They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab

In what I can only imagine was intended to be a dramatic headline, the Washington Post announced last week: “A wildlife rehab center confirms that cats are killers.” Did we really to confirm that domestic cats are, just like their wild relatives, predators?

Apparently so.

What’s next? A Sunday magazine feature investigating the presence of gravity, perhaps? Or a three-part series, complete with online photo gallery, on heliocentrism? We can only hope. In the meantime, what exactly did this wildlife rehab center learn about the hunting habits of outdoor cats? Read more

New York: Where’s Your Grit?

“I’m pretty sure both sides are going to hate it,” warned New York magazine writer Jessica Pressler, referring to her feature for this week’s issue, “Must Cats Die So Birds Can Live?” When I first spoke to Pressler in March, she’d indicated that she knew the subject was complex. Her most recent e-mail, however, sent just a few days before the story was published, made it clear that the piece had taken an unfortunate turn: “In the end there were so many different bits that needed to be covered,” Pressler explained. “A lot of it ended up being about the argument between the two sides.”

Still, hate is a strong word. How about enormously disappointed? Read more

The Annotated Apocalypse Meow

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.” [1]

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. Read more

Nico Dauphine on Trial (Day 2)

The H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse, where the Superior Court of the District of Columbia is located. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and AgnosticPreachersKid.

It looks like Ed Clark won’t have the opportunity to, in the words of the government’s Motion in Limine to Exclude Testimony of Defendant’s Experts, offer “testimony regarding ideological debate and the environmental effect of cats.” Clark, president and co-founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, provided a brief update via the Center’s moderated discussion board Tuesday evening (brought to my attention by a helpful Vox Felina reader):

“I had to go to DC yesterday, to testify in a trial. Just as I crossed the river into DC, the attorney called and said the court was behind schedule and I would not be called… So, I turned around and drove 3 hours back home. I was waiting to be called all day to day. I just found out that the judge has indicated that he is not interested in the area of discussion on which I was to testify, so I am not going at all… In this case, I hope that is good news.”

I’ve yet to hear anything about whether or not the court recording of Dauphine’s July 2008 Athens-Clarke County courthouse appearance—during which she referred to her roundup of neighborhood cats as “community service”—will be allowed as evidence. Her testimony in that case would likely challenge any argument that her actions in the current case were, as her attorneys suggest in their motion of opposition, “reasonable” when it comes to the treatment of outdoor cats (owned or unowned).

Nico Dauphine on Trial (Day 1)

The H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse, where the Superior Court of the District of Columbia is located. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and AgnosticPreachersKid.

After months of delays, Nico Dauphine went on trial yesterday, charged with attempted animal cruelty. And according to court documents, she’s got plenty of help.

Ed Clark, president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, has been called as an expert witness. Clark is an outspoken critic of “the establishment and maintenance of feral cat colonies in wildlife habitat,” though it’s not clear if he holds the same view of cats in urban areas such as Columbia Heights, where the attempted poisoning is said to have taken place.

It’s also not clear if he’ll actually get to testify (I’m told two witnesses took the stand today, but no names were provided). Earlier this month, government attorneys filed a Motion in Limine to Exclude Testimony of Defendant’s Experts, arguing that “Mr. Clark’s proffered testimony regarding ideological debate and the environmental effect of cats has no probative value with respect to the issue before the Court.”

“Defendant has proffered that Mr. Clark will testify regarding the ‘ongoing debate between veterinary and wildlife conservationists and members of the public who support the feeding and maintenance of feral cats.’ This debate, assuming that comprehension of it is outside the ken of the average layperson, is irrelevant as far as the issue before this Court. The sole issue before the Court is whether Defendant intentionally attempted to poison cats that ate or would have eaten the food left in front of Park Square by Ms. Sterling. In other words, the state of the debate between conservationists and cat enthusiasts will not provide any insight as to whether Defendant committed the acts that have been alleged and which constitute the crime of attempted cruelty to animals. Furthermore, the proffered ‘debate’ testimony does not go toward the United States’ ability to establish any element of the crime charged.

Similarly, ‘the effect of feral cats on the environment,’ which Defendant has proffered also will be the subject of Mr. Clark’s testimony, is not relevant in this case and should be excluded.”

The motion goes to outline the prosecution’s concerns about Clark’s expected testimony regarding the “reasonable steps an expert in this field would take to preclude the feeding of feral cats.”

“The United States assumes that Mr. Clark intends to testify that Defendant, as a wildlife conservationist, would not have poisoned cats in order to prevent the feeding of feral cats. This testimony would beg the question, asking the Court to assume that Defendant acted reasonably. Of course, the United States’ position is that Defendant acted unreasonably—indeed, criminally—by attempting to poison cats.”

“At bottom,” the motion continues, “it appears that Mr. Clark will be called to testify to the ultimate fact at issue in this case: whether Defendant poisoned cats… However, Defendant has not proffered that Mr. Clark has any specialized knowledge of or experience regarding Defendant’s behavior.”

Last week, Dauphine’s attorneys filed a motion in opposition to the government’s motion. They also added “super lawyer” [1] Billy Martin to the team.

Martin is best known for representing such high-profile clients as Michael Vick, NBA players Allen Iverson and Jayson Williams, former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, Monica Lewinsky, and former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, though his background includes a stint at the U.S. Attorney’s office “where he quickly rose up the ranks, prosecuting drug dealers, politicians, white collar criminals, corporations, corrupt cops, and organized crime figures.” [1]

A 2007 profile in Ebony describes Martin as one of the nation’s best—one of the few “on that very short list of high-powered, high-priced litigators who the rich and famous, and sometimes the infamous, turn to when they get into really big trouble.” [1]

That’s a lot of fire power for a “misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of 180 [days] in jail and a $1,000 fine.” I wonder who’s picking up the tab.

Literature Cited
1.  Harris, R., “Super Lawyers.” Ebony. 2007. 62(11): p. 218–222.