BRISTOL - Animal law advocates known as Desmondâ€™s Army have been galvanized by several recent cases of animal abuse, growing from 20 members to over 700.
The group was founded by Zilla Monstella and Christine Kiernan while seeking a conviction in the killing of a boxer/pit bull mix named Desmond, which had been adopted from a New Haven shelter.
â€śDesmond was adopted out to what seemed to be a lovely family. Then there was a breakup, and his owner brought him back to the shelter,â€ť said Monstella.
When the ex-boyfriend found out the dog was returned to the shelter, Monstella said, â€śin retaliation, he adopted Desmond, starved and abused him. In March 2012 they found his body in a trash bag in the woods. A necropsy revealed that his stomach was empty except for toilet paper and trash bags. Several of his ribs had been broken and he was strangled.â€ť
The Desmond case ultimately resulted in the creation of Desmondâ€™s Law - a state program in which a group of lawyers and University of Connecticut law students take up abuse cases pro-bono and work to convict offenders. Additionally, in February 2016, the federal government declared animal abuse a felony offense. Desmondâ€™s Army works closely with UConn Professor Jessica Rubin and state Rep. Diana Urban, D-Stonington.
After the sentencing in Desmondâ€™s case, the group disbanded for a while. However, it was re-energized and grew tremendously after a Bristol woman, Veronica Reyes, hanged her two dogs from a tree. Reyes was sentenced in May 2016 to five years in prison.
â€śWe have been involved in 78 cases, 29 of which are active,â€ť said Monstella. â€śEighteen of them are using Desmondâ€™s Law and two of them are currently pending. Our goal is to see that people are held accountable in these cases. We would also like to see Desmondâ€™s Law established nationwide. Thanks to Desmondâ€™s Law, animal control officers now have the tools and support they need in the legal system. Everyone is working together in a way that was totally unprecedented. Arrests can be made and cases will actually go somewhere instead of abusers getting charged with a simple misdemeanor.â€ť
Desmondâ€™s Army works to raise awareness of what Monstella calls the â€ścycle of violenceâ€ť with animal abusers.
â€śIf someone is capable of hurting an animal, they are capable of hurting a person,â€ť said Monstella. â€śAnimal control officers are now working with the Department of Children and Families following Desmondâ€™s Law. If an animal control officer sees violence with a family member, they contact DCF. If a DCF officer sees an animal being abused, they call the ACO.â€ť
Monstella said that Desmondâ€™s Army can often be seen at events intended to raise awareness about animal abuse, such as Bristolâ€™s Bow Wow in the Park or events held by Bikers Against Animal Cruelty. When people accused of animal abuse are brought to trial, they not only reach out to attorneys to help get the suspects convicted, but they also protest outside of court buildings and bring as many of their members as possible to sit in courtrooms during legal proceedings.
â€śWe have paperwork out for approval to become a 501(c)3 organization,â€ť said Monstella, about the future of Desmondâ€™s Army. â€śI will be the executive director once that goes through. Once this happens, we will help with the rehabilitation of animal abuse victims and establish a scholarship for UConn students who are interested in animal law.â€ť
For more information on Desmondâ€™s Army, or to get involved, email email@example.com or search â€śDesmondâ€™s Army Animal Law Advocates CT Goes To Court For The Voicelessâ€ť on Facebook.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.