Best Friends Blog

Apocalypse meow???

Nico Dauphine, a PhD researcher at the National Zoo specializing in bird conservation, has been charged with attempted animal cruelty. Authorities, according to MSNBC Online, suspect that Dauphine was poisoning feral cats in her Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Colony caregivers noticed strange substances in some of the food bowls and took samples to the local Washington  Humane Society for analysis. The substances turned out to be antifreeze and rat poison. A month-long investigation followed that included reviewing surveillance video and matching access card swipes at an apartment complex near the scene of the alleged crime. The evidence gathered proved enough for the Humane Society to obtain a warrant for Dauphine’s arrest. However, she turned herself in and is denying the charges.

Dauphine  is an often-quoted source for the type of bird advocates who tend to froth at the mouth at the suggestion that community cats have a legitimate place in any community at all. In one of her more over-the-top online lectures titled “Apocalypse Meow: Free-ranging Cats and the Destruction of American Wildlife,” Dauphine  claims that free-roaming cats are responsible for the deaths of billions of wild animals annually, including birds.

Whether or not Dauphine  is found guilty remains to seen. However, the rhetoric of “Billion Birders,” such as Dauphine, is scary nonetheless. They advocate the trapping and killing of free-roaming cats, and it is not a stretch, given their hyperbole, to imagine the more extreme and misguided among them on cat-killing night patrols.

The claim that community cats kill over a billion birds in the U.S. annually is spurious, and there are no science-based studies to support that claim. In fact, no one really knows how many community cats there are in this country to begin with.

I don’t know of any community cat caregiver who doesn’t care about birds. The whole rationale for trapping, neutering and returning sterilized community cats to their colonies is to stabilize colony growth and ultimately reduce the numbers of free-roaming cats both for the protection of the cats and for the protection of the environment. (For more information on TNR, community cat advocacy and more, check out the Tools to Use from the Best Friends’ cat initiatives.)   

If Dauphine  is found guilty, it would expose an unsavory agenda, one of extreme hostility to cats, of a particular wing of the bird advocacy world, and perhaps such an exposé might allow more sensible and compassionate heads to prevail in those circles.

There should be no argument between the bird groups and the trap/neuter/return (TNR) folks because both want the same outcome – a reduction in the number of free-roaming cats.

Killing cats, though, is not the answer.

Francis Battista
Co-Founder, Best Friends Animal Society

  • Squeakie42

    I think that Emily & Dove must be friends of the woman in my sister’s neighborhood (just over the border from the District, btw) who had their 11-year old cat with renal disease trapped in her yard and hauled off to the Montgomery County Animal Control lock-up!  These people  moved in just 3 years ago, but are incredibly entitled & obnoxious.  Imagine — a self-professed “bird-lover” who puts out feeders with inadequate ground clearance & then blames a favorite neighborhood feline for a dead bird!  Screams & rants (her word) & says he “stalks” her yard; nonetheless, we learned that the trap had been out for a week before poor Zipper walked into it.  I’ve managed and cared for feral colonies, rescued and done TNR for many years, AND love and feed the many birds who visit my yard & deck.  Growing up, we had all kinds of animals in our family — including 5 different birds.  But I have no illusions about how nature operates, and neither should these ill-informed fanatics.  They never think about the anxiety, heartache, and financial loss that their witch hunts cause human beings, much less the harm to animals.

    • semisorry

      Cats are not a part of “nature” in North America, but come from a desert environment in Africa.

  • Hollumss

    Anyone who takes feral cats and neuters them and then lets them go has no life… 

    • Dottiehuckle

       Where would you like these feral cats to go? They can’t be adopted out and shelters are already full.

    • CambridgeRatMom

      Your comment suggests a complete lack of understanding of what TNR is and does.What life do you have?

    • Dottiehuckle

       You have no brain obviously

  • Jordan

    I don’t think we should kill cats because they are killing birds…I think we should do it because it’s fun!

