In the current issue of The Washingtonian, senior writer Luke Mullins provides the most comprehensive profile yet of former Smithsonian researcher Nico Dauphiné, convicted last October of attempted animal cruelty. Most telling are his conversations with her unwavering supporters, who—in spite of the evidence, her well-documented history, and her miserable performance on the stand—continue to make excuses for her.
In the five months since she was convicted of attempted animal cruelty, former Smithsonian researcher Nico Dauphiné has enjoyed a respite from the largely unflattering media spotlight. All that changed in the past few weeks, though—first with Conservation magazine’s “Cat Fight,” and now with a 6,100-word feature in the April issue of The Washingtonian.
In “Apocalypse Now,” senior writer Luke Mullins digs into Dauphiné’s DC court case, as well as her previous “community service” in Athens, GA. The Nico Dauphiné that emerges is a far cry from the sympathetic character portrayed in “Cat Fight”—where, for example, writer John Carey laments: “Unfortunately, the strange case of the accused cat poisoner didn’t end well.” 
Although Mullins was unable to speak with Dauphiné for the piece, his conversations with people close to Dauphiné—as well as many who observed her mistreatment of cats—are illuminating.
The Truth Will Set You Free
In an August 2011 post, I suggested that Dauphiné’s trapping efforts in and around Athens led the Athens Area Humane Society to cancel its contract with the city,  which in turn prompted the Athens-Clarke Commission—left with no other option for feral cats—to vote 9–1 in favor of TNR. 
Mullins’ reporting reveals some of the particulars related to the trapping, which Dauphiné conducted during her days as a PhD student in the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, and its impact on AAHS, where, he explains, she “was a familiar face.”
“She trapped and brought to the shelter seven cats in 2005, 15 in 2006, and 36 in 2007, according to Humane Society records,” writes Mullins. In 2008, having “expanded her footprint by trapping on privately owned land without permission, according to the Humane Society,” Dauphiné’s contribution to the shelter’s intake was up to 64.
“The shelter couldn’t find homes for all of the cats Dauphiné brought in and had to euthanize most of them. Seeing so many cats put down demoralized the staff, [AAHS shelter manager Lindsay] Porter says: ‘We became a facility that euthanizes cats, not a Humane Society.’”
According to AAHS records obtained by Mullins, 78 of the 122 cats Dauphiné turned over were killed. “At some point, I have no doubt that we euthanized someone’s pet cat,” Porter told Mullins.
On one occasion, AAHS asked veterinarian William Mangham to examine eight cats brought in by Dauphiné. “Mangham noticed that most had dried feces on their fur,” writes Mullins.
“‘Cats are never soiled unless they are sick or confined in their own waste,’ Mangham says. ‘None of these cats appeared sick.’ Feral cats behave more like wild animals than pets. But these eight cats were calm and easily handled. ‘My impression was that these were all pet cats, and my concern was: Will they be returned to their owners?’ Mangham says.”
Among the others Mullins spoke with in Athens was Tim Rose, “an amateur birder [who] met Dauphiné through the local Audubon Society.”
“After Dauphiné explained the dangers of cat predation, Rose began trapping with her. ‘She enlightened me,’ Rose says. ‘I knew cats were a problem, but I didn’t know the scope.’”
Rose’s story was rather different back in 2008, when he testified on Dauphiné’s behalf in Athens-Clarke County court. When the judge magistrate asked if he knew Dauphiné “set traps,” Rose responded: “I do know that she sets traps.”
“Dauphiné never demonized cats, which she insisted were only following their instincts to hunt, Rose says. Instead, she blamed pet owners who allowed their cats outdoors and the people who fed feral cats.”
Among those she blamed were Allison Dunn and Eric Jenkins, whose cat, Cosmos, was among the eight examined by Mangham. Cosmos had been missing for 16 days when Dauphiné brought him into AAHS—rhinestone collar and all. (A subsequent civil dispute between Dunn and Dauphiné prompted Dauphiné to press charges. I recounted their resulting appearance before a judge magistrate in “Community Service.”)
But it was Roger Keeney, a former neighbor of Dauphiné’s, who, probably more than anybody else, felt her wrath.
