The Flemish nature and woodland agency ANB has issued a warning to dog-owners: keep your pet on a leash or face a fine.
The new stance comes after a number of incidents involving dogs running free, including the deaths of four ewes at the weekend in West Flanders. A day before, in Limburg, two German shepherds attacked a Shetland pony, which did not survive.
The problem is not limited to other animals. On Sunday, a man out horse-riding in the Lintbos by Grimbergen in Flemish Brabant was injured when his horse was frightened by a loose dog and he was thrown onto barbed wire.
The problem, ANB says, is more widespread than those few examples suggest, and forest rangers have described the disputes they have with owners, all of whose dogs are peaceful and disciplined and wouldn’t hurt a fly.
“Let us be clear: stray dogs not only endanger other nature-lovers and their animals, but also the nature in which they move,” said ANB in a statement. “Just think of disturbing ground-nesting birds or chasing deer.”
Gentle reminders of the rules on keeping a dog on the leash having failed, the agency now intends to enforce the rules more strictly, including by imposing fines on the owners of dog running loose.
Fines start off at €80, but can be increased according to the number of dogs involved, the damage they have caused, and aggressive behaviour by either the dog or the owner towards the person issuing the fine.
“It is of the utmost importance that everyone out enjoying nature respects the surroundings and adheres to the rules,” said ANB.
Meanwhile the farmers’ union Boerenbond in East Flanders has pointed to another problem caused by dogs running free. The parasite Neospora caninum in dog faeces can cause miscarriage in pregnant cows.
“When the excrement of an infected dog ends up in the meadow grass, the cow can absorb the parasite while grazing, with the serious consequence that the embryo can die and the cow loses its unborn calf,” Maarten Stuer of Boerenbond told the VRT.
The parasite can also affect cows that are not pregnant at the time they become infected, as the parasite remains in their system until they become pregnant, when it has the same result.
An infestation with N. caninum does not affect the dog, and cannot be detected by the owner.
“Hence the importance of keeping dogs on a leash near pastures and livestock,” said Stuer.