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AN organised gang of criminals are targeting pet dogs across Hampshire, a senior police officer has warned.

Three cocker spaniels have been stolen in the central Hampshire area in the last seven days.

Around 3am on December 31, cocker spaniels Tia and Maisie were taken from kennels in Owslebury while a day earlier, black and white pet dog Jarvis was taken from his home in Bullington.

It follows two incidents in December – one in Holbury, where two English springer spaniels were stolen and another in Thornhill where the owners were offered a ransom for their dog’s safe return.

Men have also been seen behaving suspiciously near properties at Beauworth and Ovington, near Alresford.

Ch Insp Simon Dodds said: “There appears to be a group of organised individuals out there specifically targeting working dogs.

“We’ve had some really useful information come into us from members of the public and we would urge them to continue doing so. We would ask people to be extra vigilant and also use common sense if you are buying a dog.

“Ensure the dog is micro-chipped, visit them in their home environment and check its history very carefully, otherwise you might be buying stolen property unwittingly."

Dog rescue group DogLost police co-ordinator Jane Franklin said: “Working dogs are a valuable commodity; they're trained and expensive breeds and can change hands for around £1,500.”