DC Cat Count: Groundbreaking Collaboration to Inform the Future of Cat Population Management

Room: St Laurent 6

Tyler Flockhart, Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Dr. Roger Haston, Chief of Analytics, PetSmart Charities

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

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 the District of Columbia. In addition, this project will serve as a highly visible example of constructive collaboration between animal welfare organizations, scientists, academic institutions, and citizens who wish to cooperatively pursue common goals rather than engage in conflict.

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 that may live either indoors or outdoors and shelter cats that often move into or out of the other population segments. Therefore, the project is composed of several distinct but complementary modules designed to characterize all of these population segments and how they interact with one another. These modules include:

1) Using state-of-art camera trapping methods to obtain the best possible estimate of outdoor cat population size in the Washington DC study area.

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

3) Quantifying the shelter cat population, including all intake and outflow rates.

4) Counting outdoor cats using simple transect surveys and colony inventories, and comparing these results with the outdoor cat estimates obtained using more intensive camera trapping.

5) Incorporating all data into a statistical model describing the interactions between population segments, and identifying the most effective intervention points and management strategies.

6) Developing, testing and validating 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 management that can be applied generally across the country. As a result, we anticipate that cat 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.

We will talk through the basis for the project, why the city of Washington, DC was selected and the various components involved in the project. We will also speak to the tools and best practice guidelines that will be produced for use by other organizations and municipalities in their own efforts to establish data-driven cat population management policies.


  1. Benefits of collaboration between 'competing' stakeholder groups.
  2. Why data matters in program development.
  3. Cat population management considerations for any community.

Dr. Roger Haston received a PhD in geophysics from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MBA in finance from Rice University. After working for Amoco and Arco in Houston, Dr. Haston moved to Colorado in 1998 where he started and grew a successful business in geophysical data processing. He had a strong desire to give back to the community and became involved with the Humane Society of Boulder Valley as a volunteer, Board member and Board chair. He also worked with both for profit and non-profit organizations on strategy and leadership development, with a strong focus on creating mission-driven organizations. His passion for helping animals continued to grow and, in 2012, he committed himself full time to animal welfare and took over as Executive Director at the Animal Assistance Foundation where he has merged his passion for science, business and people to help the animals of Colorado and beyond. He has recently joined PetSmart Charities as the Chief of Analytics. He also serves on the boards of National Council on Pet Population and Shelter Animals Count.

Dr. Tyler Flockhart is a population ecologist and conservation biologist. His research seeks to understand the factors that influence changes in animal populations and applying decision theory to design optimal management strategies for species of concern in the face of global change. His research on cats has focused on understanding the behaviour of feral cats, the abundance and distribution of both free-roaming cats and birds in cities and developing techniques to measure the true impacts of cats on birds. He is working on developing evidence-based population models for cats and birds to make optimal decisions to both improve cat welfare and minimize risks to birds to the lowest possible cost.