Local animal organisations have spoken of their dismay that three local councils have withdrawn dog warden services in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Spokespersons for Antrim and Newtownabbey, Ards and North Down and Newry, Mourne and Down councils have all confirmed that due to the Covid-19 outbreak each is "withdrawing its dog warden service with immediate effect until further notice."
A spokesperson for Newry, Mourne and Down Council said in a statement: "Following the recent escalation of the coronavirus response, this decision is in line with the latest guidance from the Public Health Agency in respect of public safety and welfare. Dog wardens shall continue to respond to any emergency calls or dangerous dog reports.
"A roaming/stray dog would not fall into the category of an emergency call during this period."
A similar stance was taken by Ards and North Down Council who said that while they would not rescue a stray pet, they would "continue to enforce Dangerous Dogs Order" should such an animal be reported to them.
However, Save Our Seized Dogs, which battles against breed-specific legislation, said the approach was "absurd". "Authorities are happy to allow unattended, stray dogs to roam the streets, whilst being happy to break social distancing to seize dogs from inside owners' homes simply for the way they look," they said.
"A stray dog which is possibly hungry and scared will pose far more of a danger to the public than a well cared for dog secure inside the home."
Antrim and Newtownabbey Council said that in the terms of a runaway dog, they would try to find an owner from the dog's description and location but added that "the public are also advised to post a picture or description to the Pets Lost and Found Northern Ireland Facebook page in an attempt to reunite the dog with its owners".
Pets Lost and Found NI post up to 40 appeals on a weekly basis and said while each council will have to "make adjustments" given the Covid-19 outbreak, "we feel that this (collecting strays) is a necessary essential service to the public and should not be removed entirely".
Earlier this week in Bangor, local woman Denise Evans found a stray dog, a young greyhound lurcher cross, in the Kilcooley estate and contacted her local dog warden.
"They said because of Covid-19 that I should either release her back into the street or just keep her myself," said Denise. "There's a lot of farmland around here and there's no way I would release a dog onto the street."
Thanks to a social media appeal the owner was found.
DUP leader on Ards and North Down Council Robert Adair said there had been changes to dog warden services and that the council would be prioritising "dogs who are at risk of being treated cruelly and those who are a danger". He added that he would be raising the matter with the council chief executive.