As LAX Expands, the Cat Colonies of Manchester Square Face an Uncertain Future

By Lisa Beebe


In the past year, LAX has demolished the last of the buildings in a multi-acre area of the Westchester neighborhood known as Manchester Square—but a few of the area’s wildest residents still await relocation.

The future site of a consolidated rental car facility and LAX’s Automated People Mover transit station houses five cat colonies, where around 30 feral and abandoned cats remain.

Longtime animal rescue and animal rights advocate, Lisa Medwid, began working with the cats after hearing about them through a Yahoo Group eight years ago.

“We managed and fed the feral colonies that are on this property,” she said. “We got them sterilized. If there
were kittens, we got the kittens adopted.”

Some of the cats were tame, and Medwid thinks they were probably left behind by people who moved from the neighborhood. Sometimes, a cat who appears feral acts differently once it’s in a trap.

“There’s this beautiful orange cat who we thought was feral that turned out to be so tame, it was remarkable,” she said.

Medwid and the other rescuers have been working to relocate the cats, but it’s challenging to find homes for them because they’re predominantly feral.

She and the other rescuers have attempted to communicate with PCL Construction, the company doing the demolition and grading work on the property.

“At the very beginning of the development of the property, we went to the construction company and said, ‘We are actively managing the cats. We’re trying to move them. We’re feeding them,’ and they said ‘Fine. Just don’t do it on our property. Do it on the outside of the fence.’ We said, ‘Great,’” Medwid said.

Since then, the company has been reluctant to talk to the rescuers.

“They have never wanted to give us a contact number or a contact name because, as one guy said, ‘I don’t want to be the person that the media calls to ask about the cats,’” Medwid recalled.

PCL Construction and the Department of Animal Services didn’t respond to The Argonaut’s requests for comment. But Stephanie Sampson, director of communications for Los Angeles International Airport’s Landside Access Modernization Program, responded.

“In addition to the community member support, our developer for the LAX Consolidated Rent-A-Car Facility, LAX ConRAC Partners, is looking at options for a professional company to assist getting the cats into a safer environment and away from an active construction site,” Sampson said.

“The safety of these animals is important to both Los Angeles World Airports and LAX ConRAC Partners, so the focus is removing them from the site. LAWA and LAX ConRAC Partners cannot control what efforts Animal Services chooses to take after the animals have been turned over to them.”

On a mission

In February, Medwid found a piece of paper taped to a light pole on 98th Street. It was a cat trapping notice from the city of Los Angeles Department of Animal Services.

“That was the first we heard of it,” she said. “They don’t want to deal with us, and I guess they’re just tired of having cats there.”

“We knew this development was happening, so we were actively looking for places to relocate the cats. It wasn’t going well until our social media campaign took off on Facebook. It went from my posts reaching seven or eight people to 18,000 people overnight.”

In addition to the Facebook page dubbed LAX Abandoned and Feral Cat Colony, the group set up the website to spread the word about their efforts to find safe, stable homes for the cats.

A feral cat won’t make a good indoor cat, but Medwid hopes to identify more potential homes.

“Ideally, they would be working cats or yard cats,” Medwid said. “Or if we could be so lucky to find someone who owns a lot of open land, we could move multiple cats and just reestablish the colony in a different location.”

She is looking at options as far away as Northern California.

The rescuers have developed a “relocation protocol” for rehoming the cats. It involves transferring them — typically two at a time — to their new location. At first, each cat is kept in a big outdoor cage with a litter box, a place to sleep, and a place to eat.

“The owner of the property agrees to feed them and scoop their litter for a period of time from two to three weeks while they stay in the cage, which somehow lets them know that this is their new home,” Medwid said.

Occasionally, the cats take off when they get out, but the majority of the time they stay.

Firm deadline?

A fellow animal rescuer spoke to PCL staff and asked for more time. They said the rescuers had until April 1 to move the cats. All of the city’s animal shelters are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, which may give the rescuers a temporary reprieve.

They believe any cat trapped by animal services is more likely to be killed than relocated.

“If you take a feral cat to the shelter, there’s nothing they can do with it,” Medwid said. “They can’t adopt it. They don’t have a working cat program, so the cat gets destroyed.”

Whether the city attempts to trap the cats or not, Medwid and her colleagues aren’t going to stop.

“They didn’t tell us to stop catching and feeding,” she added. “So, we will continue to do that. If they bring in a trapper, we’re going to continue to do our own trapping and try to lure the cats to our traps rather than the other ones.” 

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