Q I am a sheep and cattle farmer and am having issues with my neighbour’s dogs. The dogs escape at times and chase my sheep and cattle. While they have not caused any major damage as yet, I fear it is only a matter of time. I have spoken to my neighbours about this and they have apologised and offered to make a greater effort to keep the dogs in but the situation has not improved. What are my rights?

A The Control of Dogs Act 1986, as amended by the Control of Dogs (Amendment) Act 1992, sets out the principal rules pertaining to liability for damage caused by dogs. If a dog worries livestock, Section 9(2) of the Act provides that the owner or any other person in charge of the dog shall be guilty of an offence. The only exception is where it is established that at the time the dog worried the livestock it was for the purpose of removing trespassing livestock and that having regard to all the circumstances, the action was reasonable and necessary.

The word “worry” in relation to livestock means to attack or kill, or to chase livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause the death of or injury or suffering to the livestock, or to result in financial loss to the owner of the livestock.

Section 21 of the Act imposes strict liability upon a dog owner for any injuries caused by dogs to livestock and for damage which results when a dog attacks a human being. It provides that the owner of a dog shall be liable for damage caused in an attack on any person by the dog and for injury done by it to any livestock.

Where livestock are injured by a dog on land onto which the livestock had strayed and either the dog belonged to the occupier of the land or its presence on the land was authorised by the occupier, a person shall not be liable under this section in respect of injury caused to the livestock unless the person caused the dog to attack the livestock.

The IFA earlier this year launched a new protocol for farmers who encounter a dog attack on their sheep flock. Briefly to summarise, the 10-point plan provides as follows:

  • 1. Stop the dogs.
  • 2. Follow the law – defence in action for damages for shooting a dog.
  • 3. Inform the gardaí.
  • 4. Ring the dog warden.
  • 5. Contact the IFA.
  • 6. Ring the vet.
  • 7. Keep the evidence/take a picture.
  • 8. Get a valuation of losses.
  • 9. Inform your insurance company.
  • 10. Tell your sheep-farming neighbours.
  • While the Act specifies instances where it will be lawful to shoot a dog, this should only be done as a matter of last resort. These are set out in Section 23 of the Act and must be proved by the defendant:

  • (a) 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
  • (b) (i) the dog was a stray dog which was in the vicinity of a place where livestock had been injured or killed, and (ii) the defendant reasonably believed that the dog had been involved in the injury or killing, and (iii) there were no practicable means of seizing the dog or ascertaining to whom it belonged; and
  • (c) he was the person in charge of the livestock; and
  • (d) he notified within 48 hours the member in charge at the nearest garda station to the place where the dog was shot of the incident.
  • It further provides that these provisions will be deemed to have been satisfied if the defendant believed and had reasonable grounds for his belief that these provisions had been satisfied.

    It is clear that your neighbours will be liable for any damage caused to your livestock by their dogs.

    You should ensure that they are aware of their responsibilities and that they take appropriate action to prevent this damage from occurring.

    If, after giving them another opportunity to remedy the situation, the matter is still not resolved, it may be worth contacting your local dog warden.