A Cork hunting club has been ordered to pay €4,000 in compensation to a farmer after an incident in which its dogs distressed a number of his cattle, which in turn caused at least one of the bulls to be “physically unable to procreate”.
The order came despite members of the club having yesterday told Macroom District Court that its dogs were not on the farmer’s land on the day in question.
Patrick Kelleher of Shanakiel, Macroom, took the case against Macroom Foxhounds Hunt’s joint masters Donal Buckley and Francis Horgan, chairman Patsy Walsh, secretary Margaret Buckley, and huntsman John McSweeney. He sought compensation for the devaluation of the cattle as a result of the incident and for the cost of repairing fencing broken when the bulls scattered.
Judge James McNulty heard that the Macroom Foxhounds Hunt had organised a fundraiser in aid of the town’s community hospital on January 15, 2014.
Mr Kelleher told the court that the incident was “a total disaster” for him, as his his bulls were “mad”, “physically lame and unable to procreate” as a result of the run-in with the dogs.
His son Kevin Kelleher witnessed the incident. He said that he was in the farmyard at Cahernafulla, Rusheen, some 400 yards away from the incident, when around four or five dogs came through a forestry, across the public road, and into the field towards the bulls.
He said the bulls became excited, scattered, and some went through the field’s fencing. He left the yard and drove three miles to his parent’s house to inform his father as to what had happened
Andrew Scannell rents the field to Mr Kelleher and was on adjacent land at the time.
He said he was “shocked” to see the bulls scattering in different directions and saw the dogs, which he assumed had strayed from the hunt’s pack.
Local vet Tom O’Leary said that he inspected one of the bulls a fortnight or so after the incident. He said the animal had suffered lesions and scratches on its back and spinal injuries consistent with it having been stuck under a branch and forcing its way out. He said these injuries affected the animal’s gait and would impact on its ability to breed as it would not be able to successfully mount a cow.
The court heard from a number of witnesses who took part in the hunt, all of whom claimed that every one of their dogs stayed together in a pack and did not enter Mr Kelleher’s field.
Mr McSweeney said that the hunt that day involved 31 dogs, all of which were “well trained”. He said that the dogs did not come within half a mile of Mr Kelleher’s field.
He claimed that when subsequently making his complaint in a phone call, Mr Kelleher claimed to have CCTV footage of the incident, and also suggested that the hunt club could make an insurance claim, after which he would give Mr McSweeney and Mr Buckley €500 each. Mr Kelleher denied these claims in court.
Mr Buckley supported Mr McSweeney’s assertion that the hunt came within half a mile of Mr Kelleher’s farm at most. He said the hunt went towards a wind turbine on a hill above a forestry that divided their group from the road and adjacent fields, but that they lost any scent of a fox and turned around.
He said that he went to visit Mr Kelleher after the complaint, and received “a heap of abuse” for claiming the hunt had not gone near his field.
Tina Healy told the court that she kept constant count of the dogs throughout the hunt, and that there were 31 dogs in the pack at all times.
In delivering his verdict, Judge McNulty reminded both sides that civil cases are decided on the balance of probabilities, and that he was to find in favour of the side whose story “is likely to be true”.
He said that while there was no evidence of erectile dysfunction or sterility among the cattle as a result of the incident, nor was there evidence that the dogs directly attacked the bulls, Mr O’Leary’s evidence had shown that the capacity of at least one bull to perform and to procreate was diminished due to a back injury.
Judge McNulty said that both Pat and Kevin Kelleher and Mr Scannell were credible witnesses, and that the members of the hunt were “good and decent people who gave truthful evidence as to what they recall from that day.”
“They have an enviable record of volunteering in their chosen sport,” Judge McNulty said.
“It is clear that their participation in their sport is to be cherished, respected and protected if necessary, but they must practice having regard to the rights of others.”
He said the crux of the argument was whether or not the hunt’s dogs went into Mr Kelleher’s field that day. He said it was “unlikely” that the dogs seen by Mr Kelleher and Mr Scannell belonged to anyone else, and that there was no evidence of any other hunt on in the area that day.
He found in favour of Mr Kelleher, awarding him €4,000 plus costs, but said that he respects the integrity of the respondents, and their accounts of the hunt.
“It’s like the story of the proud mother who went to watch her son’s regiment marching one day,” said Judge McNulty. “She went back and told her friends ‘they were all out of step, except for my Johnny’.”
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