Debates about outdoor cat policy are rarely productive and are often confrontational. This is in part because there are no broadly-accepted or objective criteria for estimating cat population size or evaluating the impacts of population management efforts. Wildlife scientists have developed tools and approaches that are suitable for these applications, but they need to be adapted for use in studying cats, validated, and streamlined to allow their routine use by groups interested in achieving better cat population management outcomes.

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The DC Cat Count is a unique and ambitious three-year project that brings together a diverse group of experts and organizations to pursue these goals in Washington, DC. In addition, this project will serve as a highly visible example of constructive collaboration between animal welfare organizations, wildlife scientists, academic institutions, and citizens who wish to cooperatively pursue common goals for cats and wildlife rather than engage in conflict.

Interested in participating in the DC Cat Count?

Join us in our camera trapping effort by placing a camera on your property.

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The DC Cat Count project recognizes that, although outdoor cats are the focus of current controversies, the cat population in any area is actually an interconnected and dynamic network comprised of unowned cats living outdoors, owned cats who may live either indoors or outdoors, and shelter cats who often move into or out of the other population segments. Therefore, the project is composed of several distinct, but complementary, components designed to characterize all of these population segments and how they interact with one another.

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The Components

A state-of-the-art camera trapping effort to obtain the best possible estimate the size of the outdoor cat population in Washington, DC.

The use of household surveys to estimate the size of the owned cat population and to determine how much time owned cats spend outdoors versus indoors.

An analysis of the shelter cat population, including all intake and outflow rates.

A count of outdoor cats using simple transect surveys and colony inventories, and a comparison of these results with the outdoor cat estimates obtained using more intensive camera trapping.

The creation of a statistical model that describes the interactions between cat population segments and helps to identify the most effective intervention points and population management strategies.

The development, testing, and validation of a set of practical and informative tools, protocols, and guidelines that can help other organizations’ “count cats” and improve their mission effectiveness.

At the conclusion of this project in June 2021 (est.), we will have estimated the number of all cats within Washington, DC and illustrated how cat population segments interact. Furthermore, we will have developed logistically feasible and scientifically sound tools and protocols that can be used by a wide variety of animal welfare or municipal organizations to facilitate data-driven cat population management. As a result, we anticipate that cat population management efforts will be more effective, that discussions about cat policy will be more productive, and that cats and wildlife will both ultimately benefit from these improvements.

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