A man was attacked by a gang trying to steal his dog in one of a spate of pet theft attempts in Peterborough.
Joshua Munns (21), from Dogsthorpe, Peterborough, suffered broken ribs and was cut across the chest by a gardening hook during the attack by a gang of around ten men as he walked his Old English Sheep Dog Max through Pyramids Park on Monday, September 3.
He said: “I was walking Max in the park at about 9.30pm and it was pitch black.
“A man came towards me and he was stuttering and muttering to himself. I thought he was drunk.
“He looked at Max and said ‘I’ve been looking for this type of dog’ and then he swung at me, hitting me in the side of the face.
“He then pushed me to the floor and tried to put his foot on my head. But I’m not a little boy and I was able to fight back.
“As I did so, about ten other blokes ran towards me. They started kicking and stamping on me.
“I curled around Max into the fetal position so I could protect him. The men were kicking against my back.
“One of them produced a gardening hook and tried to hook it around Max’s collar. I then felt the hook scrape against my chest and rip some skin off.
“I was able to push my way through the men and then I bolted.”
Max was left shaken but not harmed by the incident and Mr Munns did not need hospital treatment for his injuries.
The incident is one of three to take place in the city in the past week with thieves trying to grab a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in South Street, Stanground, and another Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the Somerville area of Werrington while they were being walked by owners on Friday, September 7.
Police have warned dog owners to stay vigilant and not walk to their pets in isolated areas, while officers say they are refusing to rule out the possibility that the incidents may be linked.
Mr Munns said that he believes the gang had targeted him and Max because they wanted to use him as a bait dog for fights.
He said: “I have heard that this has been going on for years.
“Dogs are being put into organised scraps where they fight to the death.
“They steal dogs and use them as bait dogs against fighting dogs and the trend is to go for bigger and bigger bait dogs.”
Rumours that the attempted thefts are linked to dog fighting have been circulating around the city.
Nickola Engel, who helps to run Peterborough-based, dog-walking group Woof Welfare, said: “These incident are awful and we have been making our members aware of them.
“We have also heard rumours about people stealing dogs for fights. It’s worrying.”
Dog fighting was banned in the UK in 1835 and those found guilty of being involved in such activity can be jailed and fined up to £20,000 under Section 8 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
According to figures from the RSPCA, there were 204 calls made by the UK public about dog fighting in 2009. Over half of these were about street fights as opposed to organised fights.
In March this year the RSPCA highlighted concern over the issue after Birmingham City Council reported a rise in cases there.
Andy Robbins, an RSPCA spokesman, said at the time: “In recent years a new wave of less organised dog fighting has been seen, where people ‘roll’ their dogs in parks and fields, matching dogs on a more casual basis.
“Street fights often happen on the spur of the moment, not to fixed rules, when youths and gangs look to settle scores.
“Those involved are not the nicest people with fingers in various criminal pies.”
However, Peterborough police divisional commander, Superintendent Dan Vajzovic said that he could not confirm the rumours about dog fighting and urged members of the public to come forward with information that could help the police investigation.
He said: “At this stage I cannot confirm these rumours about the fighting dogs.
“We have had no reports of this and no information along these lines.
“What I can say is that we’ve had these three incidents and we would be very interested to hear from anyone who has any information about why these people are targeting these dogs and what the potential market for them is.
“While we’ve had three incidents in quick succession, in the broader context they are quite isolated and we have not seen anything like this in the recent past.
“There’s also no indication that it’s the same people.
“We are still investigating all the offences.”
Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson added: “This is not something I am aware of at the moment.
“However, if dogs are being stolen then it is criminal matter and anyone affected can write to me about this and I will raise the issue through parliamentary channels.”
Anyone with information about any of the three attempted dog thefts in Peterborough should call Detective Constable Kevin Poole on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.