A COUNCILLOR is urging people to keep dogs on a lead after a sheep has been mauled.

The sheep attack took place on the outskirts of Darlington earlier this month.

Councillor Gerald Lee, of Heighington and Coniscliffe, where the attack happened, said: "This is the farmer's livestock that they've looked after and tended to. They've fed it through winter and it possibly could have been with lamb."

Cllr Lee believes the sheep was savaged by a dog, either by a domesticated dog or a hunting dog.

"There are lampers that go around at night with their hunting dogs. While they don't normally go after sheep, if a sheep gets in their way they will kill it. The country is a big place and these people go around in the dead of night," he said.

"Some farmers will just shoot dogs when they see them off the lead, because they're a threat.

"I want lampers to see what damage these dogs are doing. They may think twice about killing anything in the future.

"These dogs are fast and they hunt in packs. The sheep must have been petrified. There are no niceties about it, I know this is upsetting for the farmers that then have to deal with it.

"And for owners with house dogs, that gentle smiling creature who fusses and wags his tail when ever it meets its owner... Everyone makes such a fuss of gentle dogs but when it is off the lead, it is hunting."

Cllr Lee says the attack is not uncommon but farmers often deal with it themselves. Farmers who report such incidents may fear retribution from hunters.

According to Darlington Police, there was one other reported incident in the last 12 months, where 27 lambs and two ewes were killed by stray dogs.

Darlington Police PCSO Andy Cusick said: “The sheep in the most recent incident was alive when it was found but it had to be later put down.

“This is a problem for the farming community at this time of year and we would just ask that dog owners think what their animal is doing and please keep them under control around livestock.”

With Spring approaching, both Cllr Lee and the police warn of the increased risks dogs have to lambs. An innocent dog, off its lead, could cause an ewe stress and result in it losing its lamb.

When walking a dog where there may be livestock nearby, the RSPCA advises: • Be aware of the effects of sheep-worrying, and let others know too.

• Make sure you know where your dog is at all times.

• If you're letting your dog off the lead be confident there are no livestock nearby.

• Be sure that your dog will return to you promptly on command and if in doubt, keep them on the lead.