Fremont, N.C. — A Fremont man facing three misdemeanor animal-cruelty charges said that he is studying taxidermy and that the allegations cost him his job.
Wayne County sheriff's deputies arrested Lawton McKenzie, 28, of Old Black Creek Road, Tuesday after animal control officers said they found the remains of several dozen animals in house Dec. 3.
Among the items found at the home was what appeared to be a puppy's head in a plastic bag, authorities said. McKenzie said the animal was already decapitated when he found it on the side of the road.
McKenzie denied killing any animals and said he is an animal lover.
Last fall, McKenzie said he began picking up the carcasses of animals – including deer, turtles and owls – killed by vehicles, hunters or natural causes. He uses guides to taxidermy and pioneers' survival techniques to teach himself. He often turns polished animal bones into ornaments.
McKenzie said he doesn't see the difference between collecting dumped carcasses from the side of the road and killing and shooting animals while hunting.
“All of the animals…being left on the side of the road or left in the middle of the road, why don’t we do something with that? It could be used as a learning tool,” McKenzie told WRAL News on Thursday.
McKenzie said it bothered him to see the bodies of dead animals on the side of the road.
"The animals are dead. People don't have any regards for the animals. Let it be a human being and you keep rolling over it," he said.
He keeps some bones, such as a turtles' shell, to polish and use as household decorations, McKenzie said. He raises goats, turkeys and chickens and slaughters them himself for food. He also breeds dogs to sell.
Investigators removed 26 living animals from the house, including a dying goat, officials said. It was rushed to a local veterinarian's office and survived.
McKenzie told WRAL News that when he is done with a carcass he burns the remains. He said he is no different than a farmer or a hunter.
After news of the allegations broke, McKenzie said he was let go from his job at Sunshine Rest Home in Fremont. He also operates his own lawn maintenance business, Handy Man's Handy Man.
He said he can understand why a modern society might view this as bizarre. "They don't even know where their eggs come from," he said. "They think it's cloned eggs. Where does your chicken come from? Where does your beef come from?"