01/14/09 — New penalties sought in animal case

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New penalties sought in animal case

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on January 14, 2009 1:46 PM

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Lawton McKenzie

A Fremont area man charged with animal abuse faces another misdemeanor charge because he had four dead owls on his property, the N.C. Wildlife Enforcement office says.

The charge could have been a felony if one of the owls had been on the endangered species list.

But three of the owls are barred owls, and the Wildlife Enforcement office has not yet identified the species of the fourth, Wildlife Enforcement Officer Josh Hudson said.

"I had a biologist come in and identify them," Hudson said. "For the final one ... we've got to get someone who has owls as their expertise."

Hudson said all raptors -- a catch-all name for such birds of prey which include eagles, hawks, falcons and owls -- are protected under state law.

"He cannot have the owls, period," Hudson said. "Only licensed people can have raptors, like the Carolina Raptor Center (in Huntersville)."

Lawton McKenzie, 28, faces three other misdemeanor charges because dogs and a goat were found malnourished at the home.

Investigators also allege there were bowls of blood and dismembered animals on the property.

McKenzie has since denied one allegation, that investigators found what appeared to be a puppy's head in a plastic food storage bag.

Wayne County Animal Control Director Justin Scally said he had visited the Fremont property previously, and McKenzie told him he was practicing taxidermy on the animals, and collected the dead from road kill.

Hudson said Fremont police officers on scene said they could have arrested McKenzie for his behavior when Hudson issued his citation.

"I'll just say he got loud, he didn't really get belligerent," Hudson said, but added that he didn't feel an arrest was necessary.

Hudson also could have charged McKenzie with four citations, for each of the deceased owls, the enforcement officer said.

"I kind of did him a favor with that," Hudson said.