The dramatic rescue of a dog missing for two weeks and eventually discovered wandering in the Wicklow Mountains is a prime example of why the animals have been banned from farm land, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) said on Tuesday.
Images of eight-year-old golden retriever Neesha being carried off snow-covered Lugnaquilla Mountain following her chance discovery by two doctors were widely publicised on Monday.
She was one of two dogs that had disappeared after chasing a deer when out on a walk with their owners last month.
However, the IFA have held up the story as a clear example of why farmers are concerned about the behaviour of walkers with dogs crossing their lands.
"The owners let their dogs off the leash and one of them chased a deer," its national sheep chairman Sean Dennehy said on Tuesday.
“The dog then disappeared for a fortnight and was free to roam across farmland without any control. It was extremely lucky to be rescued. It’s this type of irresponsible behaviour that has created problems for farmers and put their livestock under threat. It’s also very unfair on the dogs.”
Efforts by Neesha's owners to find her proved fruitless. However, on Saturday, doctors Jean-Francois Bonnet and Ciara Nolan discovered her wandering in the snow in a weakened state, covered her in spare clothes and carried her back down a slippery 10km trek.
Responding to the IFA criticism, one of Neesha’s owners Erina O’Shea Goetelen said they have lived in the area for 20 years, surrounded by sheep and farmers and would not do anything to endanger animals.
Ms O’Shea Goetelen said they were in a national park area not near farmland and the dogs were on leashes until they got high up on the walk. They released them in a barren, snowy area where they were quite sure there were no sheep.
“When they were near farmland they were on their leads,” she said.
While the rescue is a rare and welcome good-news story, farmers have been increasingly concerned about loose dogs on their land potentially attacking sheep, particularly in the lambing season.
Mr Dennehy said a lack of appropriate sanctions to deal with the issue had forced landowners’ hand in denying access.
“Rather than risk the devastating consequences, farmers have no option but to refuse entry to members of the public, with dogs, to our lands to protect their animals and their livelihoods,” he said.
“A growing number of reckless dog owners have brought this on everybody else, and the inaction of authorities has forced farmers down this route.”
“No dogs allowed” signs are due to be hung from farm gates across the country, as part of an IFA campaign following a “significant increase in attacks” in recent months. The IFA has asked the Government to oversee an increase in microchipping and supply an “adequate” dog-warden service.
“The injuries inflicted on sheep by dogs are horrific,” Mr Dennehy said. “Often, those not killed have to be put down due to the extent of their injuries. Farmers may be too upset or traumatised to report to the gardaí what has happened.”