The first time Lily disappeared, Keeney, who is blind, was able to free her from Dauphiné’s trap with the help of his children. When Lily—a Siamese cat who, as Mullins notes, was able to “alert [Keeney] when someone was at the door or when he’d accidentally left the stove on”—disappeared a second time, though, Keeney never saw her again. He was, explains Mullins, “wrecked.”
“‘It was like a death of a family member,’ says Kim Keeney, his wife. ‘I can’t tell you how hard it was for him to even get out of bed. He had lost his best friend.’ Although Roger Keeney has no evidence, he believes Dauphiné is responsible for Lily’s disappearance.”
Keeney also holds Dauphiné responsible for “leash law” fines he was forced to pay when his cats escaped the house, the continuing threat of which forced the family to give up Jake, a kitten loved dearly by his children. (I included a letter from Keeney’s daughter, Alexis, to the Washington Humane Society in my September 19, 2011 post.)
Support for Nico Dauphiné
On December 14th, the day Dauphiné was convicted, The Washington Post reported: “Senior Judge Truman A. Morrison III said it was the video, along with Dauphine’s testimony, that led him to believe she had ‘motive and opportunity.’”
“He specifically pointed to her repeated denials of her writings. ‘Her inability and unwillingness to own up to her own professional writings as her own undermined her credibility,’ Morrison said.” 
In “Apocalypse Now,” Mullins provides details of one such instance: “Under cross-examination, [U.S. Attorney Kevin] Chambers asked Dauphiné about an article she had published in the journal the Wildlife Professional titled “Pick One: Outdoor Cats or Conservation.”
Chambers: And in talking about that issue, cat predation, do you remember writing, Where is the outrage over such slaughter?
Dauphiné: That’s—yeah, those were the editor’s words, not mine.
Chambers: Those are not your words?
Dauphiné: Definitely not.
Chambers: Okay, I’d like to read to you, in the same article, the final paragraph, and tell me if these are not your words. More of us in the wildlife profession need to stand up and add our voices to the cause. We need strong leadership coupled with proactive policies and well-enforced laws that recognize cats as invasive species, impose fines on owners who . . . refuse to control their pets, require mandatory sterilizations of pets, prohibit feral-cat colonies and feeding stations, especially on public land, and acknowledge the legitimate role of euthanasia when necessary. Such measures will go a long way towards protecting the native wildlife we cherish so much. Are those your words?
Dauphiné: It’s interesting [what] you keep picking. I wrote—I would say I wrote the majority of that article, but you keep picking the things that the editor inserted at the last minute.
There is, contrary to her repeated assertions to the contrary, no mystery whatsoever when it comes to Dauphiné’s position on the issue of free-roaming cats and TNR. Her infamous “Apocalypse Meow” presentation—which, I think we can safely assume was not edited—echoes both the content and tone of her various writings. (If, as Mullins suggests, “Dauphiné became an expert on cat predation,” then how to explain the numerous errors and misrepresentations that plague her presentation? Either she’s not an expert after all, or she’s lying. Either way, she had no business at the podium.)
Covering Dauphiné’s sentencing, CNN reported that Judge Morrison III “said he had received a number of letters from people who know Dauphine.”
“He said such letters usually try to make a case that the verdict was in error, but in this case, the judge said, no one quarreled with the guilty verdict… Morrison said it was clear from letters written by Dauphine’s colleagues that ‘her career, if not over, it’s in grave jeopardy.’ The judge said that was already partial punishment for her actions.” 
But, according to Mullins, “Colleagues in the conservation community didn’t believe the allegations. ‘It’s not the kind of person she is,’ says Christopher Lepczyk, a wildlife ecologist and friend of Dauphiné’s.”
I wonder: Does Lepczyk also believe she’s “not the kind of person” to trap and turn over to AAHS 122 cats in the span of 33 months—knowing that most would be killed?
Still, the most interesting response by far came from Pamela Jo Hatley, a Florida attorney and long-time TNR opponent. (Since at least 2003, she’s been suggesting that TNR is a violation of the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. )
“Hatley,” writes Mullins, “who collaborated on an anti-TNR paper with Dauphiné says feral-cat activists may have conspired against Dauphiné.”
