Lawmaker: Charges could be upgraded against woman accused in deaths of 5 dogs

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The arrest of a former animal rescue leader, accused in the deaths of five dogs in her Fairfield home, raised questions as to why she was only charged with a misdemeanor.

Heidi Lueders, 31, was charged with five counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. Connecticut law will allow a lawyer to argue in court to get Lueders' charges upgraded after the dogs, known as the “Fairfield Five,” were found dead and starved in their cages.

State Rep. Brenda Kupchick says that the suffering the animals' experienced may be the reason Lueders' charges would be upgraded to felonies.

MORE:  Former leader of animal rescue arrested after 5 dogs found dead inside home

“It's very upsetting to think about how those animals suffered,” says Kupchick.

Connecticut's animal cruelty laws list a first offense as a misdemeanor unless the act is "malicious or intentional."

Zilla Cannamela, of Desmond's Army, a nonprofit that provides advocates for animals in cruelty cases, says a pro-bono lawyer will argue that angle in court.

She says Desmond's Army works with state lawmakers to better the lives of animals.

Connecticut is the only state that allows court-appointed advocates to represent animals in cruelty and abuse cases, due to legislation called Desmond's Law.

Desmond's Law, which was enacted in 2016, was named after a dog that was starved, beaten and strangled to death.

“New York is looking at it, New Jersey is looking at it, Maine, California. We're looking to take Desmond's Law nationally,” says Cannamela.

Kupchick says she pushed for the passage of the legislation and that prior to it, only 18 percent of animal abuse or cruelty cases ended in convictions.

“It has made a real difference because the court seems to be taking severe animal abuse much more seriously than they had before this law was passed,” says Kupchick.

Lueders was scheduled to be arraigned next Tuesday. The date was pushed to Feb. 13.

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