Farm animals savaged by dogs in Northern Ireland in the past four years were worth a total of £289,000, claims figures from an insurance company show.
According to research from the insurer, NFU Mutual, three-quarters of dog owners say they would support “heavy fines” to try and crack down on livestock worrying.
The insurer, who said they cover 89% of farmers in Northern Ireland, is mounting a campaign to encourage dog owners to keep their pets under control.
The new research shows that more dog owners are putting their pets on a lead when livestock is nearby, but the same research also reveals that many of the attacks are being carried out by dogs who escaped from a garden.
One-in-six dog owners admit having allowed their pet to escape, the research shows.
Known as livestock worrying, dog attacks on farm animals can result in horrific and often fatal injuries.
Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress of the chase can cause sheep to die and miscarry their lambs.
The peak time for attacks, NFU Mutual said, is from January to April, during the lambing period, which coincides with the period when families visit and stay in the countryside over the coming months.
Martin Malone, NFU Mutual manager for Northern Ireland, said: “While it’s encouraging news that more people are putting their dog on the lead while out in the countryside, dog attacks are still at a very high level.
“We are receiving increasing reports of local dogs escaping from homes and attacking sheep, either because their owners do not know or do not care that their dogs are roaming wild and causing havoc.
“Thousands of sheep are being killed and horribly mutilated by dogs and we will be redoubling our efforts to raise awareness of the issue, and helping police to bring owners of dogs which attack livestock to justice.
“We are sadly all too aware of the heartbreak and distress that dog attacks cause. For Northern Ireland’s small farmers in particular, livestock worrying is devastating because it has a huge impact on their livelihood. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.”
When it comes to measures to crack down on the problem, the research showed that three-quarters of dog owners would back fines, and 42% would support owners being banned from keeping dogs.