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Former National Zoo employee placed on probation, ordered to stay away from all cats for a year

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A former National Zoo employee who was found guilty of attempting to poison stray cats was placed on probation Wednesday and ordered to stay away from all felines for a year or face jail time.

D.C. Superior Court Senior Judge Truman A. Morrison III also ordered Nico Dauphine, 38, to perform 120 hours of community service and to contribute $100 to the District’s violent crime compensation fund. Morrison sentenced Dauphine to 180 days in jail and suspended the sentence.

(Do you think the court was right or do birds need more protection? Share your comments below.)

In October, after a two-day trial, Morrison found Dauphine guilty of attempted animal cruelty, a misdemeanor. An apartment building’s surveillance camera recorded Dauphine placing rat poison in food left out for stray cats, according to prosecutors.

Dauphine resigned from her position as a postdoctoral fellow with the National Zoo’s Migratory Bird Center — she was studying how domestic cats affect wildlife — after the guilty verdict.

Prosecutors had asked the court to order counseling — preferably by a therapist recommended by the Washington Humane Society — as part of Dauphine’s sentence. “She attempted to take a life,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Pozos said.

Morrison rejected the recommendation, calling the conviction a meaningful punishment.

“This is a serious offense, more serious than many misdemeanors,” Morrison said. “Her career is now in grave jeopardy and will never be what is what before she was prosecuted and convicted.”

During the hearing, Dauphine said she felt “ashamed” for having disappointed her friends and family. “I plan to go back to the community and work to repair all the damage that has been done,” she said.

Lisa LaFontaine, president of the Washington Humane Society, which referred the case to the U.S. attorney’s office, said that she is pleased with the sentence and that justice had been served.

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