Desmond’s Law: Giving A Voice for Abused Animals in Court


Animals have unique personalities, the capacity to feel emotion and pain, and the ability to think. Unfortunately, animals do not have a voice to express themselves in times of serious trouble so they need humans to speak up for them. “Animals are living beings and they deserve the same rights as any other living being on this plant”,[1] said Director Ross Licitra of the Monmouth County SPCA in New Jersey. Without a voice, however, many animals are left with their rights being infringed with justice too far in the distance to achieve. This happens too often, and a change in the legal system is much needed to give protection to animals that are harmed. This is exactly what happened to a sweet and lovable dog named Desmond. His story is below!

Desmond, a brown pit bull/boxer mix (picture below), lived with a young couple who had many domestic disputes at home for over six years. After the boyfriend, Wullaert, left home, Desmond was turned in to a shelter named ‘The Robin I’ in New Haven as an owner-surrender by his girlfriend where he was immediately loved by all.[2] Sometime later, Wullaert reclaimed Desmond from the shelter and brought him to his new home. The shelter staff said that they “had high hopes that his forever home would be a perfect fit”. Unfortunately, they did not know what was to come for poor Desmond. Wullaert fell into difficult financial times and barely fed Wullaert anything, leaving him home alone for 12 hours at a time. Frustrated from hunger and loneliness, Desmond retaliated by urinating in the home, even after walks.[3] At one point, “[t]his infuriated Wullaert [who] then lifted [Desmond] off the ground and twisted the collar tightly around his neck until [he] died”.[4] Desmond was brutally murdered by Wullaert and he did not deserve to die. Wullaert, instead of receiving jail time, was enrolled in an accelerated rehabilitation program. Desmond was a loving sentient being that needed a voice. This horrible tragedy sparked protests and outrage in the community. Stricter laws against animal cruelty and abuse are desperately needed. When people are punished in accordance with strict laws against animal cruelty, this change will act as a deterrent to animal abusers and what has happened to this innocent dog, Desmond, can be avoided in the future.

Success stories in animal cruelty cases are rare and many of these victimized animals never see justice done. In response to this problem, West Virginia has proposed a Bill which would effectively decrease barriers associated with obtaining felony convictions in animal cruelty charges.[5] This Bill, if passed, would create an animal cruelty registry system. Animals are a huge part of many people’s lives. As sentient beings capable of emotions, animals deserve more serious penalties against their perpetrators as well as measures for ensuring peoples’ accountability to them. Also, studies conducted by the Michigan State University College of Law reveal that those who intentionally harm animals are more likely to intentionally harm humans in the future.[6] “Those who abuse animals are dangerous and need to be punished and kept away from other animals whenever possible”[7] similar to people who are dangerous and need to be punished and kept away from other people whenever possible. Animals depend on us and do not have voices to articulate their pain. This Bill, if successful, would provide animals with an opportunity to obtain justice.

West Virginia is not the only state attempting to change the system in animal abuse cases. Lawmakers in Connecticut have recently passed a Bill into law “giving abused animals their own legal representation”.[8] In other words, a voice has been given to animals in need of expressing their feelings. Desmond’s law, named after this deceased pit bull/boxer mix mentioned earlier who was horrifically starved, beaten, and strangled to death by his human guardian, has provided the animals of Connecticut the ability to have their interests represented by animal advocates in a court of law. Since October 1, 2016, Desmond’s law provides judges the ability to “appoint legal representatives for abused animals involved in legal proceedings” similarly to the way courts appoint representation for children in child abuse cases. It is a discretionary program which applies specifically to cats and dogs and it provides animal advocates the ability to access information regarding a particular animal and what had occurred to them. Without this law in place, many animals in Desmond’s position would never see justice. In fact, Desmond’s human guardian, despite the prosecutor asking for prison time, was given just an accelerated rehabilitation as his punishment with no criminal record attached. However, after this incident and the passage of Desmond’s law, in just a six-month span, Desmond’s law has effectively allowed the appointment of five representatives for animals who were victim to cruelty.[9]

At the Federal level, Congressmen have proposed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) to prosecute individuals responsible for the abuse and killing of animals. If passed, this legislation would federally “prohibit intentional acts of crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling, or otherwise subjecting animals to serious bodily harm”.[10] Prosecuted individuals of these crimes would have federal felony charges under their name and face up to seven years in prison.[11] This legislation would ultimately prevent individuals like Wullaert who commit such heinous crimes from just walking away without a criminal record.

Canadian animal advocates are also trying to give voices to animals who are victims to cruelty. According to the Global News, two animal rights groups, Zoocheck and Animal Alliance of Canada, are demanding the government of Ontario to allow public members to enforce Ontario’s cruelty laws against animals rather than leaving this task to private charitable organizations.[12] In other words, these two groups are encouraging the Ontario government to not only expand the powers available to inspection officers but to also create a specific commission that oversees law enforcement regarding animal welfare. With a dedicated team to investigating and enforcing against animal cruelty, the result will be more justice and protection for animals in need of a voice.

Society can improve the lives of animals in need by giving them a voice. Violent crimes against humans are treated with criminal sanctions and punishments are ordered. It should be the same for crimes against animals and no different for animals who are sentient beings with emotions and have the right to be free from harm. There are many actions you can take to help fight against animal abuse and ensure justice is served for these animals. If you witness or know of an animal who is being abused, call your local authorities. If your jurisdiction does not have strict regulations against animal cruelty, contact your local politicians and ask for a change. Also, by sharing Desmond’s story and this article on social media, we can help spread the word and get closer to our goal of criminally penalizing those responsible for abusing and killing animals.



[1] “Giving Animals a Voice: Proposed Law Would Allow Animals to Be Represented in Court.” News 12 New Jersey, 10 Jan. 2019,

[2] McNerney, Pem. “Starved, Beaten, Strangled, Stuffed Under The Ice, Desmond Becomes Rallying Point [Video].” Stone Mountain-Lithonia, GA Patch, Patch, 16 May 2012,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Animal Abuse Needs to Be Treated like the Horrendous Crime It Is.” News, Sports, Jobs – Journal News, 11 Jan. 2019,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Oren, TF. “Desmond’s Law Gives Abused Animals a Voice in Court.” Wide Open Pets, Wide Open Pets, 28 Mar. 2018,

[9] Ibid.

[10] “New Federal Animal Cruelty Law Introduced.” Veterinary Practice News, 12 Feb. 2019,

[11] Ibid.

[12] Casey, Liam. “Report Finds Ontario Animal Cruelty Laws Should Be Enforced by Public Sector.” Global News, Global News, 7 Jan. 2019,