National Zoo reseracher accused of trying to poison cats

A bird researcher at the National Zoo is accused of trying to poison stray cats in Columbia Heights.

Columbia Heights resident Rachel Sterling says she noticed someone was trying to harm the cats by dumping something in the their food. Sterling feeds the wild cats outside the Park Square apartments on 15th Street.

"There was some kind of crunchy powder on the food,” Sterling said.

She called the Humane Society, which tested the substance and found it was rat poison. Court documents say an investigator watched building surveillance video and saw who he later learned was another neighbor, Nico Dauphine, reaching into her purse and then reaching into the cat's feeding area and leaving.

Dauphine, a postdoctoral fellow with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo, was charged with attempted cruelty to animals and faces up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $1,000, if convicted, ABC News reports.

Dauphine's attorney told WRC that her client's "whole life has been devoted to the care and welfare of animals."

"When I found out who it was I was shocked. I don't know her. I mean, who would do something like that,” said Sterling.

The 38-year-old Dauphine wasn't home when ABC7 tried to reach her. The zoo said they couldn’t comment because of the criminal investigation but did confirm Dauphine was still working with birds at the zoo. She does not have contact with the zoo's animal collection.

"The fact that you are working for animals, it's a disgrace that you would treat a different species differently," said Tara Miller, a zoo visitor.

A local animal rights group commended D.C. authorities for charging Dauphine. Alley Cat Allies pointed out that it is illegal to kill cats in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, whether they are pet, stray or feral.