Thursday, February 5, 2009

Conn. Judge makes Bad Decision in Animal Abuse Case

I was about to sit down and write about the atrocious decision our Connecticut courts made in the Jay Baldwin animal abuse case. In fact, one of our past volunteers, Donna Ploss, has become very interested in legislation concerning animals, and in particular, the animal abuse laws. So, I asked her to send me some information about Baldwin and how the decision came about.

Baldwin basically walked free after committing some pretty heinous crimes against cats. I was interested in what she would uncover and how Connecticut allowed this to happen.

I knew Donna had talked with Irene Hudobenko of Ansonia, who was one of the people duped by Baldwin. But I was surprised this morning to find a letter from her to Helping Paws, which gave me even more information. My Little Boy was an eight-week-old tiger kitten who was adopted with his brother, Chance. Unfortunately, it was to Baldwin, and one of the kittens was unknowingly handed a death sentence as he left their first home. The other kitten made it back to Irene, but will be traumatized for the rest of his life.

Baldwin, 57, of Ansonia, claimed to have lost his beloved cat, and wanted to adopt the two tiger kittens together. He talked a good talk and seemed to Irene to be a very caring man, knowing a lot about cats and appearing to be very honest and friendly. In fact, Hudobenko had turned away several people before Baldwin applied to adopt the two kittens. Little did she know that by going forward with this particular adoption, she was sealing their fate.

“He saw an ad for my two kittens in the local town paper and called to find out how many kittens there were,” Hudobenko said. He went to her house to see the kittens so he could see all of the cats and she could see how he interacted with them. He passed the test and took the kittens home.

Abuse discovered
Something bad was going on at the Baldwin home and some of the neighbors knew there had to be something done. After many complaints to the Ansonia Police Department, a search of the garbage-strewn and flea-infested Woodbridge Avenue apartment was finally done. There they found nine cats and kittens, as well as several birds in horrendous condition.

Four of the felines were so badly neglected and abused, they had to be euthanized. Sadly enough, the kitten Hudobenko had lovingly called My Little Boy was one of them. Irene’s letter to me explained her kitten was killed by blunt trauma to the head. Baldwin was evicted less than a week after the gruesome discovery.

At that time, the authorities asked him if he had any more cats or kittens. He vehemently denied it. And yet when the landlord went into the apartment, they found two more cats. Baldwin could not stop his cruel and abusive ways to animals. He was arrested and pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of animal cruelty. Bond was set at $10,000. Shockingly, it was later reduced by Judge Karen Nash-Sequino.

Her reasoning? Because “the kitten didn’t have any broken bones.”

Slap on wrist
There was a trial of sorts, and we animal lovers were feeling quite hopeful that justice would finally be served for these poor animals. After defense attorney Jonathan Gable’s theory that My Little Boy had died of ingesting rat poison was disproved by a second autopsy, Baldwin changed his not guilty plea and took a deal, entering the Pretrial Diversion Program. This program is nothing but a glorified accelerated rehabilitation program for mentally ill criminals and it allowed Baldwin to walk free while being monitored.

After two years, his record will be expunged, as if this heinous crime never took place. This is a travesty that shows our state considers the lives of animals not worthy of the protection they deserve. This judge had a chance to make a difference, and in my opinion, she really blew it. I am ashamed of our justice system and especially that a woman on the bench could allow this to happen.

Connecticut General Statutes define animal abuse as: “Any person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, wounds or kills an animal.” It goes on to say anyone found guilty of animal cruelty “shall be fined not more than $5,000 and imprisoned not more than 5 years or both.” But that didn’t happen in Baldwin’s case. Because animals are still considered possessions in Connecticut, it is up to the discretion of the judge and prosecutor to make animal abuse a felony. This judgment is one more incident to further my belief animals are second-class citizens here in Connecticut, and cats are way down the totem poll.

Irene’s heartbreaking letter to me asked that all rescue groups write down Baldwin’s name and description, including all of the aliases he is known to have used. We must make sure he is never allowed to own another animal. It is obviously going to be up to us because our laws didn’t do much good.

People must act
With the ringing in of the New Year comes the change in command at the state legislature. It is time for all of my readers to become involved. The animal abuse laws need to be more clearly defined, making any animal abuse a felony, with strict jail time and fines. It is obvious to me that leaving the decision up to the judges and prosecutors is not working. State residents need to be the voice of the animals. I need all of you to write to your local representatives and tell them animal abuse will not be tolerated. Remember, until the laws are changed, animals will continue to die needlessly.

Our animals cannot speak for themselves. It is up to us.

Rene Knapp writes Pet Talk, which appears in The Sunday Bulletin. Reach her at

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