  • It seems to me (and I am by no means an expert) that a managed: read WELL FED feral cat colony is an ideal solution, I have never heard of a feral or wild animal yet that would expend all of the energy and time necessary to stalk, hunt, capture and consume live prey when nutritious food is plentiful and available.. It makes no sense. In an ideal world, people would all spay/neuter their pets and then these same educated people would not let their cats out to get feral in the first place.. until that day, managed cat colonies are the only humane way to go..

  • Cflass

    I live in area with a lot of wildlife that also had a colony of feral cats.  People complained that the cats were killing the birds so the cats were all caught and moved elsewhere.  Now the people there are dealing with a mice infestation. Animals all serve a purpose in nature and it’s a fact that they prey on each other.  That will never end.

    • semisorry

      I beg of you to find evidence that cats have an impact on rodent populations.

  • Karoline

    Cats serve a purpose in our society…small rodents enjoy the bounty of trash we produce and the abundance of food source has increased the rodent populations ability to reproduce in an incredible rate…Cats can and do help to control this population!!!  We must not forget what happened in England when their cat population was eraticated.  They ended up with the Black Plague!!!!  Lets use history as a teaching tool and find a balance in our residential eco-environment.  Cats are a vital member of our society!!!

  • Calypso

    What Dr. Dauphine and posters like EmilyS and Dove don’t understand is that while they claim to be bird-advocates, they are actually doint exactly the opposite by pointing fingers at community cats.  If they actually did care about the decline in bird populations they would be advocating for a thorough, unbiased study that meets the rigors of the scientific method.  Only then can the true cause the decline be discovered, addressed, and hopefully reversed.  Yes, birds are killed by cats, but also by a myriad of other animals including bull frogs.  But the likely biggest culprit?  Humans.  The targeting of cats is no different from the Salem witch trials.  But my guess is that these so-called bird advocates don’t want to know the truth because then they would need to invent another reason to attack community cats.

    • Well said.  There are so many causes for bird mortality, and some of those causes are the result of decisions made by humankind. 

      I’ve been feeding our backyard birds for 20 years, and the only dead birds that I ever found in our yard were the result of neighbors who thoughtlessly allowed their small dog to run loose.  I talked to them about it, and we resolved it amicably-they leashed their dog, and I took more care in where I located feeders.

    • semisorry

      No one is attacking community cats, but everyone seems to be DENYING the possibilty that this is a factor.  Why can’t we be open to this instead of stewardly defending with no evidence?

      • semisorry

        P.S. I dont think I’ve stated, but I absolutely DO NOT agree with the killing of these cats, I just have a problem with people who seem to be ignorant to the actual situation of bird populations and staunchly defend their right to let cats out unleashed with no resposibility.

  • Jeremy glover

    seems utterly ridiculous. Even as I see the moral debate and the
    concern that what seems like our nations feline have become bloodthirsty
    killers I do give this to ponder. In 2009 the “population” of U.S.
    feline were 82,455,000, each cat would
    need to slay a hearty 1.212 feathered snack. My cat hasn’t killed a bird
    in years, so deduct around 6 birds for her lack of effort. As probably
    many indoor cats would lay claim to as well. But I know a cat that is
    the Luis Garavito of bird serial killings. I estimate he has ended
    hundreds of tweets and chirps during his reign. So this woman’s claim
    might be far fetched but it is not impossible. What seems more
    ridiculous is this woman and her hypocrisy. Day by day well doers of
    the animal welfare stage give command performances in honest and good
    ways. So to this Nico Dauphine I simply say “screw you” and to those
    that strive to better the lives of our nations animals “keep fighting
    the good fight.”

  • Judith

    I have 3 cats; 13, 10 and 6. They have killed between them one bird in 13 years! I now have an outside feeder which is resplindant with cardinals, doves and other feathered friends. No one gets molested because my cats know it is not allowed. cats are smart and are very capable of learning about what I’ll accept and what I won’t. There appears to be a part of this woman who just dislikes cats and is using birds as a way to give herself permission to destroy them. Quite of bit of pathology evident in her behavior.

