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New Forest dog waste blamed for loss of 18 unborn calves to parasite

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DOG owners are being urged to pick up after their pets in the New Forest after 18 unborn calves were lost to a disease linked to dog faeces.

Commoner Tom Gould, who runs a farm near Bransgore, said he was devastated by the loss when his nearly 38-strong herd tested positive for the untreatable neospora canimum parasite, which is spread by dog and fox waste.

Mr Gould has been breeding ponies and cattle for the last two decades, and said the animals were most likely infected by grazing contaminated grass in the popular walking area of Wilverley and Longslade last summer.

Tom Gould and his cows
Tom Gould and his cows

Mr Gould (43) said: “I’m not blaming dog owners because I don’t think there is much awareness of this disease, but I’m hoping that by spreading the message we can stop this from becoming an even bigger problem in the New Forest.

“I am not the only commoner that has been effected by this.

"In a herd of almost 40 you would usually expected to lose one or two calves without looking into it more deeply, but to lose the calves in half of the herd is absolutely devastating.”

Mr Gould revealed that before his cattle were put out to graze in the spring last year, Dr Alex Crook, of Cedar Farm Practice Vets at Ringwood, confirmed the herd of 38 heifers were pregnant.

The plan was to return them to the farm before they were due to calve in the autumn. But by November there were concerns something was wrong and ultrasounds were carried out.

A report by Dr Crook said: “It was absolutely devastating to find that 18 cows had aborted. I blood-sampled some of them to try and discover the cause.

"The stage of pregnancy at which the cows aborted suggested neospora caninum infection, which was confirmed when we received the results from the laboratory.”

Dr Crook concluded that more awareness was needed among dog walkers to prevent the illness from becoming widespread.

He continued: “This disease has cost my client a fortune financially, through no wrongdoing of his own. Unfortunately there is no treatment available, or a preventative vaccine.

"It is going to take a lot of time and money now to get the herd clear of the disease.”

The neospora parasite can survive in the soil for weeks. It can make cows much more likely to abort and affect future pregnancies.

The New Forest Dog Walking Code, which is promoted by the national park and backed by local groups, urges owners to "pick up after your dog" and put bagged waste in the bin.

That message was echoed by the New Forest Dog Owners Group (NFDOG), which represents hundreds of local dog owners. It urged Forest users to act responsibly, but noted that neospora can also be spread by foxes.

Chair Heather Gould said: “This is a very sad story and our sympathies to Mr Gould. The New Forest Dog Owners Group is clear that any dog owner who doesn’t look after their animal, the environment, or take care of livestock and wild animals, is behaving irresponsibly.

"This includes picking up dog poo when possible and taking it to a bin or home for disposal. If it’s not possible, owners should make sure it’s away from areas used by humans and animals.

“Research shows that disease and bacteria, of which neospora is an example can be spread by dog poo. But it’s also spread by foxes and other animals which are common in the open forest.

“With our partners, NFDOG puts considerable effort into education, and promoting responsible ownership, and taking care of poo is high on the list of priorities.

"Thousands of walks are undertaken every day across the New Forest, and sadly it is inevitable that occasionally there will be issues which we need to understand and tackle.”

Mr Gould now hopes to raise awareness about the impact of neospora cattle. He said: “If the public can get on board and pick up their dog mess and take it home with them it could make a huge difference.

"The sheer number of dogs being walked on the Forest has increased dramatically and without the support of dog owners this could become a huge problem.

A spokesperson for the Verderers said: “We are very concern about the information shared by Mr Gould on neospora and obviously further investigation is required.”

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