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Bid to raise awareness as livestock attacks rise
Thursday, 06 September 2012
A SPATE of attacks on Dartmoor sheep and ponies have this week sparked an appeal for help by the area’s livestock protection officer.
Karla Mckechnie, who lives near Mary Tavy, is employed by Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society and Dartmoor Commoners’ Council.
She provides a 24/7 dedicated phone service allowing dog attacks and incidents of animal worrying to be reported.
Covering the whole of Dartmoor — an enormous area, some of it highly remote and difficult to reach — she has huge knowledge of the farmers, the animal markings and the geography of the land.
Karla said: ‘My mobile is my bible! My phone number is pretty widely circulated so that people can call me and report incidents.
‘I also deal with welfare on the moor, so the phone does get busy.
‘It’s a pretty unique job, I don’t think there’s anyone else in the country that does what I do.
‘This year alone there have been 37 attacks on sheep and ponies and 22 of them have been logged with the police, so if a member of the public phones up and they have the correct ID, ie the registration plate of a car, I’m the person that goes to the police, if necessary, and deals with the legislation.’
Karla said there had been a worrying jump in the number of incidents recently.
‘Four sheep were attacked in Horndon in two separate incidents, two of these sheep were killed, savaged and half eaten, the other two were savaged and one is still undergoing veterinary attention,’ said Karla, who said the suffering the animals went through was ‘horrendous’ and could be prolonged, if they were in a particularly remote area.
‘Sheep die awfully, they get sceptic and infected.
‘What I really want to do is urge people to contact me, if they see an animal in distress, if they see a dog attack or if their own dog goes for an animal.
‘Let’s not lose sight of the fact that an animal could be suffering, they are the most important thing,’ said Karla.
‘Nobody likes calling the police but if they call me, I can speak to the farmer and get help for the animal.’
Karla said she realised that accidents could happen, a dog could slip a lead or a dog which had never shown interest in other animals before could suddenly turn on one.
And she said incidents of sheep worrying did not necessarily mean the dog would have to be shot or put down.
Karla said: ‘Farmers are pretty reasonable, and there are alternatives. I’ve had two compensations paid last month, both in the Haytor area, in two separate incidents.
‘One sheep was killed and the owner of the dog phoned me, she was distraught, I phoned the farmer and asked what he’d take and she paid up.
‘In the other case, the chap called me to say his dog had attacked a sheep, we were able to get the farmer there straight away, we got the vet out and the chap paid the vet’s costs.
‘Often the police don’t have to be involved — the main thing is, please be vigilant and please call me.’
West Devon farmer Neil Cole said he had had ‘numerous’ incidents of sheep being attacked, maimed or killed on Dartmoor commons.
Neil said: ‘The trouble is, the public don’t realise how much harm can be done.
‘They might see the sheep running away and think it’s fine, but particularly in the summer, if it gets even just the slightest bit of blood on it, it will get fly eggs, then maggots, and a week later it can be riddled.
‘The sheep get stressed, they can abort and people just don’t think of the slow death that can happen.’
Neil said it was impossible to check every sheep, every day and said stressed animals would also hide away, making problems more difficult to spot.
‘Having Karla around is very useful — her job is clear cut, she’s there to help the animals, help the farmers and liaise between us and the public.’
Marion Saunders, chairman of Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society, said Karla’s role was ‘incredibly important’ in providing a round the clock point of contact — and also for the collection of data.
‘More and more people are coming into the countryside from cities and towns where they might not be able to let their dogs off the lead, they are coming out to the nearest part of the moor and letting the dogs off when they haven’t really got control of them,’ she said.
‘And until now, we never had any concrete information about how much dog worrying was going on.
‘Now, we know that last year there were at least 76 incidents, they were just the ones reported to us.
‘I know that mostly people feel terrible if their dog attacks an animal but with Karla’s liaison, if some compensation can be paid, it makes the owner feel a bit better and the farmer doesn’t face a total loss and there’s more goodwill all round, which is all we want.’
l Karla McKechnie, Dartmoor livestock protection officer, can be contacted on 07873 587561 — please call her if you see an injured animal, or if you witness incidents of sheep or pony worrying.
All content © of Tavistock Times Gazette unless stated otherwise.
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