It happened like a scene out of a horror movie and was duly splashed across the Daily Mail last week: the art-collecting hedge fund owner of a Gothic mansion deep in the Sussex countryside opening his front door on a Sunday morning in March to find the corpses of two large guard dogs, an Alsatian and an Akita cross, dumped on his lawn, having been shot by a neighbouring farmer after they had savaged a flock of prize sheep. All the story needed for full effect was the soundtrack of a virtuoso piano concerto, the form of music which the owner’s beneficence brings each spring to our town.

For the Gothic mansion, on the fringe of Hastings, is Fairlight Hall, where indeed a Hammer Horror movie was once filmed. The owners of both house and dogs are David and Sarah Kowitz, prominent donors to cultural causes in Hastings and Rye, including major sponsorship of the annual International Piano Concerto competition. The dogs had attacked a flock grazing in Hastings Country Park that contained rams and ewes selected for special breeding by local farmer Frank Langrish, who happens to be East Sussex council member for the National Farmers Union. At least 14 sheep were killed and many more bitten before Mr Langrish and his shepherd took their guns out. The former then drove the corpses to Fairlight Hall to confront Mr Kowitz.

In August 2015 the Hall dogs were photographed looking cuddly alongside Sarah Kowitz in a feature article in the glossy mag Sussex Life. However, Alsatian and Akita breeds are both what canine connoisseurs like to describe as “dominant”, whose affection towards humans that they recognise as family or friends may be extended rather less to other forms of life that they don’t. The dogs pictured then may not have been the ones involved in  the recent sheep attack. But it seems that it was not the first time that dogs owned by Mr and Mrs Kowitz had set upon local flocks. Suspicions of blame have also been levelled at them for previous devastations suffered by local farmers: Tim Jury, who had 23 sheep killed in 2012, and Andy Dunlop, whose sheep suffered two separate dog attacks over last winter, 

On this occasion Mr Kowitz accepted that the Hall dogs were responsible, and apologised to Mr Langrish, blaming guest visitors for letting them loose. He wrote: “Our containment system failed on a night of major activity at the house — and before we could complete our plans to rehome the dogs. We keep dogs for our security but failed you by not ensuring they were not mistakenly released by house guests. Our sincere apologies.”   

However Mr Langrish remains unhappy, not so much that the police have so far seemed reluctant to press charges, but rather at the apparent weakness of the law. Allowing dogs to worry livestock grazing on agricultural land is a criminal offence, punishable under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. The maximum penalty is £1,000, which is hardly likely to embarrass an affluent owner like Mr Kowitz, though a criminal conviction might. “He should be banned from ever keeping dogs”, Mr Langrish says.

In the meantime concerns about aggressive dogs, owners who fail to control them and the inadequacy of local policing responses, also came to the fore later last month when a small dog being walked on a lead by its owner through the streets of Ore was set upon and savaged to death by a pit bull terrier on the loose. The victim’s owner stood helplessly by. The owner of the terrier, who lives locally, was readily identified, but the police took no action, maintaining that no offence was committed unless the attack was perpetrated upon either a human or an “assistance dog”. In point of fact section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 states clearly that an offence
is committed if a dog “is dangerously out of control”, and it would seem difficult to suggest otherwise in the circumstances of this case. But Hastings Police were apparently unmoved.

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