FERRIS, Texas (AP) Authorities in a rural North Texas town can now shoot wild, roaming dogs, according to a new policy that has riled animal welfare advocates.

Created last week to curb its growing population of feral dogs, the policy permits Ferris authorities to use shotguns to kill aggressive dogs running loose.

Ferris City Manager David Chavez said the Ellis County town was becoming an unwanted pet dumping ground. People drive out to the country to release their pets when they no longer want them, but the starving animals breed, form packs and wind up scavenging for food, he said.

Animal rights advocates said there must be a better way to solve the problem.

"It's unfathomable to me that the city of Ferris just outlandishly wants to go out and shoot these stray dogs," Niloofar Asgharian, a board member of the nonprofit Animal Connection of Texas, said in a story in The Dallas Morning News. "It doesn't do anything except that these dogs end up dying a slow, miserable death."

But Ferris Police Chief Frank Mooney said the city has tried other methods with little success. The chief said they would shoot only potentially violent dogs as a last resort after attempts to humanely capture the animal had failed.

"It's not a task anybody relishes down here," Mooney said. "You have to take care of the situation now or wait until someone's dead."

There are anywhere from 50 to 100 feral dogs roaming Ferris' streets, said Misty Clark, the city's lone animal control officer. She said the dogs flee when they see her truck.

"You'd think I was a police officer and they just robbed the bank," Clark said. "They run away and look back at me to see if I'm following."

Animal welfare advocates suggests using nonprofit groups to help trap the animals or encourage punishing those who dump dogs anything but shooting the dogs.

"It seems like a cruel punishment to the animal when the blame is on people," said Sherwin Daryani, the executive director of Operation Kindness.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.