Farmers Weekly’s Business Clinic experts offer free advice on legal, finance, tax, insurance, farm management and land issues. Here Robert James – Solicitor, Thrings – offers guidance on your rights when dogs worry stock
My livestock keep getting disturbed by my neighbour’s dogs. I’m afraid that, sooner rather than later, the dogs are going to injure my livestock. A friend of mine said I should just shoot the dogs, and sue the dog owner for any loss suffered. Where do I stand legally?
The issue of dogs worrying and injuring livestock is a common problem.
In many instances the problem stems from dog owners’ ignorance of the law, especially the criminal law. Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, a dog owner may be criminally liable if a dog is dangerously out of control in public or on private land.
The 1991 Act however only applies to certain breeds of dog. The owner could be sentenced to imprisonment, and the dog subject to a destruction order.
Within the specific agricultural context, the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 makes it an offence if dogs, regardless of breed, “worry” (which is defined widely) livestock.
You are correct when you say that you could use lethal force. However, you may only shoot a dog if you have a lawful excuse. In essence, the burden would fall on you to show that you acted in the belief that your livestock was in immediate danger and needed to be protected.
The assessment of what is a lawful excuse and reasonable is a grey area, and there may be repercussions if you overstep the mark – not only from the owner but also in terms of animal welfare issues and shotgun licensing. Accordingly, exercising your rights is not without its risks.
On a practical level, you may wish to write to the owners (if identifiable) and put up signs asserting your rights.
Highlighting the legal position may incentivise owners to keep their dogs under control.
Compensation for injuries suffered is primarily governed by the Animals Act 1971.
Under Section 3, where a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock, any person who is a keeper of the dog is strictly liable for the damage.
When we talk of strict liability, it means that the liability will fall on the dog owner without the need to make a finding of fault. As such, the law is slanted in your favour.
That said, any claim for damages will still be governed by ordinary legal principles, for example you will only be able to recover reasonably foreseeable losses, and you would have a duty to mitigate such losses. You will need to provide evidence as to market values, costs, breeding programmes and so on.
Depending on the nature of your farm, some of the animals kept may extend to non-traditional livestock and, as such, fall outside the legal definition – which is governed by Section 11 of the Animals Act 1971.
In this scenario, you would still have recourse to claim damages in a claim for negligence or nuisance, albeit you would have the additional hurdle of proving fault.
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