WMN opinion: Dog owners should be taking more responsibility
"I don't blame the dog, I blame the owners," is a sentence most of us will have heard hundreds of times.
Whether it is reaction to the latest news story about a child attacked by a dog, or the sight or sound of man's best friend behaving really rather badly, the sentiment is always the same.
And it is always correct.
Today's story that there have been 41 recorded incidents of dogs attacking animals on Dartmoor this year is a disgrace. The owners of the dogs should be ashamed.
But by the sound of things that is unlikely, because livestock protection officers now fear people are hacking bits off attacked livestock and taking it home with them. It quite simply defies belief. It is irresponsible dog ownership combined with theft. It is causing animals to suffer, and costing moorland farmers money they can ill afford to lose.
One of the great pleasures of dog ownership is walking with your pet in open countryside.
There are few places better than this than Dartmoor. It is largely unfenced, it is magnificent, and is a wonderful place to walk a dog off the lead.
But responsible owners know this is only possible when the dog is reliable, well trained, and will respond to the call or the whistle.
Having a dog like that requires time, effort, and patience, and can be hugely rewarding.
That there are dogs on the moors whose owners find them hard or impossible to control is not new or, sadly, even that much of a surprise.
But it would be a great shame if the Dartmoor National Park Authority was forced to get tougher on dog owners.
It does seem that the actions of the irresponsible minority may ruin walking on the moor for the majority.
Livestock protection officer Karla McKechnie told us: "We are trying to encourage Dartmoor National Park Authority to enforce more – they can make people put dogs on leads. We think they need to get a bit tougher with people – they need to say: 'If you can't trust your dog don't walk it on the moors without a lead'."
Martin Hesp's report today shows that the legal position regarding out-of-control dogs and sheep worrying are complex.
And any laws or regulations are hard to enforce. Dogs and owners are normally long gone before livestock protection or police officers can arrive on the scene.
The simplest solution to the problem is simple. People need to get tougher on themsleves and take resposnsibility for their dogs and the environment.
This the only realistic antidote to dog attacks and to the negative attitudes some people have about dogs.
"We just want people to be more responsible," Karla McKechnie told the Western Morning News.
We echo that call and urge all dog owners to treat their pets and the environments they walk them in with the respect and care that they deserve.