Karen Walsh: Educate your neighbours on dog dangers

The result of a dog attack on sheep

Last week, I wrote about the problems farmers face, with dogs killing their sheep and lambs, and the reasonable steps that both the farmer and dog owner should take to solve this problem.

Farmers are fully entitled to shoot dogs when they are out of control, in either a public or private land, under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Unfortunately, however, the question arises as to whether the farmer is liable to the dog owner, if the farmer shoots the dog.

Under Irish Law, any owner of a property receives a certain degree of protection, but it also gives rise to a duty of care to those on one’s property, even a trespasser, or an animal.

The question then arises as to whether injuring or killing a person’s dog, when on your land, gives rise to a criminal charge.

In Civil Law, under the Irish jurisdiction, this is simply called the ‘Reasonable Man Test’.

Reasonableness depends on the facts. Reasonableness and simple logic would dictate that, if the dog was simply running in a field and started to run home, the farmer could not be justified in shooting the dog, as he clearly was not posing any immediate threat to livestock. 

The fact that there is a possibility that the dog might return on a future occasion is no defence.

In essence, it is necessary for the farmer to be confident that any dog has been, at least, worrying livestock, and has not left the vicinity and is not under anyone’s control, and it is impossible to establish the owner.

It would be prudent for the farmer to inform the Gardaí, which can be used as a defence by the farmer in the event of civil proceedings against him at a later date, if he or she had to take the necessary action and shoot the dog.

If a dog attacks, kills or chases livestock in such a manner as may be reasonably be expected to cause death, injury or suffering to the livestock, or results in financial loss to the owner of the livestock, the owner of the dog is guilty of an offence, and these offences should be reported to the Gardaí.

In the case of sheep that were subject to a higher than normal rate of still-born progeny, one should have this confirmed by a veterinarian, where the dog owner would more than likely to be guilty of an offence. 

A farmer must weigh up the circumstances and establish if suffering could reasonably have been avoided, and further establish if the conduct of the dog was such that it was legitimate for the farmer to shoot so as to protect property, another animal or even a person.

It will also be necessary for the farmer to decide if the suffering of the dog was proportionate to the purpose, and if a reasonable person or competent person or humane person would conduct themselves in such a manner, in the circumstances.

The farmer could well be left in a situation where he truly believes that he was justified in shooting, yet a Court may consider otherwise, that is, was shooting a reasonable option.

Shooting a dog can also give rise to a potential fire arms difficulty. 

Under the Firearms Act 1925, there can also be a risk of prosecution, if the farmer failed to comply with the conditions on the certificate which was issued when granting the licence.

A farmer can reasonably have little or no sympathy for the dog owner, where he or she sees the dog attacking one of his sheep.

The Gardaí could well investigate such a situation, and the farmer should then immediately seek legal representation.

Dogs will invariably continue to chase sheep and attack sheep, given the chance.

A farmer should consider the above, and approach the situation with utmost caution, and shoot as a very last resort.

Therefore, in my opinion, there is no harm in the farmer educating neighbours, be they dog owners or not, on the many perils he or she faces with dogs, when running a farm. 

Once the farmer is justified in the use of the gun and holds the appropriate licence, it is within his or her rights to shoot, under the law.


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