Sheep worrying still ‘too common’ despite Council issuing warnings
Sheep farmers in rural Wexford are still living in fear of stray, feral dogs destroying their flocks despite the Council's efforts to heighten awareness of the issue.
Discussing the prevalence of sheep attacks throughout the county, Administrative Officer Hugh Maguire said, 'With regards to sheep worrying incidents, despite news items and high-profile stories, it's still too common of an incident in rural areas. For a farmer who has to encounter the unfortunate case of a sheep kill it's not just the lambs and sheep that are killed it's the effect on the other livestock, the ewes would often get spooked.
'And it's not just financial, there's a huge emotional involvement people have with their animals, it's a devastating instance for any farmer. It's surprising so many people living in the country don't take more care or keep their animals under control during the lambing season,' Mr Maguire said.
Emphasising the extent of the issue, Wexford Dog Warden John Colfer recalled two particularly distressing scenes he had been called to in recent times.
'I had a situation early in the year where 69 sheep were killed,' Mr Colfer said. 'Two of the neighbour's dogs had got out, two doberman pincers, and just slaughtered them.
'We had a similar situation in recent years were a farmer had a 100 sheep, and half of them were killed, with the other half down in the corner of the field. There were two rottweilers and a labrador stood in the middle of the field with ten guards and six farmers with shotguns. Those are the types of situations we deal with.'
Outlining the workload of the County Dog Warden, Mr Maguire said Mr Colfer took approximately 4,800 calls per year, responding to incidents all over the county.
'He's almost busier than your average County Councillor, he deals with stray dogs throughout Wexford. He might be called by the guards to help with a drug bust; if the dealers had a big dog on the premises, he'd be called in to control that,' said Mr Maguire.
This level of activity extends to the local dog pound which Mr Maguire said has the 'inglorious distinction' of being the busiest in the country. But he was keen to stress that the majority of the dogs entering the pound were either reunited with their owners or rehomed elsewhere.
'In 2005 we had almost 1500 dogs enter the pound and 845 of those put to sleep. Which is just under 57%. The national average at the time was 65%. In 2018, we had 809 dogs in the pound and 100 put to sleep, which is just under 12%, the national average is 7%.
'There's been a huge improvement locally since 2005. And this year we expect to have the lowest figure ever of dogs put to sleep, around the 10% mark. We also had the distinction in 2018 of giving the most dogs to welfare organisations for rehoming,' said Mr Maguire.
Issues remain though, particularly in relation to larger breeds which are supposed to be muzzled while in public.
'Unfortunately some people with these dogs are flagrant of the rules. The Japanese Akita is getting very popular, and they seem to be involved in most of the attacks on people, I don't think people don't realise what they have when they get a pup and it becomes a huge dog,' said Mr Maguire.
Cllr Lisa McDonald, whose motion to have stray dogs photographed and displayed online was adopted at the Wexford County Council meeting last week, suggested those found to be cruel to their dogs should receive greater penalties.
'I'd call for more severe penalties for people who are cruel to dogs. It strikes me that if you're cruel, your dog is taken away from you and it has to be put down for various neglect reasons. And then you can go down the street and get a new dog the next day, that shouldn't be allowed,' she said.
Mr Maguire said that ultimately the Control of Dogs Act, which was updated in 2010, needed to be amended further.