Hampshire Police have caused howls of protest by announcing that they will no longer look after stray dogs.

The decision was taken by county police chiefs who say money could be better spent on cutting crime.

But Winchester City Council officers say they simply don't have the funding to take over responsibility and are angry that they were not consulted.

Even animal protection charity, the RSPCA, has joined the row and accused Hampshire Police of shirking their statutory duties.

Environmental health officers at Winchester council are responsible for rounding up stray and abandoned dogs from the streets. But at the moment if a member of the public finds an animal after 5pm and before 9am, they can take it to the nearest open police station.

From April, when this new decision comes into effect, the police will refuse to accept stray dogs.

Chief Inspector David Thomas said: "The fact remains that we are not best equipped to look after them. The RSPCA and National Canine Defence League can much better serve the needs of such animals. "There are very few police stations with kennels of a good enough standard to house stray dogs and no new police stations are built with kennels. "In some areas, taking stray dogs can cost us £9,000 a year. It would be more beneficial to direct these resources to fighting crime." He added that national legislation to take responsibility for stray dogs away from police was expected, although he did now know when.

But Robin Heathcock, Winchester's head of environmental health, said police still had a legal duty to accept stray dogs.

"As far as we understand, the Home Office is not going to repeal that duty," he said. "Hampshire Police receives roughly about £70,000 a year for this, and if we have to take it over we will have to go back to our members to ask for more money. Considering the constraints of a local authority, that doesn't sit particularly comfortably with us."

He said the consultation over the issue was not "desperately good" and he hoped to sit down with police chiefs to discuss the possibilities of switching funding and responsibility.

"This just seems to be a decision taken for probably quite justifiable reasons but perhaps has not been thought through in detail," added Mr Heathcock.

RSPCA officials were also wary of the decision and angry that police had suggested the public take stray dogs to their centres instead.

A spokeswoman said: "The police don't have a legal obligation to collect stray dogs but they are required to take them in.

"The RSPCA has no statutory responsibility for the care of stray dogs."