A $1.5 million project launched in Washington, DC, has one main goal: count all the cats. DC Cat Count, a collaboration by the Humane Society, Humane Rescue Alliance, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and PetSmart Charities, aims to create an accurate estimate of the entire cat population, including pet cats, in order to better manage it. About 1,000 DC cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, and released each year by the Humane Rescue Alliance; as many as 3,000 more are adopted out, with owners pledging to keep the cats inside. But it's "impossible to say" how many cats are really out there or how effective the programs are in terms of curtailing the cat population, community programs VP Lauren Lipsey tells DCist. "We want to understand the movement and flow of cats."
So far, though, "just walking around the neighborhood counting cats, we were surprised at how few cats we've seen," Lipsey tells the Washington Post. Cats—which threaten rodents like mice and rats, but also birds and protected or endangered species—are "secretive animals" and therefore "hard to see," but that doesn't mean they aren't around, conservation biologist Tyler Flockhart tells the New York Times. To ensure an accurate tally, the DC Cat Count will use 60 motion-activated cameras, shelter analyses, and household surveys, in addition to physical counts in sample locations, in an undertaking led by two full-time employees, per NPR. The effort is expected to take three years, with an app to be released by Christmas allowing locals to take part by snapping photos of the cats they see. (This judge sued over his neighbor's urinating cat.)