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Farmers warn dog walkers on the danger of cows

Following the death of four people in just over eight weeks this summer, British farmers and the Ramblers Association warned yesterday of the potential dangers of walking dogs near cows.

Despite the spate of incidents being highly unusual, the warning that cows may react badly to dogs is still one which, claims the National Farmer’s Union, is one to be taken seriously.

Cows have been thought to be generally docile, and this remains true, the National Farmers' Union emphasised. However, they pointed to the fact that at least two of the four deaths involved walkers with dogs, which may be a factor in turning cows from placid cud-chewing bystanders into potential killers.

"Cows can get aggressive in the presence of dogs, especially if they have their calves with them,’Robert Sheasby, the NFU's rural surveyor, said. ‘They see the dog as a threat, and take exception to it. Cows are generally placid and docile, but when a mother animal feels the protection of her offspring is at risk, temperaments can change.’

The first of this summer's fatal incidents occurred on 21 June in the Yorkshire Dales when a veterinary surgeon from Warrington in Cheshire, Liz Crowsley, was walking along the Pennine Way near Hawes with her two dogs, a spaniel and a collie. She was found dead, having apparently been trapped against a wall and then trampled. Police speculated that Ms Crowsley's dogs may have sparked the attack.

Dog walker

In a similar incident, 63-year-old Anita Hinchey was trampled to death on 18 July when walking her dog in a field on the outskirts of Cardiff. Three days earlier, 65-year-old Barry Pilgrim was killed when walking with his wife in the countryside near Sheldon in Derbyshire. It is believed Mr Pilgrim did not have a dog with him, but he was attacked by cows who were accompanied by their calves.

David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, was attacked by a cow while walking in the Peak District on 6 June, his 62nd birthday, and suffered bruising and a broken rib. Once again, a dog was involved – in this case, the blind MP's trusted guide dog, Sadie.

The NFU joined with the Ramblers in offering a key piece of advice: if you feel menaced by cows when you have a dog with you, let it go, as it may well be the dog that is causing the problem.
Your dog will outrun the cattle and you can then make your own way to safety,’ Mr Sheasby said. ‘At most times it is important to keep your dog on a lead in the countryside, but if you feel under threat because of it, let it go and put it back on its lead later.’

Cows are not generally dangerous, he added. "They are naturally curious, rather than naturally aggressive, as well as short-sighted, and they will often come right up to you just to see who is in the field with them." But it was important, he said, not to let your dog get between a cow and its calf.

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