I’ll come to the conspiracy theory in a moment. First, a few words about that “anti-TNR paper,” a 2010 letter published in Conservation Biology. In “What Conservation Biologists Can Do to Counter Trap-Neuter-Return,” Dauphiné and Hatley—along with eight others, including Lepczyk and Peter Marra, who would later become Dauphiné’s advisor at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center—“applaud the recent essay by Longcore et al.  in raising the awareness about trap-neuter-return (TNR) to the conservation community.”
Among the “actions [that] should be encouraged” is “legal action against colonies and colony managers, particularly in areas that provide habitat for migratory birds or endangered species.” As rationale, the authors cite a 2003 newsletter article by Linda Winter, former director of the American Bird Conservancy’s Cats Indoors! program, who writes:
“In, Feral Cat Colonies in Florida: The Fur and Feathers Are Flying, author Pamela Jo Hatley determined that releasing cats into the wild and supporting feral cat colonies is a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act, as well as laws prohibiting animal abandonment.” [8, her emphasis, not mine]
Well, this is getting awkward, isn’t it? I mean, why didn’t Hatley and her co-authors simply cite Hatley’s paper directly?
Well, Winter’s version is far more useful—because it misrepresents what Hatley actually claims in Feral Cat Colonies in Florida, a report she submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when she was a student in the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law and part of UF’s Conservation Clinic.
Citing three cases having nothing to do with cats (or any other predators), Hatley argues that such “cases raise the question of whether a person violates the MBTA when that person releases a cat into the wild, and that cat kills a migratory bird.”
“If an accidental chemical leak, aerial application of a pesticide, or failure to install equipment to protect birds from power lines can result in a person being charged with violation of the MBTA, why not release of cats into the environment? It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to conclude that a cat’s impact on birds can be as lethal as any poison.” 
It’s an interesting argument, but hardly a determination, as Winter—and, by extension, Hatley and her nine co-authors, seven years later—claim. Hatley and Dauphiné, it seems, have more than that 2010 paper—and their vehement opposition to TNR—in common: both of them seems perfectly willing to disown their work when it seems advantageous to do so.
But, back to the conspiracy that Hatley suggests led to Dauphiné’s arrest and conviction. With 6,000+ words to work with, I wish Mullins would have made room for some details. Who exactly was involved? Dunn and Jenkins? Keeney? Did AAHS kill those 78 cats just to tarnish Dauphiné’s reputation in the community?
And what about Frances Sterling, the caretaker who discovered the rat poison in the food outside the Park Square apartments, and whose call to the Washington Human Society launched the investigation that eventually led to Dauphiné’s arrest? Just because she’s lived in the building for more than 10 years doesn’t mean Sterling’s not a plant, a member of the Powerful Cat Lobby.
Crazy talk, obviously. But it’s not entirely my invention, either—especially that last bit, about the Powerful Cat Lobby. Consider this, from last Spring’s issue of The Wildlife Professional:
“The promotion of TNR is big business, with such large amounts of money in play that conservation scientists opposing TNR can’t begin to compete.” 
The author? Nico Dauphiné. Unless, of course, this was something “the editor inserted at the last minute.” (Contrary to what the article’s title, “Follow the Money,” suggests, Dauphiné was unable or unwilling to accurately present publicly available financial information.)
On the Front Lines of the Apocalypse
Among the other TNR opponents quoted in “Apocalypse Meow” is Michael Hutchins, Executive Director and CEO of The Wildlife Society. “We save the life of one cat, and it kills 200 birds during its lifetime,” Hutchins told Mullins. “Did those birds suffer? Darn right they did. Did they lose their lives? Darn right they did.”
Forget the 200 birds/cat for a moment—what caught my attention was the unexpectedly animal rights-y tone of Hutchins’ comments. Suffering?
