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  • Adria Henderson

Desmond's Army Animal Law Advocates


Desmond’s Army volunteers Credit: Robin “Zilla” Cannamela

On any given day, at courthouses across Connecticut, it’s not unusual to see a group of purple-shirted individuals gathered on courthouse steps. They’ve come together to speak for the voiceless; to raise awareness of the plight of Connecticut’s abused animals, the innocent victims of animal abusers. They are Desmond’s Army. 

This is their story. 



This is Desmond, the dog that inspired a national movement. Credit: Linda Pleva

In 2012, 22-year-old Alex Wullaert was arrested for savagely murdering his girlfriend’s dog, Desmond. Wullaert had become increasingly violent toward her and, fearing for her safety - and Desmond’s - she left with her dog. Unable to find housing with Desmond, a large, pit-boxer mix, she reluctantly surrendered him to a local shelter. Wullaert enraged, tracked Desmond to the shelter. Convincing the shelter staff he was the dog’s owner, he brought Desmond home.   


Desmond’s mutilated body was discovered by a passerby in a trash bag in the Branford woods. Desmond had been strangled, his body was covered in bruises, he was malnourished, and several of his teeth were broken. As a final insult to this innocent dog, his abuser, Alex Wullaert qualified for the court’s diversionary program. If completed,  Wullaert’s criminal record would be removed; he could return home to repeat acts of violence against another animal, and, as studies have shown, move on to violence against humans.  

This was not a victimless crime. Desmond was the victim of this horrific murder, but no one was in court to speak for him, to describe the horror he endured or the number of times Wullaert, without provocation, viciously attacked him or refused to feed him.  

After hearing the outcome of the case, Desmond’s shelter caretaker was so outraged she vowed to find a way to raise public awareness about the endless cycle of dismissed charges and diversionary programs for animal abusers in Connecticut. Forming a group of equally outraged people and calling themselves “Justice for Desmond” they set out on a quest to stop the court’s apathetic approach to animal abuse cases.   

Over the next few years, as these cases continued to be dismissed by the courts, the group became disheartened. But when several shockingly inhumane cruelty cases surfaced, including two dogs in Bristol that were found hanging from a tree, the group became reenergized and, once again, began appearing in courts across Connecticut. This time the media took notice and began covering the group’s movements, referring to them as an “army.” The name stuck. They had become Desmond’s Army.    

One of the group’s founders, Robin “Zilla” Cannamela, believing that legislation could be the solution to the court’s cycle of silence, reached out to Diana S. Urban, a well-known animal advocate and, at the time, a Connecticut state representative. Teaming up with Jessica Rubin, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, they crafted a model bill known as “Desmond’s Law.” The law would allow court-appointed advocates to represent the interests of justice in animal cruelty cases. Abused animals would have their own representation and could now “voice” the torture and torment they endured. This groundbreaking legislation was passed by the Connecticut legislature, signed into law, and enacted on October 1, 2016. Since then, several states have crafted bills modeled after Desmond’s Law, including Maine, passing “Franky’s Law.” 

Desmond’s Army continues its crusade to better the lives of the Connecticut’s animals, still showing up in court “en mass”, their purple shirts signaling their presence on an almost daily basis. The “Army” has now expanded its campaign to include educating the public on the connection between animal cruelty and domestic violence and providing municipalities with funding for necropsies or DNA results to aid in the prosecution of cruelty cases. The “Army” also provides reward funds for information leading to the identification of people responsible for cruelty to an animal.  

One dog, a stray named Desmond, inspired a group of outraged citizens, his ”Army” to spend the last 12 years working to better the lives of Connecticut dogs and cats. His legacy lives on in the lives of each animal that was saved through the combined efforts of Desmond’s Law and Desmond’s Army.    

Desmond’s Army is a 501c(3) nonprofit Connecticut organization 

Note: An effort to expand the reach of Desmond’s Law to all Connecticut animals - not just cats and dogs, did not pass during the 2023 legislative session. Both Desmond’s Army and CT Votes for Animals will support the reintroduction of this expanded version of Desmond’s Law in the upcoming 2024 legislative session.   

For further info about Desmond’s Army, to join or sign up for their newsletter, please go to: https://www.desmondsarmy.org/ 

 

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