  • Dove

    I agree with Emily – it is hypocritical how over-the-top “cat lovers” can call it inhumane when native wildlife supporters are pro-euthanize as a last result to curbing feral cat populations, yet said cat lovers have no problem accepting/turning a blind eye to the millions of wildlife lives claimed by said cats. So why is it all right for the cats to prey on the wildlife yet not all right when individuals want to defend that native wildlife? Why is wildlife-death-by-cat an acceptable casualty but not euthanizing of animals introduced from another part of the world who aren’t even supposed to be here? TNR is a step in the right direction, but it is a super-slow method of lowering feral cat populations, and those cats are still going to be out preying on native wildlife in the meantime – why is that acceptable?

    The whole argument that cats rarely catch wildlife or – to someone naive and choosing to ignore common sense and facts – never catch wildlife is laughable. Narrow-minded and ignorant, & laughable. Let’s say, for argument, that there are 1 million feral cats currently in the US (not including outdoor cats), a number that, in reality, is estimated to be nearly 60x that. But we’ll say 1 million. Now say each one of those cats only catches one bird, one bunny, and one squirrel in its lifetime. That is still 3 million native animals losing their lives to an introduced species (meaning, this is not the “food chain” or “circle of life” taking place – introduced/non-native species are not part of the equation to a healthy and balanced eco-system but instead cause all sorts of bad). How is that all right? And in reality, we ALL know that the number of lives lost is FAR greater than 3 million…

    Am I saying rounding up cats and killing them is the answer? I don’t like the idea of it all all, really – I grew up with and currently have an indoor cat of whom I am very fond. At the same time, I exercise quite a bit of common sense, do not ignore facts and science, and will always support our native, priceless wildlife over an introduced species that is doing its part in helping to put a dent in the populations of some of our declining wildlife, especially our songbirds.

    (And lastly, no one is ignoring the fact that window collisions, morons with guns, global warming, and other factors also greatly contribute to the unnecessary deaths of songbirds in the US. But it is unrealistic and naive to think that feral and outdoor cats don’t do their fair share of taking innocent lives – not just of songbirds, but of all native wildlife on which can be preyed by cats.)

    • Calypso

      Again Dove, there is NOTTHING that supports your argument that cats are the cause of deaths of millions of birds.  Most of the bird injuries and deaths I have seen have been caused by buildings and cars.  NOT CATS.  Does it happen, sure, but again, there is no evidence to support that cats cause the majority of deaths.  Besides, in the wild, animals do eat other animals to survive.  Should we eliminate all prey animals?  You keep mentional facts and science in your post, yet you have NOTHING to back it up!

    • Dottiehuckle

       Yes, cats kill birds. That said…They are both animals, humans do more damage to all animals then animals do to each other. Birds of prey swoop down and take cats, are we gonna kill all birds of prey for that? I am asking the people who are obviously against cats.    I blame no animal for the death of another…survival of the fittest. I love all animals equally, I almost said all life but actually I prefer any animal over most humans. I am not a cat person, dog person, bird person…I am an animal person that loves all animals equally!

  • Lynn Dovidio

    I have found that Blue Jays tend to be very aggressive birds, and chase my cats far more then any cat I have ever owned will chase a bird.  I don’t know where this myth comes from, other then maybe too much watching Tweety Bird and Sylvester as kids prompted these dumb people to think that cats, especially well fed cats bother to chase birds.  Man has destroyed far more of our wild life then feral cats will ever be able to, so this woman really needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and made an example out of for the safety of us all.  Next she’ll want to trap and kill the neighborhood kids that shoot at birds with b. b. guns.  That too is more of a danger then my 14 cats or any of the other free roaming cats around.

  • I have to wonder – how many of those “billion” birds allegedly killed by cats were actually killed by hawks or falcons?

    • EmSkarbs

      You raise a great point, I would say a bird is much more likely to be killed by one of these birds of prey. I’ve definitely seen that more often than a cat hunting after a bird. 

  • Mhus

    What is she talking about?  Hunters kill kill birds..dogs kill birds.  Someone I talked to said he didn’t like cats because they killed the baby pheasants…..not because he liked birds, but because he wanted them to grow up so he could shoot them and kill them.I have 5 cats – 4 are out all the time…I can think of only one instance where even one of them killed a bird…however, they have caught lots and lots of mice and even a mole or two.  If the feral cats are trapped and neutered, there of course will be less of them..that is the reason for TNR….poisoning and shooting them is senseless and cruel.  What if a neighbor dog got into the poison?  Would that be the same as a cat?  Or a child got into it?  What would be your excuse then?  Come on…use your head and do something useful for all animals…birds aren’t the only things to be protected.  Everything should be.

  • lisa

    Emily,I have bird feeders in my yard and also blue bird boxes on my property,have planted stands of trees FOR the birds and happily contribute to the bird population every year,I feel by doing so.I also TNR at work and the population of cats has dropped from 10 to just 4 old cats left and I cherish them.if we didn’t TNR,there would still be an unmanagable number.The 4 left are happy,fat and well fed by me.I don’t know how you can say TNR doesn’t work! SPAYED CAT=NO MORE KITTENS! I think you and your friend Nico would be thrilled if the world was over run by rats and mice and the plague!

    • Semisorry

      The same as no study ever has shown the effect of cats on the populations of wild birds, nor has there ever been a study that has shown that cats keep the number of rodents down (mice and rats seem to be an animal who reproduces as conditions see appropriate for more numbers).  Also, there has been no actual studies to show that mice and rats actually transmit disease to humans, simply that they carry some diseases.
      One more thing, the issue here isn’t blue birds, robins, and sparrows or finches, the issue is birds who don’t normally live within human populations, and migrate through, are losing their migration spaces and at the same time are being killed by other factors (one of many, domestic cat populations). 

      • Dottiehuckle

         Once again, get your head out of your ass, your just a cat hater…admit it!

        • semisorry

          Um, I’m sorry, but I have four rescue cats, who are allowed out in a cat enclosure, and also have supervised time in my “backyard” (I live in a rental in the city).  I also foster and have been working with cat rescue groups (including TNR ferals!) for years. 
          As a field biologist, this is my job.  Old-growth forest and its species are particularily important : we can’t recreate this, and this species are NOT able to live side-by-side with humans.  With the destruction of spaces for these birds to live andor travel through, their numbers are in many cases severely endangered, and any time one bird may be killed by a cat it would be a blow to a migrating population.  Please, everyone, cats do kill birds (whether they bring them home or not!) and they are not good for our native birds!  Please bell your cats or keep them supervised! 

  • I love birds and I have 2 cats. They eat squirrels. Lots of birders hate squirrels, I like them, but the cats don’t (except for lunch).

  • Groover

    I used to work at the SMBC, so i’m especially disgusted by what this woman is alleged to have done and saddened that she has damaged the legacy of the Center and Russell Greenberg. Her contact info: and 202-633-4205.

  • Joyce

    Dumba##  If she drinks run of the mill coffee, she is directly responsible for more bird deaths than any colony of cats.  Destruction of forests to grow coffee leaves birds with no where to live during the winter months!

  • Dasdave

     “PhD researcher” ?  geezzzzz more like PhD-umbass

  • Tesserae5

    I have 8 yes 8 cats and I also have a 2 acre yard that is home to countless birds. Never have a problem. I do make sure not to fill birdfeeders during nesting season so as not to attract nest building in my yard  where the hatchlings would be at a disadvantage. Hawks however can be a problem. I have to laugh at all the birders who claim to care so much and join the Audobon Society. Don’t they know how he managed to draw so many accurate pictures of birds? He captured them, killed them and pinned them to boards so they wouldn’t move when he sketched them. Talk about cruelty.

    • Semisorry

      Audubon died in 1851.  Thomas Edison tortured an elephant to death, among many other animals, proving the dangers of AC current.  Please see the history of vivisection to learn the history of the development of the understanding of human physiology.  The terrible aspects of history do not change the present and the knowledge we have now. Cats have caused the absolute destruction of many ecosystems,a particular case in point, New Zealand, where birds previously had no predators and many are now nearing extinction.  Cats have been killed off on certain islands to preserve these species.  It’s nice to say cats have no effect on our North American wild bird population without studies, but many of our migratory birds here have dwindiling populations due to habitat destruction (ie. old growth forest destruction) and due to many other factors, of which cat predation is a real possibility.
      Anyone who has had outdoor cats can attest to the fact THEY DO KILL BIRDS and as someone who lives in a city (Toronto) and deals with migratory birds who have a hard time at the best of times, it really is best if cats are prevented from killing even one of these endangered animals.  There is no need for a cat to do this; at least, please bell your cats, and at best please keep them indoors and provide them with a stimulating environment, which may include an enclosed outdoor environment.  Please, it is a future for all of us and it is such a delicate balance.

      • Semisorry

        I would just like to mention I am the loving “owner” of four cats and I think everyone on here makes great points, but that does not mean we can excuse the importance of this issue even though there may be other actions which cause more destruction for these bird populations.

      • Dottiehuckle

         I have over 20 colony cats at my home that I care for and I think I’ve only seen 2-3 dead birds from a cat kill. Get with reality, people do more damage than any animal. People have done more damage to absolute destruction of many ecosystems than any animal, get your head out of your ass.

  • Cimeron

    Fantastic article, Francis! 

  • Michael

    Pipe down, EmilyS. 

    I have trapped, spayed and neutered feral cats — then let them live in my backyard.  Because they have regular access to food and water — they have not killed ONE bird.  In fact, birds flying into windows are a more serious problem around here.

    So take your ignorant and narrow minded generalizations about cats and TNR people and shove them where the sun don’t shine.

    • Dove

      It is awfully “narrow-minded and ignorant” to think that your friendly neighborhood feral cats NEVER killed one bird. Unless you are watching these cats 24/7, all of them, in which case I apologize, as you would be right, but something tells me that you do not.

      And you do know that all domestic cats will kill out of fun/sport, and not just to eat, right? Having access to food and water doesn’t guarantee that the cats will not prey on native wildlife. So yea, before calling someone else narrow-minded and ignorant…

      • KDenz

        No one is saying that cats don’t ever kill birds, the argumen is that feral cats are responsible for killing the majority of birds.  Again, if you are going to condemn cats, please back up with facts.

      • Damon

        Humans kill birds (and MANY other animals) for fun/sport, should we be poisoned as well..?

    • Congreve

      I am a lifelong indoor-outdoor cat owner, and not in favor of the actions that Ms. Dauphine is accused of. However, the assertioin by you and others here that cats kill few if any birds is disingenuous, naive or both.  Many times I’ve witnessed a cat make a kill right after it’s been fed.  Often, the prey – bird, chipmunk, snake – is played with and left for dead, other times eaten…only to be thrown up later on my doorstep or worse.  That’s what cats do…and you and I both know that is true.  Another thing we both know is that cats are not a native species.  Keeping a cat as a pet is one thing, but how is a feral colony of cats any different from any other invasive species in the wild? Should we TNR the snakehead population next?  I am curious and interested in learning more about the plight of the migratory birds as well as of cats…lets’s shine some light on the problem, not demogogue others who might, just might, have science on their side.

  • Sallym

    Yes “Some animals are better than others”, with people charging forth and taking any land they want.  Sorry Emily.  People are the biggest killers of birds by destroying space.  “I want it all, I want it now” is our mantra.  Please don’t take my shopping mall away.

  • EmilyS

    sorry Francis, TNR people really don’t care about wild birds and you shouldn’t make any such claims.  You value cats more than native wildlife and you will never allow any kind of control, whatever their impact.  That’s the plain truth.  The discussion about this issue would go better if the cat people just admitted their biases and stopped pretending.  As well as stop denying what the science shows about the impact of roaming cats on native wildlife.  “Some animals are better than others” in the Orwellian world of the cat advocates.  

    TNR has never and will never eliminate the impact of cats on native wildlife.  That’s not even a goal of TNR.  It would also be nice if you didn’t condemn someone using such vile language (“frothing at the mouth”… really???) before she’s actually been, you know, convicted.  I guess innocent until proven guilty doesn’t apply to people in the TNR advocate world.

    • Calypso

      I happen to be and TNR person who also loves birds and have rescued many in my life.  Your post exposes your extreme bias against cats.  If you’ve got the research to back up your claims, then please let us see it.

