‘How can someone watch their dog ripping these animals apart?’ – Shepherd’s warning over attacks on sheep
- Credit: Bill Smith - Archant
A Norfolk sheep farmer has made an impassioned personal plea for dog owners not to ignore signs and warnings about keeping their pets on leads.
David Cross, a contract shepherd who looks after 2,000 sheep within a 20-mile radius of his home farm in Wymondham, said he has to deal with two or three dog attacks on his flocks every year.
One regular flashpoint is near a popular footpath outside Norwich.
'I have got sheep at Costessey on the Marriott's Way, which is a well-trodden dog-walking area, but we have got big signs up and people completely ignore them, with their dogs off the lead walking 20m in front of them,' he said.
'It is purely ignorance. When I approach people they say: 'My dog won't attack sheep'. But it doesn't matter what kind of dog they have – when it gets close to sheep they take flight, and the dog's natural instinct is to chase.
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'The worst attack I ever had was at Whitlingham Park, where we had 13 dead lambs and a dozen more which needed to be stitched up by the vet. It is brutal.'
The message comes after rural insurer NFU Mutual announced that the cost of claims for 'livestock worrying' had now reached record levels, rising by 67pc across the UK in the past two years, with the total cost to the farming industry last year estimated at £1.6m.
Mr Cross said on one of the few occasions he was able to catch a dog in the act, it was a tiny Shih Tzu – demonstrating that many dog breeds are capable of attacking lambs, no matter how unlikely it might seem.
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'99pc of the time you don't catch them, you just pick up the pieces,' he said. 'It is sickening. How can someone watch their dog ripping these animals apart and then not report it?
'I don't know what the mentality of people is. Maybe they are scared of the consequences.'
The Countryside Code, published by Natural England, requires dogs to be kept 'under effective control', either by keeping them on a lead, keeping them in sight at all times with confidence it will 'return to you promptly on command', or ensuring it does not 'stray off the path or area where you have a right of access'.