A WOMAN was targeted by a violent dog snatcher as she walked her puppy across fields near to her home.

Rebecca Holmes, aged 19, was walking six-month-old Staffordshire bull terrier, Sasha, on land off Manchester Road, Westhoughton, when a man crept up behind her and tried to grab the dog's lead.

Rebecca, a barmaid, was punched twice in the face by the man as they wrestled over the lead before he eventually fled without the dog when she started to shout for help.

She said: "I didn't see him coming until he grabbed hold of the lead and told me to let go..

"I wouldn't let him drag her away, so he punched me twice in the face and I fell to the ground."

The attacker ran away as Rebecca cried for help.

She said the man seemed to know exactly what sort of dog he was looking for.

"I won't be letting her out of my sight from now on," she said.

Miss Holmes, who lives with her parents in Manchester Road, said two men had pulled up in a car and tried to steal the dog from the back of her house last week. They drove off after her younger brother raised the alarm.

Owners are being warned to be vigilant after a spate of dog thefts across the town in recent months.

Police and animal charities fear some stolen dogs may be falling into the hands of gangs who use them for fighting, while others are being stolen to order.

Mel Rushmore of Fireside Rescue, based in Little Lever, said: "The owners of these dogs are being targeted because the dogs are worth money.

"Anybody who knows the bull terrier breeds also knows that they are very friendly with humans and are easy to steal. It's not uncommon for us to see dogs that are badly hurt from fighting."

She said a lot of dogs were going missing and not turning up again .

The website doglost.co.uk reports that 121 Staffordshire bull terriers have gone missing in the North-west in the last year and have not been found.

Miss Rushmore warned that all owners should have their dogs microchipped and not leave them unattended outside shops or in back yards.