Sheep worrying

Three of the many sheep killed by the tamaskan

Three of the many sheep killed by the tamaskan

An excerpt from A Lone Furrow – 

Though wildlife crime officers don’t specifically investigate dog-related offences I’m usually told about sheep-worrying cases, and very often asked for advice by the officer dealing with the investigation. Many are run of the mill, with a sheep being killed or injured and the dog being caught at the time. Some are more difficult and often need much time and effort to get a result. We try to be innovative and use all possible methods in our attempt to prove that a particular dog was involved

In a case that started in mid-December 2008, one sheep was killed and eleven others injured by a dog near the hamlet of Butterstone, Perthshire. The injured sheep were treated but all later died of septicaemia setting in on the wounds to their neck caused by the dog. The farmer and the landowner suspected a dog kept by a man who lived nearby, but there was no direct evidence at that time to connect it. The farmer shifted the sheep to another field but a couple of weeks later they were attacked again. This time four were killed and several more were injured and had to be put down. The same dog was suspected. The dog was a breed called a Tamaskan, and looked extremely wolf-like. Part of the description of the breed reads: The breed is highly intelligent and takes well to any kind of training. The breed need  lots of exercise and are often used for sled racing. They should be kept mentally busy because they are smart and can become easily bored. When they become bored they will often be destructive.

In the meantime I learned from a neighbouring landowner that he had seen this Tamaskan dog chasing sheep two years earlier, though this was not reported to the police at the time. He had also seen the dog chasing deer both during the day and at night. I passed this information to the investigating officer, who had difficulty in locating the dog owner since he had another house elsewhere. When he did find him, the suspect denied that his dog had been responsible.

At the time of the second incident I was contacted by the farmer and the person who owned the land. The sheep had been moved well away from the area for safety but would have to come back within a few weeks for lambing. Both were very keen that this case be solved before the sheep were brought back. I’m always keen on the use of DNA and wondered if it would help in this case. I contacted Dr Ross McEwing, an expert in animal DNA, and asked that if we got a sample of DNA from the suspect dog, and managed to get some samples from the throats of the sheep where they were gripped by the dog, could dog DNA be isolated and if so could a comparison be made with the sample from the suspect dog.

The answer was interesting. And expensive.

If we took a swab from the throats of the sheep and there was dog DNA there it could easily be isolated. It would not matter if the swab was covered in sheep blood, as was inevitable, since it was easy to separate the two different types of DNA. If the dog DNA was isolated it would be easy to say whether or not it was from the suspect dog. Cost for isolating the dog DNA from the samples would be £600, though Ross agreed to do it for half of that sum. Cost for the comparison would take the total bill over £1000. It was a lot of money but I thought we would get the samples first and worry about the cost if and when we had reached that stage.

I went later that day with one of the scene of crime officers to take the samples and to photograph the dead sheep. I’ve been involved with many sheep worrying cases but this was by far the worst. There was little or no damage to the back end of the sheep, which is usually present and is caused when the dogs are gripping the sheep and trying to get them on to the ground. There was a huge amount of damage to the necks of the sheep; in fact the heads were just about torn off them. This indicated to me that the dog had got the sheep on the ground easily and had gone for the throat immediately, causing massive damage. It had to be a big dog: probably a very big dog.

We took the throat swabs, and a few days later the officer dealing with the case took a saliva swab from the suspect dog. I spoke with senior police officers about the cost of comparison of the DNA samples. Not surprising, because of the cost, they were reluctant to go ahead. In the meantime the landowner had offered to pay part of the initial cost to establish if there was dog DNA in the samples we had taken. This was agreed with the senior officers, though we were not sure where the funding would come from if there was a positive result in the first tests. I spoke again with Ross McEwing, who was keen that this type of work be trialled and become more commonplace in police investigations. He very kindly agreed to carry out the complete examination free of charge, and I set off with the samples to his office, then in Livingston.

Up to this point the investigation had dragged on and by the time I got the samples to Ross it was March of 2008. The investigation took an unusual turn, and on the evening of 30 March I got a phone call at home from the neighbouring landowner, a good friend of mine, David Hendry. David told me that he and his keeper, George Simmons, had just shot the Tamaskan as it had been chasing after their small herd of Highland cattle and was very likely to chase them into an extremely boggy area of the field where they could become stuck or injured. The keeper had hit the dog three times with his high calibre rifle, to little effect, and in fact it was only finally knocked over and killed – to the astonishment of both men – by a shot from David’s .22 rifle.

I asked David to make contact with the investigating officer, and in due course the Tamaskan’s owner was charged with a number of offences relating to the worrying of the sheep and the cattle. In October 2009 the dog’s owner pleaded guilty to the charge that related to the cattle. He was fined £200. There were no further incidents after the date the dog was shot. It was claimed by the owner as being worth £800.

See A Lone Furrow and other books on this blog. If you would like a signed copy contact me on

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