Jana Hayes and Gabrielle Amster, of the PS Animal Shelter, with a couple of their feline friends. Photo courtesy of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter

Jana Hayes may be a lifetime dog-lover, but she has become a champion for the community cats (aka feral cats) of the Coachella Valley as a volunteer at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter.

Hayes coordinates the Animal Shelter’s Trap Neuter Return (TNR) Program, overseeing a crew of 18 volunteers who trap community cats and transport them to the shelter to get spayed or neutered, and get their vaccines, before being returned to their colonies and caregivers.

Community cats belong to no one and are essentially wild, because they are not socialized. They are not cats that someone can hold or pet, but they are helpful in controlling the population of rats, which are attracted to citrus trees. While some people think community cats pose a health hazard, the TNR Program’s purpose is to make sure they are vaccinated and healthy.

“Though Jana has been a volunteer for many years, for the past five years, Jana has volunteered tirelessly on behalf of the shelter’s TNR Program,” said Gabrielle Amster, the executive director of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter. “Her efforts, along with those of our partners and other TNR volunteers, have resulted in the trap, spay or neuter, and return of well over 6,500 community cats from all over the valley over the past several years.

“Jana is uniquely humble, and her kind demeanor has helped form partnerships with other agencies and volunteers. This trust ensures that TNR will continue as a life-saving solution, while tackling overpopulation challenges. We are so grateful for the commitment, integrity and vision that Jana has brought to this program.”

Hayes serves on the Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter’s board of directors, and her responsibilities go beyond the TNR Program. She is also a member of the Program Committee, which assesses the effectiveness of the shelter’s programs.

Before coming to the valley and discovering the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Hayes had a 22-year career with the Marine Corps, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. She was born and grew up in Kingsville, Texas, a small ranching and farming community. When she joined the Marine Corps, her first posting was at Camp Pendleton. She fell in love with California, she said—and never looked back.

Hayes did not have any cats growing up; her family always had two to four dogs. She only acquired cats when she got involved with the TNR Program. Beyond that program, Hayes has fostered some 200 kittens, rescuing them from unhappy and horrendous situations over the years.

“My parents taught me to be a giving person, because this was just our nature in our family,” Hayes said. “I grew up this way. My parents were giving people, and they were always helping our family members and the community. We were a tight-knit, very-close family, and the idea of helping others was always instilled in me. I also just love animals. I have always had animals and been a huge nature-lover. Animals are my thing, and I have realized the need is so great in this area to help these community cats, who are pretty much disregarded by people and misunderstood.

“The TNR Program is the most humane and effective way to control overpopulation and improve the lives of homeless cats. Our work helps people in the community have a better relationship and understanding of these cats, and their role within our community. This is why I do what I do.”

Hayes said she plans to continue running the TNR Program, because she knows how important it is.

“The Palm Springs Animal Shelter, the board of directors, the executive director, etc., all are dedicated to having a vibrant TNR Program,” Hayes said. “We will find ways to make it more robust and more sustainable to help our community cats, to the point where we have done the work so that the population is under control. Our goal is also to have people understand that this community of cats is not a nuisance. We want to continue the TNR Program, and also continue to meet the community needs in many other ways.”

For more information on the Palm Springs Animal Shelter’s Trap Neuter Return (TNR) Program, call 760-416-5718; tnr@psanimalshelter.org; or visit psanimalshelter.org.

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Madeline Zuckerman

Madeline Zuckerman is owner and president of M. Zuckerman Marketing and Public Relations Inc., with offices in Rancho Mirage and Newport Beach. She established her marketing communications firm more than...