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Meet the woman who turns roadkill into fine fur

A model in fur made from roadkill by Petite Mort Fur. (Sophia Jagger Moon/Courtesy of Pamela Paquin)

What most of us call roadkill, Pamela Paquin calls “accidental fur.” She takes the casualties of New England roadsides and turns them into accessories that sell for more than $1,000 apiece.

But her goal isn’t just to make money. She wants to make fur – fraught with controversy due to animal cruelty concerns – an ethical, sustainable fashion statement.

The task isn’t for the faint of heart.

She harvested her first roadkill last year with the help of a hunter and a shot of whiskey. “I got this crazy knife that was completely wrong for the task, got my hazmat suit on, took a shot of whiskey and just started doing it,” Paquin, 39, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

That first animal, a raccoon, was unfortunately harvested “too early in the season” for roadkill. The animal was rotten and its insides had totally liquefied. Gross.

Most people would have probably abandoned the whole idea after that. But Paquin persevered — and now raccoon is her most popular pelt.

A few years ago, Paquin found herself at a crossroads with little money and a daughter to raise on her own.

Last year, she found herself “sitting in the woods literally staring at the trees. Winter was coming. I was like: ‘What am I doing to do with myself? There was that dead raccoon on the road the other day. My cousin’s a hunter. Maybe I should just do this.’”

Paquin has never been shy about collecting animal carcasses. In 6th grade, she brought the dead animals she found by the roadside of her suburban Massachusetts home to school for dissection in the lab.

It didn’t seem weird to a kid who grew up on a dairy farm in a family that hunted and raised animals. As she put it: “We were all elbow deep in all of that.”

When she decided to start her business, her first stops were the highway department and animal control in Jaffrey, N.H. “I just made up some business cards and went around to all the local guys who are responsible for picking up roadkill and was like ‘Hi, my name is Pamela. Will you call me when you have roadkill?’”

And they did. “They were so lovely to me,” Paquin said. “They would bag up the animal and take it to a place where I could pick it up. … I was going out there oftentimes with my daughter in the back seat and skinning this animal on the side of the road.”

Paquin often brings her daughter to work, she said, just as her father used to bring her when he slaughtered sheep on their farm so she would understand where the meat came from and wouldn’t “consume complacently,” as she put it.

Paquin collects animals from November until February. Once she has 10 to 20 furs in her freezer, she heads to a taxidermist who helps her “flesh” them. Then the pelts go to the tannery, a process that takes three months.

After the fur is removed from the animals, Paquin takes them into the woods. “I tend to curl them up in the fetal position because it makes me feel better,” before sending them off with a prayer, she said.

When the furs return from the tannery, they are ready to be made into a garment. Paquin never considered herself an artist or creative type, but now designs her own pieces.

“These neck muffs that I make, I can literally take two raccoons and put them butt to butt and then they clasp neck to neck,” she said.

Paquin does some of her own leatherwork by hand, but also works with a seamstress and a furrier in Boston.

Paquin developed her first prototype last year. She said she is already selling pieces, and claimed designers are “chomping at the bit” to purchase her pelts.

She said she was never really worried about people being reluctant to buy roadkill. When people “see something beautiful, their first movement towards that piece is going to be ‘Oh my god, that’s such a gorgeous fur.’ ” When she wore a pair of her raccoon fur leg warmers to an event in Boston, “people wouldn’t stop touching me,” she said.

“I can’t believe how luscious raccoon is,” she said. “Bear is stunning. It’s so long and fluffy and beautiful.” But her favorite pelt is otter, the “most precious, incredible fur” she’s ever seen, she said. She’s saving that one for just the right project.

She hopes one day to have a private-appointment-only salon where people can see the furs, learn about the animals and be measured for a garment. “Part of what I love about what I do is the curated experience, making something special and one-of-a-kind for a particular person,” she said.

Her collection, Petite Mort, means “little death” in French, but it’s also a euphemism for the way a woman feels after orgasm. Paquin told Modern Farmer“That state that requires full body participation is where my I want my customer to be.”