Dozens of cats on vacant Costa Mesa property have rescuers, city animal control at odds

Cat rescuers TJ Kelley and Megan Robison initially fed the cats at the 20th Street property on Aug. 27.
(Megan Robison)

Prompted by a social media post three weeks ago describing two dozen cats at risk in their community, two Costa Mesa animal lovers jumped into action.

TJ Kelley and Megan Robison said they didn’t hesitate to answer the call to help the cats that had been living on a vacant property at 734 W. 20th St.

For the record:

11:50 a.m. Sept. 15, 2023An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect year of the passing of one of the residents of the now-vacant property where the cats were found.

“This home had numerous violations over decades because of a fully hoarding situation,” Kelley said. “After the owners died in 2019 and 2022 [respectively], the city stepped in, forcing family to evacuate and sell.”

According to public records, the property sold in August for lot value at $950,000.


“The first night [we visited] we found 24 cats and gave them 40 cans of food,” Kelley said.

Robison said she and Kelley were concerned for the felines’ health and didn’t want any of them to suffer or die needlessly. “We wanted to make sure everyone was fed in the interim until we could get all of them rescued,” she said.

Kelley and Robison, both of whom hold down full-time day jobs, have been working nights and weekends on saving the cats for the last three weeks.

From left, TJ Kelley and Megan Robison prepare a trap with food.
From left, TJ Kelley and Megan Robison prepare a trap with food to lure the remaining black cat, in the background, to be transported for medical care.
(Susan Hoffman)

“Megan and I stepped in night after night to get them to vet appointments in the morning and find a place to stay while they decompress after surgery until we find them a permanent place to stay,” Kelley said.

They have so far trapped 13 cats that have been spayed/neutered and medically treated as a result. “Other [rescue] groups have picked up some,” said Kelley. “In the process of constructing a process of moving to someone who has a dedicated space, we evaluate who’s feral and who’s not.”

Robison explained their rescue process has been to set two traps at a time until they are able to get all of the cats.

“There are a lot of moving parts and not a lot of resources,” she said.

“[We’re] looking for now to try to find a farm, winery, a place to welcome feral cats as mousers on a property,” said Kelley, “a shelter where they can come and clean up rodents and still need a place where they can go be safe from coyotes and predators.”

“We realized that we were going to need help from the community, which is how the GoFund Me “Help Save The Cats Of 20th St. in Costa Mesa, Ca.” came about,” said Robison. “Now really comes the hard part of finding long-term homes for them.”

Both women expressed disappointment with the way Costa Mesa has handled the problem. Kelley said once the house was red-tagged, the city should have reached out to animal advocacy groups to help relocate the cats.

The property at 734 W. 20th St. Costa Mesa was red-tagged.
The property at 734 W. 20th St. Costa Mesa was red-tagged and recently sold awaiting demolition. Animal advocates are removing dozens of feral cats discovered on the property.
(Susan Hoffman)

“Why are we doing a job when it’s the responsibility of city animal control?” Kelley said.

In response to a phone call seeking comment, city spokesperson Tony Dodero on Wednesday emailed the Daily Pilot a bullet-pointed official statement that maintains, among other things, that the city’s animal control team continues to “work on this issue,” visiting the site daily “to monitor and resolve this issue in concert with the property owner.”

It further states signage would be posted at the property asking that the cats “not be fed as the City works to safely trap any remaining cats” and that any cat food found at the site by the animal control staffers will be removed so as to prevent other cats from being attracted to the property.

“The City of Costa Mesa cares about and is dedicated to the safety, protection and well-being of all animals through our Animal Services unit, managed by the Police Department,” the statement concludes.

Kelley said the city did not appear to have taken any measures toward assisting the cats until after officials knew she and Robison were going to appear before the City Council earlier this month with a PowerPoint presentation on the subject.

“The very next day they posted the sign on the chain-link fence,” Kelley said.

Meanwhile, the work she and Robison have undertaken on behalf of the cats continues.

    “Basically what we’re looking for right now is to feed them, house them, vet medical costs transportation, relocation costs to be covered through GoFundMe,” said Kelley. “We’re scrambling to find a place for them to go. Neighbors don’t want them roaming. They’re not adoptable, they need alternate placement and any help from the public even providing transportation out of the area if necessary.”