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Dog attacks leave farmers on the brink

They can be devastating for Wexford's sheep farming families

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An injured sheep after the attack in Enniscorthy

An injured sheep after the attack in Enniscorthy

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An injured sheep after the attack in Enniscorthy

Between now and the end of March there will be approximately three million lambs born in Ireland.

A significant number of those will take their first, tentative steps on Wexford soil courtesy of the some 96,000 ewes in the county.

And a smaller, but no less significant, amount may not be born at all, dying in the womb because someone forget to lock up their dog at night.

Pat Murray, is the Wexford representative on the IFA's (Irish Farmer's Association) Sheep Committee, and he estimates that 20 dog attacks occur throughout the county each year.

That might not seem like a lot, but some of the more severe attacks can have devastating consequences for the farmers involved.

One such Enniscorthy farmer, who preferred not to be named, lost 68 sheep during an attack last year, an incident which cost him, in financial terms, €8,000, but an intangible amount in terms of stress and worry.

'The two dogs entered the shed shortly after 9 a.m. on the day. I discovered them that evening, sometime after 5 p.m. As a result of the attack 68 sheep were slaughtered or had to be humanely put down,' he says.

'When I came into the shed and saw what had happened my initial reaction was one of disbelief, I just couldn't believe what I was looking at.'

Although he tries to downplay the emotional impact of the attack, the farmer admits it left him 'distressed', the shock of seeing his animals massacred having a longterm impact.

'I'm paranoid about it happening again, I've been putting more cameras in the shed but I don't have WiFi there so have to top them up with credit to make sure they're always on.'

Then there's the financial cost. Although insured against dog attacks the scale of the attack meant the Enniscorthy man was left out of pocket to the tune of €8,000.

And this was just one of several attacks he has endured in recent years, each with a common denominator.

'People don't realise that once a dog gets a taste for blood it doesn't matter if they're a doberman or a terrier. I've had several dog attacks over the years but this was the worst one and in each case there was always a husky involved.'

'This attack involved a husky and a doberman but the doberman didn't do a tenth of the damage the husky did. Those dogs are bred to kill and they're not even on the dangerous dog list.'

For Pat, the emphasis is on ensuring dog-owners act responsibly, regardless of the breed.

'It's about responsible dog ownership, making sure to have them on a lead at all times. There's plenty of dangerous dogs out there, and for any dog their immediate instinct is to run after a sheep.

'People don't realise the damage that can be done, and the implications, some of it which isn't always seen. At this time of the year the ewes can end up aborting after the attack, through the stress, the physical toll, of having to run away.'

Working in tandem with the Dog Warden, Pat is striving to educate the public on the danger their dogs present to farmers.

'We're trying to be proacive, urging people to keep their dogs locked up a night. Even if you leave them out for half and hour they can go and do damage, and there's more attacks in the darker evenings,' Pat says.

Currently dog owners can be fined up to €200 for not controlling their animals, a figure which Pat would like to see increased.

'The law needs to be tightened up, and stronger fines should be introduced. The databases for dogs need to be linked too, there's currently four of them and we need to have just one'

With a current flock of between 500-600 sheep and lambing season in full swing, then Enniscorthy farmer believes harsher penalties need to be introduced to help protect not just his animals but also his livelihood.

'The guards need to have more severe fines for people who don't have licenses for their dogs, and they need to police rural areas more. There's still dogs loose around here, although they haven't done anything yet,' he says.

And with last year's attack still fresh in his memory the farmer says he wouldn't hesitate to act if faced with a similar situation.

'I have the right to shoot a dog. Would I? If I seen him attacking one of my sheep I would.'

Wexford People