Dog owners whose pets attack farm animals could face harsher penalties under new legislation proposed by a cross-party group of MPs.
Raising the maximum penalty from £1,000 with the option to increase this for persistent or repeat offenders should act as more of a deterrent, MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) said.
The group’s report, which was collated using evidence from key industry stakeholders including Farmers Guardian, the National Sheep Association, NFU and the CLA, also called for the Ministry of Justice to review sentencing powers under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 to ensure sentencing reflected the cost and emotional toll dog attacks take on farmers and other livestock keepers.
However, the report, which acknowledged the work of Farmers Guardian’s Take the Lead campaign in educating dog walkers, found a large proportion of attacks involved loose dogs, where the owners were not present.
Neil Parish, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, said: “Most dog owners are responsible and we want to encourage dog walking, but actually the report shows most attacks are caused by unaccompanied dogs.
“The group feels more needs to be done to educate owners of the risks of dog attacks, we need better recording by police forces and better advice needs to be available for farmers to use preventative tools and take low cost litigation against irresponsible dog owners who are costing their industry.”
The inquiry leading up to the publication of yesterday’s report (November 16) heard farmers were often reluctant to report incidents to police for fear they would not be taken seriously.
However, with so many attacks going unreported, it was difficult to form an accurate picture of the problem, leading to some forces’ lack of prioritisation of the issue, the inquiry heard.
While some forces such as North Wales had made tremendous efforts to clamp down on dog attacks and seen encouraging results including some prosecutions, other UK forces found the law, and their power under it, difficult to interpret.
"There is a need to ensure accurate data is collected on this issue so that decision makers and enforcement bodies can fully understand this issue and prioritise resources," the report said.
"With clear evidence of significant under reporting, APGAW believes that farmers and livestock owners must report all incidents of livestock worrying, no matter how minor, to their local police so that effective data can be collated."
MPs called on the Home Office to make livestock worrying a recordable crime to ensure more accurate records across the country and for the definition of ‘livestock’ to be updated to include camelids and equines.
They also highlighted the SheepWatch UK leaflet which showed farmers exactly what to do in the event of an attack and how to record it.
The APGAW report called for more to be done to ensure dog owners recognise the risk their dog may pose to other animals so they can take measures to prevent incidents such as ensuring dogs cannot escape from the home, using the lead where needed, looking out for signs warning of grazing livestock and attending training classes.
Some of the other significant recommendations were: