Stop Pitting Species Against Species


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.


Related Stories:

National Zoo Researcher Charged With Poisoning Feral Cats

Zoo Researcher Found Guilty of Poisoning Cats

Elephant Tarra Mourns Bella the Dog


Photo from Ack Ook via flickr


Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBride4 years ago

I am also completely fed up with the way cats are blamed so often for killing wildlife, if it makes this type of person feel better I have lost no less than 4 cats who were killed BY wildlife.

Christine O.

While no one wants to see birds killed and eaten, they "are" a cat's natural diet. There are 4 fixed ferals on the outside that I tamed to me when they followed their mommycat to my yard when they were around 6 months old some years ago (would love to bring them in but hubby won't let me as I already have 2 cats in a small house). I feed them canned food in the morning and dry food at night. My TNR (trap-neuter-release) neighbor also has dry food out all of the time. So, even though these cats always have food available, I still find an occasional murdered bird in my yard which really saddens me but there's nothing more I can do. One old cat I fed some years ago ate a whole can of cat food and some minutes later I saw him chomping on a bird........I wanted to kill him. In "my" area, the month of May is when baby birds are learning to fly and this seems to be a prime time to see a murdered bird.....I "did" rescue 2 birds at different times last year that were cornered by a couple of these cats in my yard........they looked okay but one died, the other one made it to a nature rehab place but don't know what happened to it thereafter. In the winter I sometimes find the heads of mice in my yard.........I think these kitties think my yard is their diner so they have to bring their "catch" here to eat it :) Well, this is nature, and cats eat mice and birds.

Kristina C.
Kristina C7 years ago

Cats do kill! Rodends and birds - I am feeding a feral cat and as a reward he brings me his prey. But humans are responsible for all the animals that live in our streets, and should be punished - not the cats.
It is a sorry piece of writing that was submitted to justify a horrendous act. I believe that charges against cruelty and fines are in order. Stupidity has to be punished!

Please sign my petition:

Shar W.
Shar W7 years ago

Human overpopulation is definitely the reason for ALL problems with declining wildlife populations. If humans would stop all needless killing of animals, Mother Nature could have a fighting chance to re-balance herself.

Having said that, I still believe that domestic cats are best kept as indoor cats.... mostly to protect them from (you guessed it) HUMANS killing them in traffic and poison spills, as well as more intentional means.

Debbie W.
Past Member 7 years ago

As long as the human species continues killing its own, while at the same time interferring with the balance of nature and all its species to the point of no return, I see continued fast-track to irreversible extinction.

Deb G.
Deb G7 years ago

In my very own backyard I've seen sharp shinned hawks killing smaller birds for food. Birds killing birds. It's the way of nature, the food chain as they say. What we need to stop is humans killing animals for no reason other than sport or because they consider them to be pests.

Sara s.
sara s7 years ago

read a recent of local cat killing by some person with a pellet gun in one resident area; and when i read the comments saw a few jerks against cats. one man claimed cats were vermins and who ever shot the cats should give honored. and the other guy guessed because cats killed song birds, maybe that's why someone was killing the animals. now this later guy clearly was brained washed. so these birders' repeatedly post and pass out their unscientific and bias opinions/research against cats do have deadly affects not only on cats, their owners who grief for their loss.

Deb H.
D. H7 years ago

Having faced this as part of a cat 'issue' locally, I'd read all about how most of these so-called studies were FLAWED, and the ones that weren't painted a much different picture...that of an "average" cat (feral or not) only catching ~1 out of 20 birds. Over the years, I've watched many cats hunt, and can say from such observation that:
1) few cats are very adept at catching birds anyway
2) a few ARE good at it
3) many cats aren't even as interested in birds as in other animals (e.g. rodents or squirrels), if at ALL (perhaps they already innately know how wasteful an effort birds are?)

Therefore, "millions" of birds dying from cats catching them? Nope, don't buy it at ALL, and never have. As others have so astutely said, it's MAN who is mainly to blame, through several means.

But even were that not the case, there is no excuse for such vile behaviour/reactions towards cats or any other creature....even the genus of rodentia. Man has upset the balance of this entire planet in insufferable and life-threatening ways, and now it's time to work on letting Nature once again ACHIEVE more of that balance, instead of all this foolhardy and cruel "meddling." How about MANKIND stops over-breeding ITSELF instead? That alone would halt and allay a plethora of problems. Using poison to 'solve' a perceived problem is a horrendously painful (not to mention emotionally immature and "unstable") means, and should not be used against ANY creature, period. As usual, had this been a HU

Laurie H.
Laurie H7 years ago

IF only man would just leave animals alone to live their lives peacefully and stop using and abusing them. This a wonderful post. Personally, I love all animal species- animals truly live by their own sensible rules and codes, something a lot of human beings could actually take a cue from!~~

Annie Flanders
annie Flanders7 years ago

Nico Dauphine needs to be dis-credited as OFTEN as possible. The word needs to be spread as far as possible about this awful woman and her inflammatory writings. Thank whomever that she is no longer a researcher at the Smithsonian.