Are landowners legally entitled to shoot dogs who worry their livestock? Here is what the law states
As police across Yorkshire step up patrols in rural areas to prevent livestock being attacked by dogs, we look further into the legal rights landowners have when it comes to protecting their sheep.
"Worrying" covers attacking, chasing in a way that could cause injury, suffering, abortion or loss of produce, or simply being "at large" - that is not on a lead or otherwise under close contorl in a field or enclosure containing sheep.
There have been a number of reports of sheep worrying incidents in the Todmorden area over the last few months.
Police also confirmed a dog was shot by a farmer near Hebden Bridge, after it killed six lambs in a sheep worrying incident.
So what is the position of the farmer who shoots a dog?
All property receives a degree of protection by law, so injuring or killing a person’s dog could give rise to a possible criminal damage charge.
The main question is whether the landowner had a lawful excuse to shoot the dog. They will have to show that they acted in belief that their property was in immediate need of protection
and that their actions were reasonable having regard to all the circumstances.
If the dog has already moved away and is no longer posing an immediate danger to the livestock, the fact that it might return on a future occasion does not provide a defence.
The Animals Act 1971 does provide some statutory defence to farmers who injure a dog in order to protect their livestock.
To be ale to rely on the defence, landowners will need to demonstrate that:
1) There are no reasonable means of preventing the worrying (or the dog has been worrying livestock);
2) The dog has not left the vicinity;
3) The dog is not under an individual's control; and
4) There are no practicable means of ascertaining its owner. What constitutes the necessary practical steps will depend on the circumstances, but it could extend to trying to ascertain whether anybody in the immediate vicinity is the owner, and who would have the ability to bring the dog back under control.
In addition, if a dog is shot, it is crucial that the local police are notified within 48 hours.
Shooting a dog can also give rise to potential firearms difficulties.
If a rifle or other section 1 firearm has been used, then, unless one of the conditions on which the certificate was granted covers such use, there is a real risk of prosecution for failing to comply with the certificate conditions.
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