Open in App
  • Local
  • U.S.
  • Election
  • Politics
  • Crime
  • Sports
  • Lifestyle
  • Education
  • Real Estate
  • Newsletter
  • WTNH

    The domestic abuse survivor behind Desmond’s Army

    By Ashley Baylor,


    NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — There have been several animal abuse and abandonment stories lately. Maybe you’ve seen posts on your social media feed of rewards for information leading to a suspect.

    These rewards are offered up by Desmond’s Army , a literal army of volunteers who fight for the voiceless.

    But how was Desmond’s Army created?

    $5K reward offered for information on dog dumped in Naugatuck

    It’s a story of how a domestic abuse survivor turned into a champion for victims of cruelty.

    Tucked away in the beautiful hills of the Berkshires is a sprawling 1,200-acre farm home to sixteen horses, young and old.

    Most days, you’ll find a woman who would prefer to be called “Zilla,” tending to the horses and working on the property.

    Animal advocates in Connecticut support new legislation to better protect dogs in puppy mills

    “This is my peace. This is my peace of mind. This is where my heart is. I feel safe here,” she said.

    WARNING: The following details may be disturbing to some.​

    As News 8 walked with her two rescue Huskies, she shared the story of how her serenity came from surviving a violent relationship.

    “Russian roulette was the Saturday night gig. There was a revolver. He would spin it. And I’d have to pick it up and put it to my head.

    I was isolated- cut off from friends, cut off from family.

    I suffered sleep deprivation, severe sleep deprivation.

    I knew I had to get out.

    I had my son and my dog. There was one time where I was able to get out, but he had my dog.

    When I went back for Fang, he had been shot on the front step. He had a gaping bullet wound to his chest and he had bled out over the front step. And that was in retaliation for me leaving,” said Zilla.

    She has lived with guilt and post-traumatic stress for decades.

    In 2012, she heard about Desmond’s case. A handsome Pitbull/Boxer mix was mercilessly killed.

    Man faces animal cruelty charges after video shows dog being kicked in East Haven

    “Desmond’s story just resonated so deeply that I couldn’t not get involved. He was also a victim of domestic violence in retaliation,” Zilla said.

    Desmond’s emaciated body was found in a garbage bag on the edge of a pond in North Madison. A microchip led police to his owner, who admitted to torturing, punching, and choking Desmond to death.

    Despite the confession, Desmond’s owner was sentenced to accelerated rehabilitation, which meant no jail time and a clean record upon completion.

    “The heartbreak was palpable. I think everyone’s heart and stomach sank collectively. We all just sat and cried. Because it was so unjust. Here you had a confession, and yet the judge saw fit to essentially let him off,” Zilla said, recalling the day of sentencing.

    Search continues for person who dumped old, blind dog in Hartford

    During the court hearings, Zilla was among the sea of supporters who were labeled “Desmond’s Army.”

    “We all vowed to get justice for Desmond,” she said.

    Shortly after, she helped develop a more formal group of advocates, keeping the name Desmond’s Army. In 2016, they helped pass “Desmond’s Law,” which enables courts to appoint legal advocates to represent victims of animal cruelty.

    Almost every day, they show up to animal cruelty cases to make sure Desmond’s Law is being used.

    “In one day, we could have seven court cases spread out across the state,” Zilla said.

    Animal advocacy group looks to find justice for bulldog thrown out of car

    Ultimately, Desmond’s Army wants animal abusers to be held accountable for what they did and punished appropriately. The state added two stricter laws last year, but Zilla said there is still overwhelming frustration with the lack of enforcement.

    “There are animals out there being murdered, stabbed, beaten to death on camera, and the laws are not being used anywhere near to their fullest extent,” she said.

    The memories of Desmond and her dog, Fang, keep Zilla fighting and being the loudest voice for the voiceless.

    “In some small way, in my own heart, I was feeling like I could get justice for Fang as well,” she said.

    Desmond’s Army will continue to work with lawmakers to create and enact stricter laws.

    14 emaciated animals seized from Ansonia residence

    In fact, they want Desmond’s Law to cover all animals, not just cats and dogs. They would like it to include horses, sheep, and other farm animals and critters.

    Recently, News 8 learned of a safe house that will allow women to bring their pets with them.

    Zilla said the state needs more facilities to house pets that are involved in domestic violence. If you and your pet need help from a domestic violence situation, visit the Safe Futures CT website .

    The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached by calling 800-799-7233 or texting “BEGIN” to 88788. More Connecticut resources are available on the state’s government website .

    Click here to learn about volunteer opportunities with Desmond’s Army.

    Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

    For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to

    Expand All
    Comments / 0
    Add a Comment
    Most Popular newsMost Popular

    Comments / 0