THE REUNION of a stolen terrier and her five puppies with their owners was the happy outcome of the police response to an unconnected matter, a court heard.

Eight-year-old Jack Russell bitch Poppy and her litter of six-week-old ‘Jackadoodles’ were taken from an outbuilding alongside a house in Page Bank, Spennymoor, County Durham, overnight from March 15 - 16.

Despite an appeal for their return by devastated owner Donna Quinn and her family, they feared they would never see their beloved pets again as weeks went by following the break-in.

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The reunion came about after police went to a house in Station Road West, Trimdon Station, County Durham, following a complaint over domestic matters, on April 7.

Durham Crown Court heard that officers spoke to Paul Martyn Knox and a young woman at the house, where they noticed a metal cage containing a Jack Russell and five puppies.

Liam O’Brien, prosecuting, said: “It was mentioned to colleagues later and they were told about the burglary at Page Bank three weeks earlier.

“Putting two-and-two together, they went back to the house where Mr Knox was arrested.

“The dogs were taken to a local police station where Mr Quinn was summoned.

"He confirmed they belonged to his family, after showing police a photo of them.”

Knox told police he heard ‘yelping’ from an outbuilding, while passing the house, so he forced entry and took the dogs away in a plastic box found at the scene.

He said he planned to sell some of the litter, but had not got round to it by the time they were recovered.

Knox, 27, of Station Road West, admitted burglary, putting him in breach of a suspended 12-month prison sentence imposed in November, for drug offences.

Jane Waugh, mitigating, said Knox responded well to the drug rehabilitation element of the earlier sentence, overcoming his heroin addiction.

She said the theft took place when Knox was, “at a low, at the end of his tether”, desperate for food.

“He apologises for what was a mean offence. But, he did look after the dogs and they were returned in good health.”

Recorder Neil Davey told Knox he put the owners through “hideous anxiety”.

Given Knox's efforts overcoming drugs, however, Recorder Davey said he could avoid sending him straight to prison.

He imposed a four-month sentence, suspended for a year, and added six months onto the suspended period of last November’s sentence.