POLICE are warning against dog fighting after they found evidence owners had been strengthening their pets’ jaws in an Oxford park.

Officers said they had logged around eight reports during May and June from the public who had seen dog owners goading dogs to fight each other at Cowley Marsh Recreation Ground in Marsh Road, Cowley.

After searching the park, they removed a rope and a stick hanging from a tree branch, which they believe owners had used to hang their dogs from, to build up strength around their mouths.

They also found suspected bite marks on children’s play equipment.

Cowley Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Wayne Southey said reports had dropped after officers stepped up patrols, but feared the problem could return if the hot weather continues.

He said: “It could increase in the summer months, but it has calmed down and we are hopeful it stays down. We have stepped up patrols.”

He added: “In May and June it was call after call. We had reports of people saying they had seen dogs chewing on the stick and owners of the dogs goading them to do it and making them fight.

“Then it became apparent what the rope was being used for.

“We also had passing members of the public said they had seen dogs in the play area, where they are not supposed to be.”

Pcso Southey said most of the reports had come in the evenings, when there were fewer people around.

He said: “For the public, it’s threatening and intimidating and to anyone passing it can be dangerous.

“If it does pick up we will do our utmost to tackle the problem and make sure it’s taken seriously. Anyone caught dog fighting will be dealt with robustly.”

It is an offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place or in a private place where it is not allowed to be and owners could face two years in prison, a fine or both, if they are found guilty.

The Dangerous Dogs Act, which came into force in 1991, bans four different breeds – the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro.

RSPCA Inspector for Oxfordshire Doug Davidson said he had not heard of any reports of dog fighting in Cowley, but said that did not mean it was not going on.

He said: “Dog fighting in the 21st century is beyond comprehension. The suffering to the individual dog is immense.

“It’s very difficult to gauge because we wonder what we are not hearing about. We have had enough incidents to be sure it is going on in Oxford and we would ask the public to be vigilant.”

To report dog fighting call the police on 08458 505505, RSPCA on 0300 1234999, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.