As rural vets we are glad that Michael Gove told the Conservative Party Conference that he is reflecting on how to solve the epidemic of sheep attacks by out-of-control dogs. There has been a 67% increase in attacks over the last 2 years, and it is vets, farmers, and the sheep themselves who are at the sharp end of these traumatic events.
Part of the solution is a device used by many vets and the wider public: the remote-controlled electric collar. Estimates suggest that 300,000 responsible dog-lovers use these devices to prevent their dogs from causing harming to other dogs, people or themselves. We believe the welfare consequences of a ban on these devices would be appalling.
There is good scientific evidence that these devices are extremely effective at preventing livestock worrying behaviour without any detriment to the welfare of the dog. There is also a substantial volume of anecdotal evidence from our own experiences in using them.
We note that there have been no prosecutions for misuse. What does compromise animal welfare are sheep attacks by dogs, both for the sheep and the dog which is often shot by a farmer or subsequently euthanised. Sheep matter, cows matter, dogs matter – and permanently restricting a dog to a lead is no life for that dog.
Leads are also not a perfect safety measure: they can break or be wrenched out of the hand. When the lives of so many farm animals and dogs are at stake all solutions should be considered – even if the uninformed find them unpalatable.
Dr Matt Smith, MRCVS
Dr Chris Lewis, B.Vet,.Med, DSHP. Dip ECSRHM MRCVS Recognised Sheep specialist by the RCVS
Dr Duncan Harrison, BVSc CertEM(IntMed) MRCVS
Dr Richard Jones, MA, VetMB, CertEP, MRCVS
Dr Thomas Slater, BVetMed MRCVS
Dr Tony Warr, MRCVS
Dr Karen Pearce, BSc BVSc MRCVS
Dr Matthew Butterell, BVSc Cert ES MRCVS
Dr Samantha Purcell, BVSc MRCVS
Dr Bruce Bladon, BVM&S Cert EP DESTS Dipl ECVS FRCVS RCVS
Dr Jo Cottee, B vet med MRCVS, retired veterinary surgeon