"HOW could they?"

Left with mangled fur and unable to walk, stand or see, the canines were found in ditched in the early hours of the morning – covered in mud and looking more like a pile of discarded rags.

Vets fears some of them could even have been beaten by their owners as they were shaking with fear when handled.

Horrified residents raised the alarm as they discovered the pets in streets and at the side of rural roads, abandoned and barely able to stand.

Today a major investigation is under way involving police, the RSPCA and council chiefs who are vowing to find those responsible for the callous act.

The pets were yesterday being cared for in a variety of locations, with some being treated in vets while others remained in council accommodation where they will remain for up to a week if nobody claims them.

Last night one vet described their condition as “disgusting” and said they had clearly endured “no life for a dog”. Another described the state of the animals as a case of “clear cruelty and neglect”.

The animals, which are thought to be Portuguese water-dogs or poodle cross-breeds, were found several miles apart in locations to the south east of Winchester yesterday morning.

Daily Echo:

Two were found in Longwood Dean Lane, Upham, three in Lower Baybridge Lane, near Owslebury, three in Morestead Road and one in Alresford, the city council said.

Their fur was caked in urine, faeces and mud while they were unable to see, their vision blocked by what a witness called “the worst dreadlocks ever”.

One dog was taken to Cedar Veterinary Group, in Alresford to receive emergency medical care.

Co-director Graeme Lunn said he thinks the dog was held in conditions which meant she was unable to wash herself.

“I have never seen anything like this before,” he said.

“It has to be neglect, there’s no need for that dog to get like that. If it had the chance it would not have got in to that state.

“She has a sweet nature and is bright eyed but not bushy tailed, more like lumpy tailed.”

Daily Echo:

Assistant veterinary surgeon, Martha Edwards, said the dog, who they originally named Shaun, had to be sedated whilst the fur was cut off.

“She had stones trapped between her pads which had obviously been there for some time,” she said.

‘Disgusting’ “It’s disgusting. I have never seen a dog in this condition before. It is very distressing.”

She also said she thinks the dog has been beaten, because “she shakes every time she is touched.”

Matt Southcott, 50, a construction worker, of Upham, said he was driving to work when he saw two animals stuck in brambles in Longwood Dean Lane at around 7.30am.

“It was quite dark and there were two animals on the side of the road,” he said.

“I couldn’t tell if they were sheep or dogs. You couldn’t see their faces they looked so badly matted and injured. I have never seen an animal in that state. I’m just hoping that they will be OK.

“I cannot understand why someone would dump nine dogs. There might have been more.”

CLICK the links below for more stories on how NINE dogs were dumped in a horrific condition.

Michele Emmans, 55, of Baybridge, Owslebury, said she was taking her son Max, 13, to school when she saw four “confused and disorientated” animals in Lower Baybridge Lane.

“I think it is just awful and distressing,” she said.

“They may have escaped from somewhere. We shouldn’t assume they have been dumped.

“I am considering phoning the RSPCA to see if they need any volunteers to help out.”

Last night Cllr Jan Warwick, Winchester City Council's portfolio holder for environment, health and well-being, said: “The way in which these dogs have been treated and abandoned is shocking. Fortunately instances of this kind are rare but when they do occur we take them very seriously indeed.

“Our first priority is the health and well-being of the animals and they are now receiving appropriate veterinary care. This kind of cruelty to animals is unacceptable and we will do all we can, working with our partners in the RSPCA and the police, to find those responsible. We are keen for members of the public to let us know if they saw or heard anything that might help us track them down.”

The police, RSPCA and Winchester City Council are now part of a joint investigation to track down those responsible.

An RSPCA spokesperson said: “The dogs we have seen appear to be Poodle-type dogs and were found dumped, in a very poor state and covered with mud.

"We will continue to provide assistance to the local authority to find out why these poor dogs were left and how they came to be in this state.”