    • staysea

      Decreasing numbers of feral cats will OBVIOUSLY decrease the impact they have on wildlife …. so what are you talking about???? get a clue

    • Sadly, some of these so called “researchers” have spent more time studying Tweety Bird and Sylvester than actual bird/cat interchanges in real life situations.

      I feed feral cats, and on our five acres we host birds in such numbers that it is daunting to attempt to count them.  We suffer two or maybe three bird kills per year, which could also have been done by birds of prey, bobcats, foxes.  The feral cats never bother birds at our feeding stations, nor to they find any interest in the multiple nesting boxes and other nests on our property.  We feed several feral cats on our doorstep, above which nests a phoebe family every year.  MOST of the dead birds found on our property are succumbing to disease, such as West Nile Virus, some have eaten poison.  Cats and other predators won’t touch the carcasses.  Some have been SHOT and die slow miserable deaths.  I see COUNTLESS bird carcasses on the roads.  Why don’t these researchers count birds who are baited by farmers, shot at by gun toting yokels, hit by cars, trapped in bird netting, killed by birds of prey, sucked into jet engines, poisoned by yard grooming products and rodent bait or by eating poisoned animals, drinking antifreeze, or any other human generated hazard.  I’m sure the cost to the bird population is much greater because of human beings than 10,000 times the current cat population could account for.  That’s just a guess, it’s not science.  I’d LIKE TO SEE SOME SCIENCE which puts the impact of CATS in a SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVE INCLUSIVE OF DATA FROM OTHER HAZARDS.  But then, it would show that cats don’t really impact bird populations, especially FAT WELL FED CATS.

      Researchers who palm off biased pseudo science to a target audience are no different that charlatans who claim to have cures for diseases.  Such people find some aggrieved group, create a product, and market it.  These products and lectures and books and papers and other materials are only validated by the targeted demographic, not by the world at large.  It would be nice if such people would get a slap on the wrist for skewing data to fit their models.

      Cats by nature conserve energy to survive, they do not go after elusive
      prey.  So the best thing a birder can do to eliminate cat kills at their
      bird stations IS FEED THEM, TNR to reduce the population.  How on earth
      any person who claims any knowledge or interest in animal behaviour can
      ignore this fact says more about their mental health than it does about
      the value of the sheepskin that they hang on their wall.

    • Justine

      “TNR people really dont care about wild birds” – you are delusional and fixated on your hatred of cats.  You are trying to cast blame where it is not deserved.  I am in Australia and my observation is that more birds are killed by humans, either because they are eating the fruit they are growing, or due to depletion of natural habitat.  Animals have just as much right to life as we do.  And actually, I love cats AND birds and I don’t appreciate you telling me that I don’t.

    • Leslie

      Emily, you don’t speak for me or anyone else, so don’t presume to say that I don’t care about wild birds. I have numerous bird feeders in my large backyard, as well as birdbaths and fountains for them to play in. My yard is full of birds. While my own cats are indoor only, some of my neighbors’ cats roam freely and hang out in my yard. In the ten years I’ve lived here, I’ve found ONE dead bird! In my prior home where I lived for almost 15 years, I had cats who were allowed to spend time outdoors; in that time frame I again found only ONE dead bird. If you and others who object to TNR were right about the impact of free roaming cats on wild birds, I would have found dead birds on a weekly or even daily basis. Simply not true. And before you cite “what science shows”, you might want to note the flaws in those studies.

    • Jeremy glover

      Ya great point…..not.  I’m sure that people such as TNR folks display all the love and care they can give to cats and then relish in their non care of other animals.  Emily when a person loves animals they love them them all.  It’s possible you didn’t mean it that way so practice better ways to make a point in the future.

  • Lovefelines2003

    Wow – very disturbing news – thanks Francis for this.  And you are correct of course – killing cats is not the answer.  How can a person who loves one species wish death upon another?  This is so irrational and cold hearted – of course TNR is the answer – for both the kitties and the birds.  Please keep us up to date on the outcome of this case.

  • Anonymous

    I like the title of this blog.  I can’t imagine community cats having that serious of an effect on the bird population.  That would have to be a lot of community cats to do that kind of damage.  Good blog.