Animal advocates to be first to appear in court under Desmond’s Law giving animals a ‘legal voice’

This is Desmond (Source: Justice for Desmond's Facebook page)

Jessica Rubin, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, and Taylor Hansen, a law student, are taking advantage of Desmond’s Law in connection with a dog fighting case, according to NPR.org. Their “clients?” Three pit bulls. Rubin and Hansen were appointed by the court to be their advocates.

The state legislature passed Public Act No. 16-30 in the 2016 session. It became effective in October 2016. The Act allows the court to appoint an advocate for animals on its own initiative, but prosecutors and defense attorneys can also request an advocate. The full text of the law can be found here.

This Connecticut law has been used before, but the dog fighting case will be the first time that advocates will appear in court on behalf of animals since Desmond’s Law was passed in 2016.

The law was named after a dog, referred to as “Sweet Baby Desmond,” by shelter staff members. Desmond was a shelter favorite with a tail that never stopped wagging, according to the facebook page, Justice for Desmond, which was created in his memory.

Desmond’s story is a tragic one. Desmond was surrendered by his owner to the New Haven Animal Shelter. He didn’t do well in the big shelter environment. To address that issue, he was transferred to a smaller, quieter shelter. Desmond was adopted within a week thereafter by Alex Wullaert. That’s when his nearly year-long nightmare began. Unbeknownst to the shelter staff at that time, Wullaert was the boyfriend of the woman who dumped him at New Haven Animal Shelter.

According Hartford Courant, evidence showed that Wullaert beat, starved and strangled Desmond to death. This was in 2012. At that time, Wullaert already had “an extensive history of violence,” according to Justice for Desmond.

Left: The monster who tortured and killed Desmond. Right: Sweet Desmond (Source: Justice for Desmond facebook page)

The prosecutor rightfully recommended to the court that Wullaert serve prison time for the torture and murder of Desmond. The judge presiding over the case, Maureen Keegan, was of a different mindset, however. She rejected the prosecutor’s recommendation. Instead she sentenced Wullaert to Accelerated Rehabilitation. After a 2-year probationary period – which ended on April 9, 2015 – Wullaert’s felony conviction was expunged from his record in its entirety.

For all intents and purposes, Wullaert never committed any crime with respect to Sweet Baby Desmond. It was as if Desmond’s life didn’t matter. As a result, The People of the State of Connecticut went to work to make sure the legislation to give animals a voice in the legal realm would become law. Why? Because animals’ lives matter. Demond’s Law is reflective of that.

Demond’s Law is a wonderful and unprecedented move towards the betterment of animal-kind; however it falls a tad bit short in one respect. Rather than state that the advocate will represent the interests of “animals,” it states the advocate is to represent “the interests of justice’.”

It is mere semantics, as long as the intent of the new legislation is given effect. If Desmond’s Law gives animals a “legal” voice, animal advocates will take it.

There is a paradigm shift taking place across the nation. Animals are no longer deemed as mere “property” to do with as we please. They are recognized as living, breathing, sentient beings with rich, emotional lives.

The fight for animal rights and welfare is not over by any stretch of the imagination, but there has been an increase in legislation to address animal welfare issues.

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB-787 into law in Sept. 2016, which allows people to break into a hot car to save distressed animals trapped inside. California may also be the first state to ban the retail sale of “mass-produced” animals from factory farms.

And, as the The Animal Rights and Rescue Advocate reported in a previous article, Nelson Ferry with the Bureau’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), said that “cruelty to animals is a precursor to larger crime.” As such, the FBI began tracking data on animal cruelty crimes in 2016.

Click here to see other federal and state legislation that aims to protect animals from abuse and cruelty.

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