Dog owners are warned to be on their guard after raiders made off with four spaniels, including a mother and daughter, from a Hampshire shooting school.
“It’s a personal tragedy – these are much loved dogs and I’m heartbroken,” said Howard Kirby, of Lains Shooting School, based at Quarley, near Andover.
“The welfare of all dogs at Lains is paramount to us – we love and care for them above all else and have dedicated our lives to helping owners feel the same.
“Out of all this, though, there was some joy because the thieves who raided me abandoned an older dog nearby which they had stolen in Wiltshire along with a younger bitch the same night. I was able to contact its owner and at least he has one dog back.
“Four spaniel bitches were stolen from me by thieves who came across fields and escaped as my alarms triggered. I have a fortified compound for dogs here but the four stolen, three young bitches and an older bitch, were in an alarmed area for social contact with each other and us.
“It’s an essential part of any dog’s training that they learn to socialise and this is the stage they were at. Some people take the view that, as professionals, dogs are just tools to us but we love our dogs here.
“I don’t want anyone else going through the agonies we are suffering at Lains. One of the pups was mine while two of the others belonged to one of my trainers, James Bawden, who is just 19 and has dedicated his life to dogs since coming here on work experience as a schoolboy.
“I have put up a £4,000 reward as I want these people stopped before they strike again. As well as the dogs they stole in Wiltshire, I understand they struck elsewhere on the same night.
“I have elaborate alarms to protect my dogs – many owners will have no security at all and they may be very vulnerable. These callous thieves are obviously no respecters of people’s property or feelings.
“We spent the whole of Friday and the weekend handing out posters and touring the Dorset Steam Fair and other venues in case the thieves had quickly tried to off-load the dogs. The way they just threw out an old bitch because she would be of no use to them shows these thieves, unlike us, have no feelings, that’s for sure.
“The main approach at Lains is covered by CCTV and alarms so the thieves came in across the fields to access the site. But they triggered kennel alarms so I was straight out there as I live on site. We have already tightened security.
“I would warn anyone who is offered young spaniel bitches to buy to be on their guard. They are protected by microchips and can be identified.
“Diva, a one year old liver and white cocker, and Fudge, who is three years old golden cocker, belonged to James while Maggie, a black cocker with a white bib and white on her nose and aged six months, belonged to a customer of Lains and was being socialised with the other puppies and the older bitch. Poppy, again golden and Fudge’s daughter, is also around six months and my personal dog so I feel the pain the other two are going through.”