The police had to deal with one case where a walker's dog went to sniff a dead sheep. The farmer was not in sight when he fired his rifle and killed the dog as 'the killer' -I believe it cost the farmer several thousand in an out of court settlement.
The actual killer was a large cat- confirmed by a former African game hunter who examined the dead sheep and then called in a zoologist who had studied leopards in Africa.
I am aware of three farm dogs shot by farmers because they suspected their dogs had killed sheep. None of the farmers believed the "big cat nonsense" -in each case the farmers and/or members of their families SAW a large cat -in one case pulling a dead sheep into a hedgerow (but never seen killing a sheep).
I have seen a few photographs of true dog attacks on sheep but that does not tell you which dog attacked -it might have been rustlers dogs not a local's dog.
So, when I was told a farmer intends shooting any walkers dog that is off the lead and near or in a field with his sheep I pointed out just how illegal this was. I know a few farmers have asked me about this in the past. My advice: don't shoot. If you have insurance THAT covers you against livestock killed by a dog. In the past, kills by large cats have been listed as "dog attack" by some insurers.
The National Sheep Association offer this advice http://www.nationalsheep.org.uk/dog-owners/advice-for-farmers/2486/destroying-dogs-that-attack/:
Destroying dogs that attackNSA recommends that farmers only shoot dogs as a last resort, as the legality of a shooting depends on whether a farmer had a lawful excuse for shooting the dog in that individual circumstance. If it is necessary to shoot an attacking dog, please bear in mind the following points:-
- Dogs are counted as property so shooting a dog could trigger a criminal damage charge.
- In order for a shooting to be legal, you would have to show that you acted in the belief that your property (i.e. the sheep) was in immediate danger and that your actions were reasonable under the circumstances. What counts as ‘reasonable’ can differ in individual cases, depending on the situation. If, for example, you have had problems with a particular dog before and the owner has ignored requests to keep it under control, this would be a relevant factor. It is important to remember that you are not entitled to shoot the dog if it has already left the vicinity and is no longer a direct danger to your sheep, even if you fear it might come back and pose a threat in the future.
- There is also the possibility of the dog’s owner suing you for trespass to goods. The Animals Act 1971 offers you the defence that you were protecting livestock if you can show that you reasonably believed that either: the dog was worrying or about to worry the livestock and there were no other reasonable means of ending or preventing worrying; or the dog had been worrying livestock, had not left the vicinity and was not under the control of any person, and there were no practical means of finding out who owned it
- You must report the shooting to the police within 48 hours. If you do not, none of these defences will be valid in civil proceedings.
- Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to dogs (or other protected animals). The factors used to decide whether the suffering caused by shooting a dog is unnecessary include: whether the suffering could reasonably have been avoided or reduced; whether the act which caused the suffering was for a legitimate purpose, in this case protecting property or another animal; whether the suffering was proportionate the intention of the action; and whether the conduct was wholly that of a reasonably competent and humane person.
- Although the Act makes allowance for what it calls ‘the destruction of an animal in an appropriate and humane manner’, the law is based so heavily on circumstance that it is very difficult to know if your actions will count as this. You are at particular risk of falling foul of this Act if you fail to kill the dog cleanly with one shot. Offences can be punished with up to six months’ imprisonment and/or fines of up to £20,000. You could also be disqualified from keeping animals.
- Shooting a dog also puts you at risk of committing a firearms offence. You could be prosecuted for breaking certificate conditions if you use a rifle or other section 1 fire arm to shoot a dog, unless the certificate conditions allow such use. Chasing a dog in order to shoot it has been known to lead to prosecution for trespassing with a firearm. Firearms offences are usually punished with imprisonment unless they are minor technicalities. A police review of your right to possess firearms will almost certainly result from shooting a dog. Your certificates may be taken away with no guarantee of them being returned.