RSPCA Cymru is issuing an urgent warning to dog owners to ensure their pets are kept on a lead around livestock and wildlife.
The warning comes ahead of the predicted good weather for the Easter bank holiday weekend and after a large scale operation in Mathry, Pembrokeshire, which saw rescuers safely remove 65 sheep from cliffs.
The sheep were believed to have been scared over the cliffs by a dog. The complex and long operation took more than two weeks and involved a number of agencies, as well as a large number of RSPCA rope and boat rescue teams.
RSPCA inspector Keith Hogben said: “Unfortunately livestock worrying incidents are not uncommon and can have grave consequences for animal welfare, and relationships between pet and non-pet owners in our rural areas – and can be stressful for the farmers involved.
“Sadly, it appears that some dog owners do not think it is a problem that their canine companions chase livestock. But sheep worrying can cause serious, lasting injury to sheep and have horrible impacts, like the loss of unborn lambs. The stress alone of being chased by a dog can be enough to kill a sheep.
“It can be all too easy to become complacent when walking your dogs and yet this is something all dog owners should take very seriously. Those in charge of dogs worrying livestock can also be prosecuted – so, clearly, this is something any owner should consider when walking their dogs.
“Ultimately, everyone who visits the countryside to exercise their dogs should understand that livestock worrying is dangerous and can result in horrific suffering for the animals that have been attacked.
“It could also result in the loss of their dogs if the farmer exercises his or her legal right to defend their animals. To avoid this, please keep dogs on leads around farm livestock.
“In addition, many worrying incidents are caused by unaccompanied dogs that have escaped from their house or garden. To help tackle the problem of livestock worrying, dog owners should also make sure their home and garden is secure and their dog cannot get loose.”
Last year, the RSPCA in partnership with other members of the Animal Welfare Network for Wales, issued bright yellow gatepost signs, encouraging dog owners to be mindful of other animals whilst enjoying the countryside, including a focus on ensuring dogs are kept on leads.
NFU Cymru Livestock Board Chairman, Wyn Evans, said: “Livestock worrying and dog attacks have a devastating impact on farmers, both financially and emotionally – last year it was estimated that the cost of dog attacks on livestock in Wales had more than doubled.
“Welsh farmers look after over 80% of the land area of Wales and many public footpaths go through farmed land. While we understand that owners must exercise their dogs, there are far too many instances of vulnerable stock suffering at the hands of dogs that aren’t being controlled correctly by their owners.
“Even when dogs are chasing sheep (which may not look like they are causing harm) this can cause stress to the sheep and at this time of year can result in sheep aborting lambs, while new born lambs stand relatively little chance when subjected to a brutal attack from a dog left free to rampage off of the lead.
“Our advice to dog walkers is that if you have a dog with you keep it close by your side and under control. Where there are cows and sheep put it on a short lead.
“NFU Cymru has gatepost signs available in English and Welsh for farmers who have public rights of way running through their land to help remind dog walkers of best practise when out in the countryside.
“We would urge farmers to report all incidents to the police to ensure we get an accurate record of the problem across Wales.”
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