A FAMILY fears their dog may have been stolen after being swept away by a swollen river.

Betty the bulldog went missing after falling in to the River Wear at Chester-le-Street while with owner Gordon Sharp, 56 on January 29.

Pub-goers reported seeing the pet on dry land down-steam shortly afterwards, sparking fears the valuable pedigree canine could have been taken.

Mr Sharp's wife Amanda, 39, said family and their friends were scouring the area in the hope of finding her.

The mother-of-one said: “We always let her off the lead down there, but the river was that swollen I think the ducks were in a different place to normal and she was spooked by them and fell in.

“The current was that fast that my husband couldn't really see what happened to her, other than she was being swept down the river.

“My 16-year-old daughter, Bobbie Jade, is distraught.

“She's a pedigree bulldog, worth about £2,000, so we know there is a possibility someone has taken her.”

After Betty's disappearance the family, from Chester-le-Street, put up posters and posted information on websites including Facebook and DogLost.co.uk Sightings have been reported around the region, from the Springwell Inn, near where it is believed the dog may have climbed out, to Birtley and central Newcastle.

The tan dog, with a small corkscrew tail and white spots, has just turned one.

Anyone with information can call the police non-emergency number 101.