That’s hardly the talking point I expect from TWS, an enthusiastic supporter of hunting (“an appropriate means of managing wildlife populations” ) and trapping (“an important component of the lifestyle of many people” ). And, although TWS acknowledges the risks to “reptiles, birds, and mammals [digesting] spent ammunition and lost fishing tackle … potentially leading to population-level consequences in some species (e.g., waterfowl, eagles, condors, mourning doves, and loons),”  their position statement on the subject is anemic.
So, will TWS be revising their position statements in the near future to more closely reflect Hutchins’ concern for the suffering of non-human animals? That’s about as likely as TWS correcting the various errors and misrepresentations in their position statement concerning free-roaming cats, or their TNR and rabies “fact sheets.”
Unlike Hutchins, Ed Clark, president and co-founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, delivered the lines we’ve come to expect from him. “Eighty percent of cat-attack victims admitted to the center die,” writes Mullins.
“One in five injured animals admitted to the center is a cat victim, Clark says. From 2000 to 2008, cat attacks accounted for 55 percent of the center’s injured chipmunks, 22 percent of its injured flying squirrels, and 14 percent of its injured birds. The data reflects only ‘confirmed’ cat attacks, in which the injured animal was actually seen in a cat’s mouth or paws.”
There’s an irony to Clark’s complaint that “outdoor cats have the same effect as a biological pollutant.” It’s been demonstrated—though Clark and his colleagues won’t acknowledge it—that cats (like all predators) tend to prey on the young, the old, the weak and unhealthy. At least two studies have investigated this in great detail, revealing that birds killed by cats are, on average, significantly less healthy that birds killed through non-predatory events (e.g., collisions with windows or cars) [13, 14].
As the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds notes: “It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season, so cats are unlikely to have a major impact on populations.” 
For Clark, though, it seems attributing kills—to cats, anyhow—is a remarkably straightforward process. Worse, though, is his suggestion that Wildlife Center intakes are some kind of indication of population-level impacts (an absurd claim that, unfortunately, has been repeated recently by Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland).
Clark, writes Mullins, “says feral-cat advocates are blinded by their emotional response to cats. ‘They’re flat-earth people,’ Clark says. ‘These people have walled themselves off and deliberately avoid anything that may contradict their worldview.’”
Oh, the irony.
If anybody is suffering from a lack of perspective—and denying the ample evidence that challenges their worldview—it’s Clark. Indeed, Animal People editor Merritt Clifton took Clark to task on this very issue in 2003. “Clark,” he argues, “missed the obvious.”
“The … birds he sees are among the few who are rescued by humans, typically because the humans intervene to break off the cat attack. That changes the predator/prey dynamic. The cat has no opportunity to finish the kill because of the human intervention. Otherwise, the injuries he described would impair flight, and would lead to a cat meal. These are not failures of predation, but successes, interrupted, comparable to what happens when a hyena chases a cheetah off a half-dead gazelle and appropriates the meal for himself.
“The true failures of predation rise into the air and get away unscathed. The Clark hypothesis that large numbers of birds are dying in the wild of cat-inflicted injuries and infections is simply not supported by evidence, whereas roadkilled birds and the remains of birds who collide with windows, transmission towers, and power lines, as well as those who succumb to pesticides, have all been collected and studied by researchers in bucketloads.” 
Nine years later, Clark is still missing the obvious.
Sins of Omission
It’s a shame Mullins refers to ABC (“It’s impossible to know exactly how many birds are killed each year by cats in the U.S., but the American Bird Conservancy says 500 million is a conservative estimate.”) and Feral Cats and Their Management, the infamous University of Nebraska-Lincoln paper (“60 million feral cats in U.S.”) as if these were credible sources. Neither one deserves the air of legitimacy implied by their inclusion in his article.
If I have any criticism of Mullins’ work, though, it’s not so much about what was included, but what was left out.
For example: what happened to all of Dauphine’s supporters (e.g., TWS, ABC, USFWS, etc.) since her arrest and conviction? The individuals and organizations that were so quick to cite her sloppy work when it suited their purpose have remained—at least publicly—silent over the past several months.
Despite their silence, though, the message is coming through loud and clear: Dauphine’s professional work on the subject of free-roaming cats is as indefensible as the actions that landed her in DC Superior Court.
