if they feel threatened by dogs on the road."

Louth IFA rural development chairman, Matthew McGreehan, lost 13 sheep in a dog attack in November last year and he warned about people letting their dogs out at night time. "Ten minutes can turn into half an hour later and you do not realise what a dog can do in that time."

He lives in the Cooley Peninsula which the IFA describes as a black spot for dog attacks in 2018. Matthew said 2019 was "overall was very bad. There was a lull maybe in the summer months but from January to March and October to December were pretty bad."

He also said there was a the cross-border problem where a dog from Louth can go into Armagh and kill sheep and then go home.

He wants an all-island database for dogs and co-operation between the dog wardens on both sides of the border.

In response, the Department of Rural and Community Affairs stated: "Each year, through press releases, social media and advertisements in local newspapers, the Department and local authorities highlight to the public the importance of responsible dog ownership and the need for dog owners to be vigilant at all times and particularly during the lambing season.

"Louth Co Council dog warden service is very active in addressing all aspects of sheep worrying, from dealing with actual cases, including the scanning of dead dogs for microchips at the scenes, to preventive measures such as seizing stray dogs.

"The Department [of Rural and Community Affairs] will continue to work with all responsible stakeholders towards the shared aim of promoting responsible dog ownership and consistently reinforcing the message that dogs should never be allowed to roam alone."

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