The $1.5 Million Plan to Count Every Single Cat in Washington

The capitol city is having a problem with feral cats. The District of Columbia with its elevated status as the home of the White House is not exempt from issues that are common to larger cities. Many strays and feral cats can be seen roaming the streets and the numbers seem to be picking up. Is it possible to get an accurate count on just how many of these felines are on the loose in the city? Some people think so and a collection of Animal advocacy groups and organizations are throwing in to fund a large scale effort to count every cat in Washington DC. They’re even counting house cats in the tally. The cost of this huge and ambitious venture is expected to be $1.5 million.

Is this project money well spent?

A million and a half is a lot of money just to arrive at a number, but is there more to the significance of this study? The participants in the project believe so and here’s why. The owner-less cats are protected from euthanizing by a neuter and release policy. While this helps to curb breeding among ferals and strays, there are still plenty out preying on wildlife, carrying various diseases and representing a danger to humans and pets. In addition to this, the quality of life for these animals is generally poor, and these are the issues that concern conservationists.

The count is necessary for developing a management plan

Scientists as well as animal advocates are attempting to develop a human and responsible system for managing the roaming cats in DC. In order to accomplish this, they’ve developed the D.C. Cat Count initiative to collect data about the number of these felines living in Washington. In addition to the numbers, they also seek to discover how they move around over the next three years.

The first study of its kind

Nothing of this magnitude has been done previously. While the problem has been acknowledged for decades, little has been done to address it. The leaders of the project are calling on residents of the city to help the cause by sending in information about strays they observe with pictures in addition to photos of their pet felines. The group plans to set up 60 camera traps using infrared sensors to record images of cats roaming outdoors. They’re currently developing a smartphone app for residents to use for sharing pictures of cats they observe.

Why are all cats included in the study?

What it breaks down to is gathering statistics an all cats in the are to understand what percentage of the feline population is in need of help. Before advocates can build a system for rescuing them, they need to know what kind of numbers they’re dealing with. Since cats are elusive creatures, it’s going to take some time to get a idea of the magnitude of the situation. Trap, neuter and vaccinate programs help to curb the risk of the spread of disease, but with large numbers in need of these services, getting a semi-accurate head count is needed to adequately prepare and put the necessary resources and funding for these resources in place.

Even cats that already reside in homes may be in need of help. Not all pet owners have the financial resources for vaccination or spay/neuter services. The overall goal of the study is to develop a program that will help all cats in the city.

Why not adoption?

Not all outdoor cats are suitable for adoption by humans. Those which have been roaming the streets lack the socialization necessary to make them safe for cohabitation with humans. Although it’s a heart breaking situation, it’s the reality that animal advocates acknowledge. Placing animals that could cause harm to families is not the best solution.

Current statistics

Over the past decade, an estimated 16,000 feral cats have been trapped, sterilized and returned to the streets. On a bright note, two to three thousand of these animals qualify for adoption, but the number of cats without owners is steadily on the rise. These cats carry diseases that can be spread to humans and other animals. There is an urgency about the situation and someone is finally attempting to do something about it.

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