A FORMER Army dog handler has told of his desperate struggle to prevent a gang of thieves from snatching a beloved pet on a residential street.

Dog trainer Greg Flowers said he had been working on lead training with a client and her labrador-cross in an estate in Catterick Village before noon last Thursday when he spotted three men walking on the opposite side of the road.

The ex-Royal Army Veterinary Corps soldier said as one of the men crossed the street and asked him a question, another sneaked up on him from behind and tried to grapple the four-year-old dog's lead from his hand.

He said: "There was a scuffle on the side of the road which went on for a couple of minutes.

"As he pulled on the lead it went all the way up my arm, and then there was no way he could get it and so I held on to the dog.

"They weren't being nice about it, they were giving it a good go.

"We were fortunate that this chap came out of his house due to the noise, asking what was going on, and they ran off.

"I don't know what we would have done otherwise."

Mr Flowers, 28, said while he had recovered from the incident, which had been reported to the police, his client had been left in a state of shock.

A North Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said it had no details about the incident, but would welcome anyone with information to come forward.

The force issued an e-fit of a suspected dog thief in December after a female dog walker in Dalton, near Thirsk, grappled with a man trying to grab the lead of her two-year-old border terrier cross.

On that occasion, the dog ran off and was later reunited with its owner.

At the time, police dismissed claims circulating on Facebook about a gang of dog thieves operating from a fish and chip business in the area.

Mr Flowers said he wanted to dog owners to be aware about the thieves.

He said: "I've been hearing about this sort of happening about once a month, it happens quite a lot in Catterick Garrison, where a white van is going round and men are jumping out and taking dogs.

"It's not going to deter me from doing what I do, the job I love."