The reaction is often the same. A group of passers-by on Main Street, across from the Town Green, crane their heads up at the photo of the dog on the poster board. He's enclosed in a heart, surrounded by angel wings.
"So who's Desmond?" one asks.
Micah Rapini, the woman holding the poster, is ready with the answer. She's given it many times now, but the hurt and anger still feel fresh in her voice every time.
"He was killed by his owner," she says. "His owner adopted him and then choked him to death and left him in the woods."
Rapini is the main organizer of the Justice for Desmond "movement," a group of protestors and sympathizers that's trying to take the plight of abused animals viral -- and succeeding wildly. She also organized this gathering -- on the Branford Green, from noon to sundown on Sunday, culminating with a candlelight vigil and a moment of silence.
She hands the strangers a two-sided flyer.
One on side, a photo and a description of Desmond, a pit bull-boxer mix from the New Haven Animal Shelter. Desmond is described as a nearly perfect dog, beloved by everyone who crossed paths with him. A joy to be around. One of the most popular dogs at the shelter. (Rapini was one of Desmond's "Shelter moms" in New Haven, and says many other Justice for Desmond members worked with him personally.)
On the other is 22-year-old Alex Wullaert. Wullaert adopted Desmond from another shelter after he was transferred from New Haven. Wullaert has been accused of choking the dog to death, wrapping his body in a plastic bag and dumping it in a ditch, where it was found in March. (Madison Police Officer Kimberly Lauria traced the micro-chip in Desmond's body to Wullaert, who .) According to police, Wullaert said he killed the animal because it urinated on his leg and bit him.
Wullaert appeared in New Haven Superior Court May 15. After his case was extended by a judge, . His attorney, New Haven criminal lawyer Richard Silverstein, shielded his client as they left the New Haven Superior Court, placing his arm on Wullaert's shoulder -- but it wasn't enough to keep protestors away. Two blocks from the courthouse, Silverstein left Wullaert to fend for himself for the rest of the eight-block walk to his car. Rapini walked silently alongside him the whole way.
In court, Wullaert's case was extended to June 5 -- tomorrow. In that time, the Justice for Desmond group has been growing. As of Sunday night, the Facebook page had 3,483 likes. And now the group is mobilizing for tomorrow, when Wullaert will again step before a New Haven judge. Rapini says they plan to be out in increased numbers for their second showing on the New Haven Superior Court steps.
Rapini says she hopes Justice for Desmond can draw attention to the abuse and cruelty suffered by all animals, not just Desmond. And the dog from the New Haven shelter is only one of many. Since his death in January, half a dozen charges have been drawn in Connecticut for animal cruelty, according to the Animal Abuse Database. All were for cruelty against dogs. Two were for pit bulls.
If found guilty, Wullaert could face a maximum penalty of $5,000 and five years in jail according to Connecticut's Animal Cruelty statues. Justice for Desmond members have said they plan to meet at the New Haven Superior Court as often as necessary to "see justice." For more information on the group, see their Facebook page.