'People may take more control of their dogs if they are at risk of being fined'
Owners of dogs that chase farm animals should be given on-the-spot fines, a livestock protection officer has said.
Karla McKechnie, who provides a round-the-clock dedicated phone service allowing dog attacks to be reported on Dartmoor, says urgent action needs to be taken to address the growing problem.
The call comes as incidents this year look set to top the 2012 tally, and follow the dramatic dumping of one dead lamb at a council meeting by a farmer frustrated at the latest attack on his flock.
Ms McKechnie, who dealt with 78 attacks in 2012 but has already seen 38 this year, said people may take the matter more seriously if they are "hit in the pocket".
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She said upland farmers were "distraught", citing one man who found a pony with its nostrils ripped out.
"The injuries are horrific, just awful, and we have to pick up the pieces," she added.
"We had 14 sheep killed in February, which we think was caused by the same dogs because all the ears had been chewed off.
"Attacks cause farmers problems not only financially, but emotionally. The conditions we find these sheep in are absolutely horrific.
"I think people might take more notice and take more control of their dogs if they are at risk of being fined. It would be instant, like getting a parking ticket."
Attack hotspots include popular dog walking areas close to large towns and cities, such as Roborough Down on Dartmoor just outside Plymouth, and Northam Burrows, near Barnstaple and Bideford.
Farmers are entitled to shoot offending dogs on their own land, though few choose to take such dramatic action.
Prosecutions are rare and often result in small fines, such as the recent conviction of a man at Princetown, also on Dartmoor, who received fines of just £10 per offence.
James Paxman, chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Society, said the problem seemed "intractable" but warned that the system could be costly and difficult to enforce. "It is an issue which stirs up a lot of emotion as just about all dog owners consider themselves to be model owners, though obviously many are not," he added. "On-the-spot fines are going to be fraught with difficulties and I can't see how it is going to be enforceable or terribly effective.
"If you have got a dog that is seriously worrying sheep, the one sanction that is going to work is if it gets shot."
South Hams district council has just ended a consultation into its plans to implement new dog control order, following authorities in East Devon and Torridge.
Ms McKechnie says if this scheme gets the go-ahead it could boost the chances of sanctions on Dartmoor.
"You have got to catch the perpetrator and the dog – that's the hard bit," she added.
The Dartmoor National Park Authority runs a scheme to encourage owners to be responsible – PAWS on Dartmoor.
It urges walkers to always control dogs, so that it does not scare or disturb cattle, sheep or ponies and to keep pets on a short lead during the lambing and bird breeding season from March until July.