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We Finally Know How Many Cats Live in DC

The results of a three-year study have come in and . . . there are a lot of felines.

Image via iStock.

The cat is, as they say, out of the bag: A three-year effort to count the number of felines in DC has concluded, and it turns out the city is home to around 200,000 of the animals. The DC Cat Count was intended to quantify the number of owned cats, outdoor cats, and shelter cats in an attempt to figure out how often felines move between these communities—and how to best manage the purring population.

Given the diverse housing status of the cat citizenry, the furry appraisal required a variety of research methods. For outdoor cats, cameras were set up at more than 1,500 sites across the city. These devices snapped photos triggered by motion—including a snapshot of a bobcat, which is not quite the kind of cat that researchers were seeking to catalog. In addition to these cameras, workers walked more than 337 miles of defined routes to manually count cats. Meanwhile, owned felines—defined as “those who are fed by a caretaker at least once per week”—were counted through census-like methods, using a survey of more than 2,600 (human) residents. That effort found that the majority of cat owners in DC are in their 40s. Data from shelter records such as those kept at the Human Rescue Alliance were utilized to tabulate the number of cats moving through shelters.

The project is a collaboration between a number of partners, including the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Humane Rescue Alliance, and independent conservation scientists. Now that the final feline count is in, the project will turn to implementation, working with different stakeholders to adopt cat policies informed by the research.

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in Northeast DC.