By Becky Robinson, founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization dedicated to transforming and developing communities to protect and improve the lives of cats
Last week, an important legal victory for cats took place when the court convicted a woman of attempting to poison a colony of cats in Washington, DC. While I believe the guilty verdict was important given the evidence, this isn’t something to celebrate.
Cats are protected from cruelty by law in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But far too often, cases of cruelty against cats—and other animals, for that matter—are never brought to trial, usually because of lack of evidence. Regularly, I read stories of hideous cruelty towards cats—feral cats poisoned with anti-freeze in Kentucky; kittens from a managed colony killed in Chester County, Pennsylvania; cats shot with a bow and arrow in Hawaii.
This case, however, was different.
The cats’ caregiver called the Washington Humane Society when she found what she suspected to be poison in their food. The Humane Society conducted a thorough investigation, including setting up video surveillance of the feeding area, and the case was swiftly prosecuted. In his verdict, the judge said the surveillance tape showing the perpetrator putting something into the cats’ food was one of the two factors that convinced him of the defendant’s guilt.
The second factor was the defendant’s writings. And that’s why I am writing today. Because this wasn’t just an anonymous individual looking to cause harm to cats. The defendant, Nico Dauphine, was a researcher at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Research Center. (I say “was” because the Smithsonian accepted Dauphine’s resignation the same day as the verdict.)
Dauphine penned a letter published in the New York Times referring to a “war between cats and birds.” Her writings include the now infamous academic presentation given at the University of Georgia entitled “Apocalypse Meow,” which has since been removed from the university’s website. Her writings published by The Wildlife Society refer to the “outrage” over the “slaughter” of wildlife by cats.
In the trial, Dauphine claimed her words had been edited in these publications. The judge didn’t find that credible. Neither do I. Not only because she was found guilty, but because Dauphine has long been part of a community that persists in making these dangerous, false claims against cats.
Time and time again, I have seen cats scapegoated for species decline. Unbelievable figures—for example, that cats kill one billion birds a year—are carelessly thrown around to incite outrage. And now we see where that kind of rhetoric can take an individual. The guilty verdict in this case brings to light a much deeper, more pervasive issue.
Today, I call on the leaders of the American Bird Conservancy, The Wildlife Society, and the leadership of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who persist in using flawed science and vicious rhetoric like Dauphine’s to blame cats for species decline, to stop.
Stop pitting species against species. Stop using inflammatory—and misleading numbers—on an argument we know is not at the heart of the matter. Yes, some cats kill birds. Some crocodiles kill zebras. Some polar bears kill seals. It’s part of the circle of life. It’s not an outrage; it’s nature.
People and our development, chemicals, and toxins are the true threat for all wildlife. Not just those who intentionally try to harm animals like Dauphine, but those who fail to recognize that to make a real change and protect the lives of all animals, we must stop pitting species against species and address what humans can do to mitigate our own impact on our environment.
Photo from Ack Ook via flickr