HAMPSHIRE dog owners are offering a £2,500 reward for the return of their stolen cocker spaniels.

The two cocker spaniels were taken from kennels in Owslebury, near Winchester, at around 3am on New Year’s Eve.

Thanks to contributions from family and friends, the owners are offering a large reward for nine-month-old Tia and 14-month-old Maisie, who are worth £600 each and are both microchipped.

The owner of Tia, who asked not to be named for fear for the dog’s safety, said: “Tia was like a best friend and she went everywhere with me. The support I have had from friends and family and the community has been amazing and it goes to show how loved Tia is. She is famous around here and a real character.

“I’m staying strong and hoping she will come back despite some people telling me I will never see her again. I have tried everything now and I just hope the reward is enough because I want my dog back.”

The theft was the latest in a spate across Hampshire over the past year, with a cocker spaniel also taken from a kennels in Bullington, near Andover, last Sunday evening.

Dog rescue group DogLost is warning that the expensive pets are being taken for breeding, hunting and to be sold on, while some say they are even used for fighting.

DogLost’s 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.”

The group is urging owners to be vigilant and to microchip dogs, get their ears tattooed to make them easier to identify and install CCTV cameras around kennels.

Earlier this year an investigation found that pedigree dogs across Hampshire were being stolen and inquiries showed that thieves were targeting high-value breeds.

Anyone with information on these thefts should contact Winchester Rural North Safer Neighbourhoods Team on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Additional reporting by Emily Ford.