From November 2005 to July 2008, Dauphiné trapped and brought to the shelter 122 cats, 78 of which were euthanized, according to Humane Society records. "At some point, I have no doubt that we euthanized someone's pet cat," Porter says.
A couple of days after Cosmos was returned, Dauphiné got a phone call from the Humane Society warning her that a woman--whom she later identified as Dunn--had made threats against her.
Then in early May, Dauphiné came upon a blog titled Nico Dauphiné Is Evil, which was written by Jenkins and Dunn. The blog alleged "that I stole their cat, that I trapped other people's cats to get them killed, that I abused animals," Dauphiné told an Athens judge. Jenkins says the blog was a factual account of his and Dunn's experiences with Dauphiné.
Dauphiné considered the blog and the threats to be harassment. On July 3, 2008, she brought the matter before an Athens court, which held a hearing to determine whether Dunn should be arrested for making "terroristic threats" or other crimes, as first reported by Vox Felina. The judge declined to punish Dunn but told her not to contact Dauphiné.
In 2008, Dauphiné completed her dissertation--about the impact of logging on birds in Peru. In the acknowledgements, she thanked the birds in her back-yard sanctuary, which she claimed to have spent "thousands of hours" watching through a window at her desk. "I thank them for refusing to give up their places in the world, whatever grotesque obstacles they find in their way, for their astounding powers of athleticism, endurance, and artistry, and for their fantastic expressions of beauty, wildness, and freedom," Dauphiné wrote.
She applied for a postdoctoral fellowship at the Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo. It's one of the world's most selective fellowship programs, says Peter Marra, a research scientist there. Dauphiné was the admissions committee's top choice.
Dauphiné moved to Washington for the fellowship, arriving at the Park Square apartments around Thanksgiving 2010.
For many years, DC residents could call animal control to have feral cats removed from their property. Most were euthanized. That changed in 2008, when then-mayor Adrian Fenty signed an animal-protection bill making trap-neuter-return official policy. DC animal-control officers now respond to complaints about healthy feral cats by referring residents to advocacy groups that offer training in TNR colony management or suggest humane ways--such as motion-activated sprinklers--to keep cats away.
The legislation was a victory for Alley Cat Allies, which had lobbied for it. Pro-TNR ordinances have been adopted in several other cities, including Chicago and Baltimore; locally, Fairfax and Arlington counties have TNR programs.
The Washington Humane Society has dealt with roughly 300 feral-cat colonies in DC. Scott Giacoppo, the organization's chief programs officer, says the change has benefited both cats and residents. "It can bring you together as a community," Giacoppo says. "Everyone is coming together to provide care for these cats." But while thousands of outdoor cats have been sterilized, no one knows if TNR has reduced the number of feral cats. Four years after the policy change, the Washington Humane Society still has no reliable data on feral-cat populations.
TNR is opposed by a large coalition of organizations, including the American Bird Conservancy, the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, and the American Society of Mammalogists. 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.' "
In fact, euthanasia is often the most humane option for feral cats, says Teresa Chagrin, an animal-care-and-control specialist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA argues that feral cats lead lives of great suffering. They confront disease, starvation, animal attacks, car accidents, and human cruelty. Each year, feral cats are set on fire, shot, and poisoned.
"It's an act of mercy for many of these cats to get a quick, painless death from a person who cares instead of a slow death on the streets," Chagrin says. PETA opposes TNR except in rare cases.
The case of United States v. Nico Dauphiné went to trial in DC on October 24, 2011. Wearing a gray suit, Dauphiné walked into the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse and entered a courtroom on the third floor. Her lawyer, Billy Martin--who had represented Michael Vick when he was indicted on charges related to dogfighting--stood beside her. DC Superior Court senior judge Truman Morrison III peered down from the bench.
Dauphiné faced up to 180 days in jail if convicted of attempted animal cruelty, a misdemeanor. 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. Supporters raised more than $1,000 for her legal defense.
Dauphiné insisted she was innocent.
Despite the security-camera footage, the case against Dauphiné was challenging to prosecute. The crime she was charged with had no known victim; there was no evidence that any cat had actually consumed the poison. Instead, assistant US Attorney Kevin Chambers had to convince the judge that Dauphiné had intended harm to cats. The prosecution--for reasons it refused to explain--decided against presenting evidence of Dauphiné's Athens cat-trapping at trial.
The security-camera footage, which Chambers played in court, was the linchpin of the prosecution's case. But while the video showed Dauphiné leaning over the cat food, it was hard to tell exactly what she was doing. Chambers argued that Dauphiné was the only person to come near the food during the time in question.
Martin disputed the prosecutor's allegations, presenting Dauphiné as a lifelong animal lover who would never put a cat through such an agonizing death. Lisa Laten, an Arlington resident whose outdoor cat participated in a Migratory Bird Center study, testified: "We all felt very comfortable allowing [Dauphiné] to interact with our cats who are members of our family."
Martin also said that an unknown person had been setting rat traps within feet of the cat food. Who's to say the poison wasn't put on the cat food by someone who was trying to kill rats?