RSPCA inspectors are hunting the owners of two dogs which were locked up and left to starve to death over Christmas in a stable on an allotment.

A ten-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier was huddled next to a dead Doberman and could barely lift its head when RSPCA officers found it at the allotments, in New Kyo, Stanley, County Durham.

RSPCA Inspector Gavin Butterfield said: "This is cruelty of the worst kind. The vet has done a post- mortem examination on the Doberman and it literally starved to death."

It is believed the animal, which was quite young, may have died during Saturday night when temperatures were below freezing.

The bull terrier companion had about given up on life when the pair were found yesterday morning.

The brindle terrier is being cared for at Wilson's veterinary surgery, in Tenter Street, Bishop Auckland, but it is so weak it cannot even cope with being put on a drip.

The RSPCA was called in by friends of the owner of the allotments, which are behind Unity Terrace.

The owner of the stable did not know the dogs were there.

Insp Butterfield said: "There was a padlock on the building and there were food bowls and leads hanging by the door, so it is obvious someone has been checking on them from time to time.

"It could be something has happened to the owner and nobody knows about the dogs or it could be just blatant cruelty.''

He said he did not know whether the terrier would survive its ordeal. "When I got there I shouted and it barely looked up at me before laying its head down. It's as if it had given up."

Anyone who can help trace the owner or knows anything about the dogs is asked to contact the RSPCA on 08705 555 999.

The RSPCA's fight against cruelty is backed by The Northern Echo's Animalwatch campaign.

Read more about the Animal Watch campaign here.