Animal shelter 'nightmare' dividing sleepy Aussie town: 'Can't stand the smell'

A dispute has erupted between the operator of an animal rescue centre and its neighbours in a sleepy town on the NSW Mid North Coast.

Residents of Lowanna, inland from Coffs Harbour, complain about the smell, sound and look of the shelter, with one saying living next door has become a "nightmare". But the operator of Hooves, Feathers and Claws says she's cleaning up the property and has surrendered some animals.

Neighbours Scott Cordwell and Jessy Kumnen are frustrated by noise from dogs fighting and dingoes howling over the fence. They complain that the smell of animal faeces from the shelter often forces them to keep their doors shut. "I do some washing and hang some blankets, when I bring them in they smell disgusting," Ms Kumnen added.

An aerial image of the Lowanna shelter.
A Lowanna shelter (centre) is being investigated by the RSPCA following complaints from the public. Source: Supplied

Mr Cordwell told Yahoo News Australia the situation has become embarrassing: “Friends say: I couldn’t come up to see you mate. It’s because they can’t stand the smell,” he said.

Neighbour believes shelter was originally a 'positive thing'

Another resident, Annie Allgood, said the operation had originally been “a very positive thing”. “But over the past few years, it has turned into a garbage dump of dangerous things everywhere," she said.

Left and centre - Two images of household items strewn across the shelter. Right - a fire in the backyard
Annie Allgood is concerned about the state of her neighbour's yard which she can see over her fence. Source: Supplied

Ms Allgood is concerned the yard appears filled with domestic animals, cages and household items. On one occasion fire authorities were called after a large fire was lit in the backyard.

Both neighbours allege dogs and dingoes housed at the shelter have frequently escaped, leading them to fear for the safety of other residents and their pets. They say dogs sometimes climb onto boundary fences and bark at them.

A protest action had been threatened by locals on Saturday, but it was cancelled following advice from authorities. Neighbours, former clients and animal advocates have also responded to a Facebook group calling for the shelter to be shut down.

Shelter operator responds to neighbours' concerns

Rachel Press, the owner of Hooves, Feathers and Claws, was approached by Yahoo News Australia for an interview, but she declined to answer specific questions "due to ongoing investigations with police and other authorities".

On Saturday, police were called to investigate an alleged incident on the street. “Officers… attended and established a crime scene, which was forensically examined by specialist police,” NSW Police confirmed.

Ms Press issued a statement on Monday expressing concerns about the ongoing tensions on the street. "I am extremely distressed that member/s of this vigilante group would intentionally put animals in a position where they could be harmed or stressed," she said. "If anyone has any information about these incidences please contact the Coffs Harbour police."

A dog barking while standing on Scott and Jessy's fence (left). A dog wandering onto a neighbour's property (right).
Neighbours say dogs climb onto fences and into their yards. Source: Supplied
An image of the shelter shot from neighbours Scott and Jessy's yard.
Neighbours Scott and Jessy have complained about the view of the shelter from their backyard. Source: Supplied

RSPCA investigating animal shelter

Responding to questions about the shelter, RSPCA NSW confirmed with Yahoo News Australia it is part of an ongoing investigation, but could provide no further comment.

Separately, Coffs Harbour Council is “investigating allegations of an unauthorised business operation” as well as “compliance with the Companion Animals Act for animals at the premises”.

"We have previously visited the premises in relation to alleged dog attacks and roaming issues, which have been dealt with," a council spokesperson said.

A streetscape of green Lowanna.
The semi-rural streets in Lowanna are ordinarily quiet. Source: Supplied

In a statement, Ms Press confirmed she had surrendered a number of animals to the RSPCA. She said this will enable her to “concentrate on (her) own animals and complete yard maintenance to ensure the animals are safe, healthy and secure”.

"I have been working recently with a few Coffs locals who have gifted their time to help reduce the number of rescue animals over the last few months, as well as assisting to clean up and maintain the property at Lowanna," she added.

No findings have been made in either the RSPCA or Coffs Harbour Council investigation. Yahoo News Australia does not suggest either neighbour included in this story are part of any vigilante group or is connected to the police matter.

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