Attorney says client accused in 5 dog deaths is ‘victim of opioid epidemic’

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BRIDGEPORT -

It was a packed courtroom in Bridgeport Wednesday as Heidi Lueders, the former president of a dog rescue, pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the deaths of five dogs in her care.

Lueders was arraigned on felony animal cruelty charges and criminal damage to property. It comes three months after Fairfield police found five pit bulls starved to death in her home. The dogs were locked in their cages, decomposed to just bones, with their collars still on.

Police also found piles of garbage, feces and drug paraphernalia throughout the home.

Lueders was the president of Bully Breed Rescue at the time. The nonprofit, which has since dissolved, said Lueders led members to believe the dogs were at an animal sanctuary and in foster homes.

Attorney Ken Bernhard was appointed as the animal advocate in the case – a position established under Desmond's Law to give animals a voice in cruelty cases.

“We have some animals that were apparently very horribly abused and it obviously pulls at our heart strings,” says Bernhard. “I’m very pleased that the courts have taken it seriously.”

Lueders’ attorney released a statement saying, "I hope when all the facts are out, people will see my client is not a bad person but a victim of the opioid epidemic. And this situation is a direct result of an addiction to opiates."

The judge ordered her not to own or care for any animals while this case is ongoing. Lueders is due back in court on March 15.

Lueders was recently arrested for allegedly assaulting family members during a domestic dispute at their New Canaan home.

RELATED STORIES:
Former animal rescue president accused of starving 5 dogs arrested again 
Former leader of animal rescue arrested after 5 dogs found dead inside home
Rescue group: 5 dogs found dead were under care of president
Lawmaker: Charges could be upgraded against woman accused in deaths of 5 dogs 

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