The story goes – I was heading out to check the cats at Jenni’s, out the Mealagh Valley. Just around Hagal Farm way (a very nice holistic health centre btw), five sheep come purposely out the boreen on my left and head over the road to the opposite gate. And stop. They look like they want to go in there.
I drive slowly past, and they watch my progress. But, as I drive, I figure they’re gonna be in trouble – they’re just after a bend and road pizza could be on the menu. So I stop, turn round and head back. They’re still at the gate. But as I approach them they head down the road a ways. I open the gate and retreat. They stay where they are, looking at me distrustfully. Okay, if I go towards them they go further away, so that’s not going to work. I hop back in the car, drive past em again, stop and walk towards them. They tank it through the open gate. I close the gate and head on to Jen’s.
Job well done? I dunno. There were other sheep in the field – were they supposed to mix? I know nothing about sheep, and certainly nothing about these sheep in particular. Best guess was they were used to being in that field because they certainly seemed to know their way. But …
In case you’re not sure what the problem with stray animals is, I can’t put it better than the ISPCA Legal Handbook (pdf):
Stray animals present a common problem for both rural and city dwellers. They can pose a danger to themselves and others if they wander onto the public highway. Aside from the potential for accidents, these animals are caused to suffer by being abandoned. They will frequently have been neglected and will often have been left without food for considerable periods of time.
So I checked out the ISPCA Legal Handbook. The basic legalities seem to be:
- It is an offence to abandon animals or to allow them to stray or cause mischief on the public roadway. So the farmer’s in the wrong here, and subject to a summary conviction and fine.
- Members of the public should report such sightings to the Gardai or, alternatively, the individual may take matter into his or her own hands.
- Any citizen can impound an animal found wandering.
So – I’m a bit wiser after that, but I’ve a few more questions:
- Should I report what I did to the Gardai (can’t help but feel they’ll just laugh at me round here)?
- I certainly took the matter into my own hands, but I’m still not clear if letting them in a field with other sheep was the right thing to do.
- What the devil does ‘impound’ mean? Should I have taken them home with me???? Surely not!
I’ve reproduced the relevant bits of the Handbook below for your delectation:
Q.1 Is it an offence for a person to let animals loose onto the streets?
It is an offence to abandon animals or to allow them to stray or cause mischief on the public roadway.
Section 1 (f) of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911 (inserted by Section 4 of the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act, 1965) introduced a further category of general cruelty which arises; –
“(Where) being the owner or having charge or control of any animal [a person] shall without reasonable cause or excuse abandon it, whether permanently or not, in circumstances likely to cause it unnecessary suffering, or cause or procure or, being the owner, permit it to be so abandoned.”
Under Section 10 (1) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Act, 1851 (as amended by the Section 36 of the Control of Dogs Act, 1986) it is an offence for:-
“Any person who shall in any public road or street of a town turn loose any horse or cattle or who by negligence or ill usage in driving cattle shall in any public road or any street of a town cause any mischief to be done by such cattle, shall be liable to a fine..”
The original version of Section 10 (1) had also included provisions relating to dogs, but these were repealed with the introduction of the more comprehensive Control Of Dogs Act, 1986 (See Chapter 11 on Dogs)
Section 10 (11) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Act, 1851 (as amended by the Section 4 (4) of the Animals Act, 1985) provides that:-
“Any person who shall allow any swine or other beast to wander upon any public road, or about the streets or passages of any town, shall be liable on summary conviction, in the case of a first offence under this paragraph, to a fine not exceeding £150 and, in the case of a second or subsequent such offence, to a fine not exceeding £350”
The term “beast” is not defined in the Act, although the section, as initially enacted, set out separate offences in relation to cattle, horses or dogs left at large in public places.
Q.2 What can an individual do if he encounters a wandering or stray animal?
Given the often serious consequences both to the animals and to members of the public when animals are abandoned or are left to wander, members of the public should report such sightings to the Gardai or, alternatively, the individual may take matter into his or her own hands. This is one of the very few instances in which a member of the public may act of their own volition.
Section 10 (11) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Act, 1851 (as amended by the Section 4 (4) of the Animals Act, 1985) provides that: –
“Any person who shall allow any swine or other beast to wander upon any public road, or about the streets or passages of any town, shall be liable on summary conviction, in the case of a first offence under this paragraph, to a fine not exceeding £150 and, in the case of a second or subsequent such offence, to a fine not exceeding £350″…and in the case the owner shall not be known, it shall be lawful for any person by whom any such swine or beast shall be found wandering upon any such road, street, or passage, to impound the same.”
The crucial aspect of Section 10 (11) is that, where the owner is not known, a citizen may impound an animal found wandering in public. It should be noted that this section does not apply to the Gardai and other State authorities whose powers are specified under that Act and elsewhere.
Note: Dogs are probably the most common type of animal found straying. There is a discussion as to the steps to be taken in respect of stray dogs under Chapter 11 dealing with dogs.
Put them into field only if it appears not to contain any other livestock. Do not put them in a field with other livestock in case of potential spread of disease. Make a note of any coloured marks on them. Call into nearest neighbour and ask if they are missing sheep/know the marks and can contact owner. If no luck, call the Gardai and say where and when you found them, and where you put them.
It’s also a good idea to contact the Gardia in any case, to bring attention to recurring problems. If they keep getting calls they’ll pay a visit to the farmer in question.
If ye see sheep, or any domestic or livestock animal, wandering on public roads you should:
- Do something – don’t just drive by.
- Report the sighting to the Gardai OR take the matter into your own hands. The latter is probably more productive depending on the type of animal, considering how long it will take the guards to get to the location. But the guards may be able to give you some advice, so it’s worth a call.
- Impound the animal. Though I wouldn’t recommend impounding some – a cow, for example, is kinda difficult to take home. And I’d recommend reporting it to the guards too.
- If the animal is a dog, report it to your local dog warden.
And just to highlight – you’re best to leave wild animals alone – they mostly don’t want your help. I’ll try and write something about that another day.