Over the past few months, I’ve heard from several people familiar with Nico Dauphine’s cat-trapping activities in and around Athens, GA, during her days as a PhD student at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Three years ago, in Athens-Clarke County Magistrate Court, Dauphine referred to her roundups as “community service.”:
“Oh, I do it basically as a community service, because I volunteered at Athens-Clarke County Animal Control for many years, and they’ve told me that one of their big problems that there’s no public service to pick up cats, but a lot of people have concerns about stray cats around.”
I recently heard from a former neighbor of Dauphine’s, whose family, like the defendant in the 2008 court case, was a victim of her “community service.” He agreed to share with me a letter he wrote—along with one written by one of his children (pictured above)—describing their experience:
“For more than six years my family has been consistently harassed by our neighbor Nico Dauphine… My wife and our children are fond of our pet cat. We have never owned more than two at a time, however we have been twice charged with a violation of the Athens leash law for our cat wandering into Nico’s yard. It was peculiar that when I requested to be shown the legal violation, that Patrick [Rives], Nico’s boyfriend, and head of animal control, handed a copy of the dog leash law with the word “dog” crossed out and “cat” hand-written in. This indicates to me that there is no specific violation concerning wandering licensed pet cats. Regardless, this household was fined twice, $80 on one occasion in 2008 or 09… and once for $50 in 2010… Additional circumstances involved in these cases would in most circumstances be considered legal entrapment, as Nico baited traps in her backyard with very aromatic bait to attract cats, then would take the cats away and drop them where they would be killed in traffic, as the local shelter would no longer accept cats.
On no occasion did Nico ever inform me that she had caught my cat. As a good neighbor I, on several occasions, asked Nico to alert us when our pet had wandered into her yard. I even suggested that she spray them with a garden hose to encourage them to stay away from her yard. Our children, who were six and eight years old at the time, had to give up their pet, which they had cared for since it was a very small kitten, as he (Jake) would get out and hide in the overgrown brush lot that is Nico’s yard. The children were heartbroken and have as a result learned to hate Nico, which is a behavior we try to minimize in our children.
My pet Siamese, who I had owned for more than six years, was a trained companion animal, as I am totally blind. My cat Lily was trained to pick up dropped items for me, warn me of obstacles in my path in the house, and alert me to people at the door. Nico trapped Lily once in a trap, without any water, on a weekend when Nico had been away in Florida for at least three days. I rescued Lily on that occasion, and threw the trap cage back across the fence into Nico’s yard. In the spring of 2010, Lily got out of my house. As she is chipped, I began calling all the shelters after she was missing for a full day. It was later reported back to me that Nico had told some neighbors that she had gotten rid of that cat. The distress and emotional drain of that incident continue to be costly to me. I had to withdraw from my PhD program as a result, where I was at the point of beginning data collection.
An additional factor about maintaining total control of our pet cat, which is nowhere in the U.S. required, as far as my research has revealed, is that… my wife has [cerebral palsy] and cannot walk adequately to chase down an active animal once it has escaped the house. The cruelty to these pets and to the owners—frequently young children—as a result, is beyond levels that decent society will normally tolerate.”
Isn’t this the same Nico Dauphine whose attorney, following her arrest in May, told the press that Dauphine’s “whole life is devoted to the care and welfare of animals”? The same Nico Dauphine who landed a prestigious position with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (part of the National Zoo), working alongside Peter Marra, conducting research “on [citizen participants’] free-roaming pet domestic cats”? And the same Nico Dauphine who was invited earlier this year by The Wildlife Professional to contribute to a special section of their Spring issue, “The Impacts of Free-roaming Cats” (in which Dauphine gives readers the ultimatum: “Pick One: Outdoor Cats or Conservation”)?
Note: Patrick Rives did not respond to my e-mail request for comments about this story.