During our recent rural seminar, we discussed the issues for farmers surrounding dog attacks on livestock. Understandably, this was a real concern for many of the farmers in attendance. So, what is the position when dogs attack?
It is a criminal offence for a dog to worry livestock under The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. The term ‘worrying’ would include the dog attacking livestock or chasing livestock in a way reasonably expected to cause injury. The owner of a dog who is found guilty of such an offence can be fined a penalty of up to £1,000. Should there be a prosecution under the Act, usually a charge will also be brought to bring controls over the dog potentially including an order for its destruction.
Outside of the criminal repercussions, there may also be recourse in the Civil Courts. Livestock is a possession and just like any other property, damage caused by another can give rise to a claim for unlawful interference with goods and trespass. Subject to a number of exceptions, The Animal Act 1971 also provides that where a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock, any person who is the keeper of the dog is liable for the damage.
Whilst the above offers some recourse after an attack, it does not answer the question of what to do if you come across an attack. Many farmers are aware that in such circumstances they are permitted by law to ‘kill or injure’ the offending dog. There are certain requirements to be met before such action can be lawfully taken. Either the dog must be or be about to worry the livestock and there must be no other reasonable means of preventing the worrying; or where the dog has previously been worrying livestock but has not left the vicinity, it must not be under the control of a person and there must be no practicable way of ascertaining to whom it belongs. The latter situation may arise where a dog, clearly responsible for an episode of worrying, is still in the vicinity of livestock and the owner cannot be located. In such circumstances, you can take action.
An attack by a dog on livestock is clearly an awful situation to come across. However anyone looking to protect their livestock in such circumstances must consider what reasonable action can be taken. The more serious the threat/attack the more significant and justifiable your defensive action may be. Any action taken must be reported to police within 48 hours of the incident.
It perhaps goes without saying that great care should be taken when considering action of this nature. If unnecessary pain and suffering is caused to an animal, you could be found in contravention of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which carries a sentence of up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £20,000.
At Hay & Kilner the expert solicitors in our multi-disciplinary Rural Team have extensive experience in advising clients in all aspects of agricultural and rural law including criminal and civil litigation matters.
If you would like further information about any of the above, please contact Rachael Leathley, or call 0191 232 8345.