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Former UIC gymnast who scalded dog gets probation

Byron’s owner threw boiling water him out anger leaving him with second-degree burns over 50 percent his body. Kyle Voissem

Byron’s owner threw boiling water on him out of anger, leaving him with second-degree burns over 50 percent of his body. Kyle Voissem, a one-time criminal justice major at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was sentenced to probation. | Sun-Times fi

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Updated: July 11, 2013 6:18PM

A former star University of Illinois at Chicago gymnast was sentenced to one year of probation Thursday for throwing a pot of boiling water on his dog in a fit of rage after the animal urinated on the floor.

While Cook County Judge James Obbish acknowledged that 21-year-old Kyle Voissem’s attack was cruel, he chastised overzealous animal lovers who have maligned Voissem to the point where he can no longer find a job or re-enroll in college.

Obbish said it was “troubling” to learn about the Internet backlash and the death threats Voissem has received since the fall 2011 incident in Voissem’s South Loop apartment.

“People in the name of loving animals engage in aggravated cruelty to another human being. That’s worse than what happened to the dog. Is everyone so perfect that they never make a mistake?” Obbish said, criticizing the “organized campaign to destroy” Voissem.

Voissem’s attorney Catharine O’Daniel said her client has been turned down by “dozens” of employers and has been relegated to taking classes on line after he was “kicked out” of UIC over his arrest.

The Wisconsin native was originally charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty for scalding his Mountain Cur mix with the water he intended to use for his macaroni and cheese dinner.

But due to the severity of the second- and third-degree burns, the charges were upgraded to felony aggravated cruelty to an animal in January 2012.

Obbish found Voissem guilty in a bench trial in March.

On Thursday, Voissem, dressed in dark slacks and a vest, apologized before the judge as his mother and brother looked on.

“I never meant to hurt him. I love him,” a goateed Voissem said of his dog, Byron, who has since been placed in a new home with the help of the Anti-Cruelty Society.

O’Daniel gave the judge 54 letters from Voissem’s supporters, who include his gymnastics coach.

Obbish said he was sure Voissem learned his lesson and had no doubt that he “loves” animals.

“He did act cruel in a moment of anger. He didn’t give it thought…and he’s paying a severe price for that,” the judge said.

Obbish denied the prosecution’s request that Voissem not have any contact with animals during his probation-- a ruling at least one animal advocate in court described as “pathetic.”

Barbara Chadwick, of the Dog Advisory Work Group, also took issue with the stern lecture the judge gave to those who spoke out against Voissem.

“This is a free country. We have the freedom of speech,” Chadwick said.

Voissem declined comment outside of court.

Officials from UIC and the Anti-Cruelty Society were not immediately available for comment.

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