COWARDLY thieves kicked and punched a puppy as they searched a house, it has been revealed.
Police are hunting thieves who broke into the house in Maudsley Street, Accrington, before assaulting the seven-month-old Staffordshire bull terrier.
The animal, which went missing following the incident, was later returned by a mystery man.
Police are eager to trace this man and any other witnesses to the incident, which happened shortly after 8.30am on Monday 14 November.
It is believed the thieves entered the house via the back alley and through the kitchen. They stole a jar containing £20 in coins.
A few hours later, a man aged between 25 and 30, with a stocky build and about 5ft 10ins tall, brought the dog, called Molly, back, but did not give his name.
Inspector Terry Woods, of Accrington Police, said: "This is an unusual case in which an animal has been attacked during a burglary and then someone has brought it back.
"We would like to hear from that man. He is not necessarily going to be the burglar and could well be a sympathetic person who wanted to return the dog to its rightful owner.
"We would also appeal to any witnesses to this break-in."
The dog's owner, Concetta Bolton, who was in the house during the break-in, said Molly had not been the same since the incident.
She said: "It was sad to think people were going through my things but I was more concerned about Molly's safety.
"Then this man came later on and said: 'Is this your dog?'
"He said he had found her roaming around the alley. I was so happy to get her back.
"She was hobbling around in pain at first but now she is back on her feet and is beginning to trust people again.
"I need to know who this man was. It would be very frustrating if we never got to know."
The incident follows a spate of burglaries in the area during September and October, when 17 homes were targeted by thieves.
Sergeant Mark Porter, from Accrington Police, said: "Residents need to be wary and not leave implements lying around. Tools should be locked away and houses kept locked at all times."
Anyone with information should contact Accrington Police on 353103.