And finally, where’s the alternative to TNR?
Granted, this wasn’t the focus of “Apocalypse Meow,” but I suspect that many readers will come away with the impression that TNR opponents actually have a plan. Which, as I’ve pointed out previously, is simply not the case.
“Scientific research,” writes Mullins, “suggests that population stabilization—as opposed to elimination—is often the best-case scenario with TNR.”
And what’s the best-case scenario with trap-and-kill?
Simply put, if it worked, we wouldn’t even be having the current conversation about how best to manage the country’s stray, abandoned, and feral cats. Years of trap-and-kill policy—inhumane, costly, and ineffective—have gotten us nowhere. Indeed, there’s ample evidence to demonstrate that we’re not going to kill our way out of the “feral cat problem.”
“TNR is opposed by a large coalition of organizations,” writes Mullins.
“TNR supporters ‘are not trying to reduce feral cat populations—they are trying to stop euthanasia of feral cats,’ says Travis Longcore, science director of the Urban Wildlands Group. ‘They’ve co-opted the word humane.’”
Longcore, who spearheaded the 2009 effort to end city-funded TNR in Los Angeles—has yet to explain exactly how prohibiting TNR will reduce feral cat populations. Indeed, if Longcore had his way, there would be no TNR at all, and no feeding of outdoor cats. If, as he suggests, allowing cats to live outdoors is inhumane, then how are anti-TNR policies—which invariably permit the population of free-roaming cats to increase—considered humane?
It’s an easier argument to make when the real proposal—the mass killing of this country’s most popular companion animal—is presented as an act of kindness. If anybody’s guilty of co-opting language, it’s Longcore and his colleagues—including PETA’s Teresa Chagrin, also interviewed by Mullins—who continue to sell killing as euthanasia. Only rarely are these cats “lead[ing] lives of great suffering,” as Chagrin claims.
Of course, Longcore and his anti-TNR colleagues go much further—co-opting the word science in their tireless efforts to vilify free-roaming cats. For years now, they’ve used their credentials and organizational imprimatur to mislead policymakers and the public not only about the “threats” posed by free-roaming cats, but with their suggestion—nothing more than a vague implication, of course—that they have a feasible alternative.
Yet, these same people—who, ironically, claim to have the “best available science” on their side—either can not or will not describe or discuss what exactly they’ve got in mind for a solution to the “feral cat problem.”
• • •
So what’s next for Nico Dauphiné?
She’s “left the Washington area,” writes Mullins, “but has told friends not to disclose her whereabouts, out of concern for her safety.” But she may be back, at least temporarily—having appealed the guilty verdict earlier this year.
And her career? As Judge Morrison suggested when he sentenced Dauphiné, it may very well be finished. Then again, who knows.
Marra told Mullins that the postdoctoral fellowship Dauphiné landed with the Migratory Bird Center was, to use Mullins’ words, “one of the world’s most selective fellowship programs” and that “Dauphiné was the admissions committee’s top choice.”
At the time, of course, her position on free-roaming cats was well-documented. Nevertheless, Dauphiné was put in a position where she could make a living investigating the hunting habits of suburban house cats—behavior she clearly found intolerable. We can only imagine what “findings” she would have come up with had she stayed on at the Migratory Bird Center.
The fact that she was ever seriously considered for the Smithsonian fellowship in the first place, never mind hired—combined with the continued, unwavering support from so many of her colleagues—suggests that, contrary to Carey’s assessment, “the strange case of the accused cat poisoner” hasn’t come to an end just yet.
1. Carey, J., “Cat Fight.” Conservation. 2012. March. http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2012/03/cat-fight/
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12. n.a., Final Position Statement: Lead in Ammunition and Fishing Tackle. 2009, The Wildlife Society: Bethesda, MD. http://joomla.wildlife.org/documents/positionstatements/Lead_final_2009.pdf
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14. Baker, P.J., et al., “Cats about town: Is predation by free-ranging pet cats Felis catus likely to affect urban bird populations?“ Ibis. 2008. 150: p. 86–99. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bsc/ibi/2008/00000150/A00101s1/art00008
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