ANIMAL WATCH-On March 29, 2021, an Ohio Grand Jury issued a Supersede Indictment for 53 counts against Steffen Baldwin, aka Steffen Finkelstein, co-founder of the nonprofit Underdog Alliance and Save Them Dogs in Acton, CA, who advocated for dangerous, last-chance Pit Bulls and “No Kill.”
Baldwin was extradited from California to Ohio in June 2020 after being charged with 42 total counts, which included "engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, bribery, telecommunications fraud, tampering with records, grand theft, falsification, grand theft of a firearm and impersonation of a peace officer, and 13 counts of animal cruelty."
Baldwin was extolled nationwide by major humane organizations. When Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette celebrated the opening of a dog park on Skid Row for pets of homeless humans at the Weingart Center in 2018, Steffen Baldwin was interviewed by the LA Times, as the dog trainer for the facility.
His purported dog training/handling techniques and “lifesaving” contributions to the “No Kill” movement were widely extolled by the most affluent and influential animal-charity organizations in the nation, including Best Friends Animal Society.
But Baldwin's professional life took a dark turn when an investigation began into allegations that Pit Bulls and other dangerous dogs he supposedly “saved” had actually been euthanized after he received large amounts of money from owners and/or rescue groups for their “second chance” redemptions. (In later indictment papers, he was linked to the deaths of 18 dogs.)
POLICE RECORDS TELL STORY OF GIFTS, STRIP CLUBS
“I am not sure we are ever going to know the total number of animals he killed,” Union County Prosecutor Dave Phillips told the Marysville J-T. “I certainly think the total exceeds the number of indictments.” Phillips said investigators began looking into Baldwin's activities in 2017.
“The allegations indicate the money he raised for animals -- even after they were euthanized -- was used for his personal expenses,” Phillips said, “listing gifts for his girlfriend, as well as strip clubs."
In an August 5, 2020, interview, Detective Jim Conroy told 10TV that Steffen Baldwin’s real goal was to be a star on Animal Planet, “by any means necessary, even at the expense of animals he had pledged to protect.”
Conroy said Baldwin’s aim was clearly to become a star by tying himself to “as many animal organizations as he could to build up his reputation as an animal advocate. He said eight production companies made offers, and at least four signed Baldwin with the goal of pitching him to Animal Planet.”
He added, “If the allegations prove true, it’s a shame that someone uses animals for their personal gain.”
STEFFEN BALDWIN ALLEGEDLY ‘TESTS POSITIVE FOR OPIATES’
Baldwin was arrested a second time, after being extradited to Ohio, and charged with a bond violation, according to the Marysville Journal-Tribune on December 17, after he "allegedly tested positive for opiates." Union County court papers showed he was again released.
In August, when he was arraigned, bail was set at $200,000, at the request of Assistant Union County Prosecutor Melissa Chase, who indicated she considered Baldwin, “a flight risk.”
But Baldwin's defense attorney, urged the judge to release him upon 10% payment of the bond. As part of the bond agreement, Baldwin was specifically told by the judge that a positive test for any unprescribed drugs or refusing to submit to a test for drugs or alcohol could result in revocation of his bond.
Baldwin was reportedly involved in a vehicle crash in October, which resulted in "serious injuries" and was living at a convalescent hospital during his recovery. There were no details of the incident provided publicly.
He contested the results of the drug test, "contending that he was taking medication due to the surgical procedures he underwent after the accident."
According to court documents, Judge Mark O’Connor agreed that the test results "would not be out of line with what would be expected for someone having undergone the procedures." Baldwin was released, with an order for further testing of blood samples before making a final determination.
11 of 13 ANIMAL CRUELTY CHARGES DROPPED
Baldwin had previously been ordered to appear in court on the following Wednesday for an evidentiary hearing. According to documents submitted, his attorney contended that some of misdemeanor charges should be dropped because the 24-month statute of limitations had expired.
At the hearing on January 8, 2021, the judge agreed, and eleven misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty were dropped, leaving only the two that were charged as felonies.
If convicted on all counts remaining at that time, Baldwin could still be facing 81 years in prison.
GRAND JURY’S ‘SUPERSEDE INDICTMENT,’ RESTORES/ADDS CHARGES
However, in a new “supersede indictment" released by the Ohio Grand Jury on March 29, 2021, the 11-misdemeanor animal cruelty counts that were dropped were re-filed as felony animal cruelty charges. (The other two of the 13 had been originally filed as felonies.)
