01/09/09 — Animal rescues: Seized animals in protective custody

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Animal rescues: Seized animals in protective custody

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on January 9, 2009 1:46 PM

News-Argus Video Report

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Vicki Falconer, an administrative assistant at the Wayne County Animal Adoption and Education Center, plays with 7-month-old pit bull mix pups Goober, left, and Lucy, right.

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A dog is seen at the Wayne County Animal Adoption and Education Center Thursday. The dog is one of 26 animals removed from the home of Lawton McKenzie, 28, of Fremont, after he was arrested on charges of animal cruelty.

Cages were posted with "protective custody" signs Thursday at Wayne County Animal Control's adoption center. They contained animals seized from a Fremont property where investigators described "horrible" conditions.

Lawton Caswell McKenzie, 28, of Old Black Creek Road, Fremont, said "the whole thing has been blown out of proportion."

McKenzie, a native of West Moreland, Jamaica, said he had lost his job at the Sunshine Rest Home in Wilson.

"I'm trying to find another job, because I got fired from my other job," McKenzie said on Thursday evening, concerning his job as a caregiver at the facility.

Animal Control officials assert that the case has merit, and more charges are being sought in addition to the three misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals currently levied at McKenzie.

"I'm still working with the D.A.'s office, trying to look at some other things," Animal Control Director Justin Scally said, adding that game warden officials are still trying to decide whether to charge McKenzie with a felony.

The felony could arise from possession of an owl, which is illegal under North Carolina law.

Animal Control employee Vicki Falconer said that two pit bull terrier puppies were in "horrible" condition when they were seized by animal control.

"They were very, very thin," Ms. Falconer said. "They were about the size of an 8-week-old puppy, and they were 6 months old."

The animal control director said there were many different species taken from the home, where investigators described bowls of blood and a puppy's head in a plastic food storage bag.

"The animals that were taken from the property consisted of goats, to dogs, a cat, snakes, rabbits, there (were) owls, goats, sheep, a wide variety of animals were taken with problems," Scally said.

He said 26 total surviving animals were taken from the property, and the remains of other animals were on the property.

McKenzie previously told Scally he had been collecting road kill and using bones to make necklaces.

"The vet says they (the seized animals) look like a million bucks compared to what they came in as," Scally said.

The dogs seemed to show a timid demeanor when approached, and Ms. Falconer said that was typical of the dogs.

"We can go in (their cages), but they're scared," the animal control assistant said. "They were very sickly when we first got them, but they feel better. That's what they do, they lie there."

The animals in large cages consisted of seven big dogs and four puppies, along with the myriad of other animals described by Scally.

They are under protective custody until a judge releases them, Ms. Falconer said.

"When the judge says so, they'll be up for adoption. They'll all be available," the animal control assistant said.