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Former president of animal rescue pleads not guilty of animal abuse

BRIDGEPORT - A woman accused in a shocking case of animal abuse faced a judge in Bridgeport Wednesday. In fact, the prosecution deems the crimes so heinous, that they bumped up her charges to felonies.

Heidi Lueders, 31, the now former President of a New Canaan animal rescue, stands accused of five counts of animal cruelty, as her landlord allegedly found skeletons of five dogs in the home Lueders rented in Fairfield. Police say the home was also overrun by trash, feces and drug paraphernalia.

Animal rights activists showed up in force at the courthouse.

"We have not seen the likes of this before," said Robin Zilla Cannamela, President of “Desmond’s Army," which is an advocacy group that helped push forward a two-year-old law, known as Desmond's Law,  which states that animals should have a voice in the courtroom in instances where they’ve been abused.

That voice, in this case, is attorney Ken Bernhard, who was appointed Animal Advocate by the Judge.

"The facts are very ugly," he says. "It’s obviously a big tragedy for everyone concerned. I’m very pleased that the courts have taken it seriously."

So seriously, in fact, that Lueders animal cruelty charges have been upgraded to felonies, which, if convicted, would mean up to 10 years in prison for her.

Lueders entered a  not guilty plea.

"We want to see her there for the rest of her life if we could," said Nicola Improta, an animal love from Bethel. "She took the lives of these five animals. Not one, but five."

In a written statement, Lueders attorney, Rob Serafanowicz,  said, "I must stress my client is a good person, who fell victim to the opiate epidemic.  This situation is the result of that."

During her booking, on January 15th, Fairfield police say Lueders told them, "I can’t believe that I did this. I am a horrible person. I am the worst person in the world.“

This case was continued to March 15, when a pretrial hearing will take place.

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