In addition, the 11 were left in the original document as misdemeanors, (possibly to allow for potential appeal.) This resulted in a total of 53 charges, 39 of which are felonies. (Also see Dogsbite.org)
A Los Angeles attorney explained that we saw a similar strategy used in the recent George Floyd case, where Officer Derek Chauvin faced (and was convicted of) three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter for causing George Floyd’s death. This strategy allowed three “guilty” verdicts, with the greater possibility of at least one prevailing after anticipated appeals.
HOW DID ALL THESE ‘HUMANE’ LEADERS GET IT SO WRONG?
How much do the high-profile promoters of animal welfare really know about the groups they claim to support and commend as a part of the lucrative “No Kill” movement? If Steffen Baldwin is an example, it appears the response to that question would be “not much.”
But, equally important, why don’t they care? Is this really about the animals or about continuing income?
TUGGING AT HEARTSTRING OPENS WALLETS
The sad faces of animals in constant donation appeals illicit an immediate emotional impulse to help -- always by sending money. Many are multi-million-dollar non-profit organizations which then commend and endorse smaller groups or individuals for their “lifesaving” work and need immediate money so that their “No Kill” goals can be met and continued.
But Steffen Baldwin is not the first example of misplaced trust. How long will the public continue sending money to every “donate” button (which is often the first thing on the site) or sign up for recurring donations with no indication that the problem is improving but constant warnings of impending doom, and rarely is there mention of supporting enforcement of laws to curtail the sources?
HOW MUCH RESEARCH IS DONE?
As recently as December 12, 2019, Baldwin has been publicly acclaimed in gushing terms by Best Friends Animal Society, when a post on its site invited readers to, ". . .join us for an open house at Steffen Baldwin’s Save Them Dog Training Ranch in Acton, CA. . .we’re looking forward to giving you a glimpse of Steffen’s lifesaving work providing solace and rehabilitation for shelter and rescue dogs with bad raps, giving them the space, patience and second chance we all know they deserve."
Also, Best Friends, which encourages donating to their "No Kill" program to "save them all," including aggressive Pit Bulls, reportedly (and on video) held sessions in 2019 with its volunteers to discuss its exploration of the use of "aversive" training as a tool and was publicly reprimanded by long-time supporters. (See: Best Friends Animal Society in Dog Fight over Shock Collars.)
Maddie’s Fund featured Steffen Baldwin in their Champions for Animal Welfare on January 2017, posting a 34-minute video, and stating, “Steffen Baldwin shares stories on how he is able to save neglect cases, advocate for ‘pitbulls’ and educate both officers and children while getting to know dogs. This presentation was recorded at the 2016 American Pets Alive! Conference.”
Shelter Animal Research –Sharing Information to “Save Them All,” under Shelter Case Study, states, “. . .All these pages are about shelters who have succeeded in achieving their goals.” It includes: Lifesaving on a Dime with ACT! Ohio -- Steffen Baldwin - January 2017 – Hear how Act! Ohio is able to save neglect cases, advocate for ‘pitbulls’ and educate both officers and children.”
And, on August 3, 2020, the date CityWatch posted, LA Pit Bull Trainer/Rescuer Awaits Extradition on 42 Charges – Including 13 Counts of Animal Cruelty, Austin Pets Alive distanced itself from Baldwin, posting a “POSITION, REGARDING STEFFEN BALDWIN OF SAVE THEM DOG TRAINING:”
We are aware of the arrest of Steffen Baldwin of Save Them Dog Training in California. Austin Pets Alive! is among the many organizations who have worked with Steffen over the past several years and we have seen him save many dogs who would otherwise not have had a chance. We cannot comment on his arrest or the reported experiences of other groups or individuals, but we have sent a few dogs to his ranch to receive help through sanctuary, training or adoption opportunities that we could not provide here at APA!
“LET’S HOPE EVERY ONE OF THOSE CHARGES STICK!”
Sharon Logan, President of Paw Protectors Rescue in Orange County, who has followed the events at Underground Alliance and Save Them Dogs since it was formed, commented, “Let’s hope every one of those charges stick!”
She added, “Steffen Baldwin the high-profile ‘No Kill’ Pit Bull Rehabber and Co-Founder of Underdog Alliance working under the guise of a ‘dog trainer’ turned out to be nothing more than a serial dog abuser/dog killer.”
She added, “How ironic that this ‘hero’ was being touted in ‘No Kill’ circles by Best Friends, Austin Pets Alive and LA City Animal Services as being legendary!”
Sharon Logan invites everyone concerned about this to sign and share this petition to ensure the State of California and local law-enforcement agencies fully investigate and prosecute Steffen Baldwin and his partner’s actions.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.