The question of protecting your livestock and your livelihood is one that encourages a passionate response. Of course all farmers want their animals to be safe, free from stress, and unharmed. However, the issue of using force on farms to prevent risks is a hot topic.
Guns need to be used responsibly, and most farmers would agree that they're a great tool for keeping farms safe. If the livestock you have so painstakingly reared is under threat from an animal, using a gun seems like an obvious choice of action. Even disregarding any fine-printed laws on gun regulations might be common.
If a person was attacking your livestock however, the law would be in the forefront of your mind about whether or not you can shoot. We’ve seen time and time again the issue of home burglaries, for example, whereby those who are protecting their property may be at risk of legal action if they ‘unnecessarily’ injure an intruder.
In December 2011 new legislation was passed in Ireland that allowed citizens to use ‘reasonable force’ against trespassers in their home. The case of Mayo farmer Padraig Nally, who shot dead a trespasser in 2004, was one of the stimulants for legal change. He was convicted of manslaughter but the verdict was later overturned when his claim of self-defence was finally considered.
When it comes to animals, the idea of ‘reasonable’ force may be quite different. Your sheep being attacked is not a life or death situation for you or your family, at least not in a direct way. However, in your work-life, losing sheep through injury or spontaneous abortion can be absolutely catastrophic. The ‘reasonable’ idea of force might be to get rid of a threat by any means necessary.
Sheep are a high-risk species when it comes to reproduction in particular. Spontaneous abortions are horrific for farmers to deal with, as farmers are losing stock after their hard work and breeding organisation throughout the year. If a dog enters a field and begins worrying sheep, chasing them or biting them, the livestock can be shaken for weeks after and abortions would be highly likely in pregnant ewes.
Dogs are not inherently evil if they attack sheep. A dog’s natural instinct is to chase and even hunt in some cases. Sheepdogs are our greatest friends in herding sheep; but the difference is they know their boundaries and have been trained to respect the animals they herd.
In the same line of thought, dog owners are not inherently evil for making mistakes and losing control of their pets. They are completely and utterly responsible, yes. However, human error is rampant. People make mistakes, but they must be held accountable when their mistakes cause harm and distress to others.
The law clearly states that there are circumstances where it’s lawful to shoot a dog:
“There are specific instances where such a shooting would be held to be lawful. These are set out in Section 23 and must be proved by the Defendant –
- the dog was shot when it was worrying, or was about to worry livestock and that there were no other reasonable means of ending or preventing the worrying; or
- the dog was a stray dog which was in the vicinity of a place where livestock had been injured or killed, and
- the Defendant reasonably believed that the dog had been involved in the injury or killing, and there were no practicable means of seizing the dog or ascertaining to whom it belonged; and
- he was the person in charge of the livestock, and
- he notified within forty eight hours the member in charge at the local garda of the incident.
These provisions will be satisfied if the Defendant believed and had reasonable grounds for his belief that these provisions had been satisfied.”
The issue of shooting trespassing dogs sparked a major debate on That’s Farming at the weekend. Two huskies were shot dead by a Kildare farmer when he claimed that his sheep were injured (non-fatally) after being attacked by the dogs. Reports claimed that he restrained the dogs after speaking with the owners of the huskies by phone, and he proceeded to shoot them in the head.
The owners, who were naturally distraught at the loss of their pets, did concede that they were in the wrong for allowing their dogs to enter the farmer’s property. They said that they would have euthanised their dogs had they been given the chance. You can read about the incident in full here.
The lines of ethics are hazy when it comes to this situation, especially in the eyes of the law. The subjectivity of the law’s ‘no practicable means of seizing the dog’ means that the farmer may claim that his only option was to kill the dogs.
By admitting that he did have them restrained opens up the door for prosecution. However, it’s quite hard to be certain that the farmer did indeed have no way of keeping the two huskies away from his sheep unless he shot them. Being restrained does not necessarily indicate that the sheep were completely and undoubtedly safe from the dogs.
The issue is something that we believe will be debated thoroughly in the coming years, as farmers and dog owners will continually clash on the ethics of the problem, regardless of how clear law enforcement are on the issue.
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