On a recent workday afternoon, Tom Snyder’s phone rang. Shortly after the Animal Samaritans CEO answered and began speaking with the Independent, he exhaled and said: “I was just on a call with a potential donor for the capital campaign. He wants to help us out in a big way. That’s all I’ll say for now, until it materializes. But it sounds very promising.”
That capital campaign is on Snyder’s mind a lot these days. The funds are being sought to build a much-needed new Pet Adoption and Humane Education Center on the Animal Samaritans campus in Thousand Palms. The proposed 16,000 square-foot structure—with an additional 3,000 square feet of outdoor space—will require $5.5 million to $7 million in complete. Thus far, a bit more than $1 million has been raised.
The new center is badly needed. “(Animal Samaritans has) outgrown our small no-kill shelter on Ramon Road,” the organization’s website says. “We’re in need of a facility that can house more animals, accommodate dogs of all sizes, allow for robust on-site exercise, has room for behavior training, and is better designed for the care and comfort of the animals who need us.”
Pet-ownership numbers in the U.S. have been on the rise for quite some time. A July 23, 2021, report from Statista.com stated: “Household penetration rates for pet ownership in the United States have increased over the years, going from 56 percent in 1988 to approximately 70 percent in 2020.”
However, pet ownership was increasing well before 1988. It was ever-increasing pet members that, in part, spawned the creation of Animal Samaritans, a nonprofit that was incorporated in October 1978.
“We were founded by a group of local animal lovers who were committed to reducing the overpopulation of animals in some of our local animal shelters,” Snyder said. “At the time, there was one (shelter) in Indio that was said to have very deplorable living conditions for the animals. They didn’t have enough food or water, or enough shade in the summer, and they were overcrowded.
“But (the founders) really were focused on affordable spay and neuter (services), as well as education in terms of how to treat animals, and how to recognize neglect and animal cruelty. So those were the two primary pillars, or foundations, of the organization: Humane education for our future pet owners, and affordable spay, neuter and vaccine (services) for the animals to reduce overpopulation and unnecessary euthanasia in the shelters.”
To this day, those priorities remain. Animal Samaritans provides animal companion therapy to senior citizens living in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities, and humane education programs in local schools. However, both the portfolio of services provided, and the physical footprint of the organization, have grown substantially in the intervening 43 years.
“In the 1980s, (the founders) were given some land on Ramon Road in Thousand Palms. That’s where they built the Animal Samaritans low-cost spay-neuter-vaccine clinic,” Snyder said. “Currently, that building is still (in use as a “no-kill” shelter) there next to the In-N-Out Burger … It served as both the clinic and the shelter until the 1990s. Then, in 2003, Animal Samaritans was gifted five acres of land in Thousand Palms, and that’s what is currently our animal campus. You will find the Riverside County Animal Shelter on a portion of the land (we gifted) back to Riverside County in 2003. In return for our gift, they continued the infrastructure and stubbed in power lines underground, water lines and sewage (pipes). They built that out for us, so that (we could utilize it) when we were ready to build.
“In about 2009, we were able to start building our new Thousand Palms veterinary clinic, which we finished in 2010,” Snyder said. “That’s the existing building on the animal campus there with our logo on it. That’s our primary veterinary clinic. In 2015, we initiated the Indio veterinary clinic. That facility is just off of Jackson Street on the north side of the freeway. Then, in 2019, we paid off the 30-year loan on our Thousand Palms veterinary clinic in just 10 years, so we became debt-free. And in 2020, we finished the expansion of our Indio clinic property. We lease the building (there), but we expanded by another 1,200 square feet. Now we have 3,600 square feet in total there in Indio. It’s a smaller version of what we have in Thousand Palms.”
In early 2020, Animal Samaritans launched the aforementioned capital campaign to build the new Pet Adoption and Humane Education Center. Then … well, you know what happened next.
“We got a little waylaid with COVID,” Snyder said. “It was a scary time, and nobody wanted to get out and meet face-to-face, so it was hard to raise money pre-vaccine.”
Now that things are more open, Animal Samaritans has returned to in-person fundraisers for the organization’s annual operating costs—including the 12th Annual Men of the Desert event, at the Palm Springs Air Museum on Sunday, Dec. 5. General-admission tickets are $200.
“That is our signature and largest event,” Snyder said. “Also, typically, it is the most profitable fundraiser for us. We’re not sure what to expect after last year. We had to do a virtual version last year, which was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t the same. … We will be at the Palm Springs Air Museum, and that will be a first for us. It’s a nice venue, because it’s so spacious. … At this year’s event, I’ll be talking about our capital campaign and trying to get people excited about supporting it. It’s an opportunity that we don’t want to miss, because we have a lot of longtime supporters and first-time supporters attending.”
Not only does Animal Samaritans need more money for the capital campaign; it needs more for operating expenses, too. Even though 80-90% of Animal Samaritans’ annual charitable income is spent on services, Snyder said, the escalating cost of payroll and benefits for employees has become a concern. Animal Samaritans employs seven veterinary doctors at their Indio and Thousand Palms clinics, and they’d like to hire another four—if they can find and afford them.
“There’s been a national shortage of veterinarians for several years, and it’s been continuing,” Snyder said. “The population keeps growing in terms of pet ownership, but the number of doctors is not increasing to match that number. Right now, there are many more job openings for veterinarians than there are veterinarians to fill them, and it’s difficult for Animal Samaritans to compete with the corporate giants like VCA and Banfield. They’re advertising locally and have signing bonuses up to $100,000. That’s from a recent ad that I saw for Banfield. So that makes it very difficult for us.”
Our valley is home to thousands of low-income and senior pet owners who often can’t afford high-quality care. For many of them, Animal Samaritans provides the financial assistance that they need.
“Most of what we do in that regard is grant-funded,” Snyder said. “We utilize our status as a 501(c)(3) charity to apply for grants from established foundations that really want to support spay and neuter services. Also, we have a good deal of success getting money to help senior pet owners. … Still, many people who have jobs and are working have a hard time paying for veterinary care, because it’s expensive, just like human medicine. We have the Animal Care Fund, which is not age-specific. That’s kind of my favorite one, because anybody, even those working full-time, still may not be bringing in enough money to care for a compromised pet who has a chronic condition that needs medicine or treatment each month, or needs a surgery.
“Even as a nonprofit … we want to be able to retain top doctors and support staff, so that we can give pets the best care that we can. You know, it’s not low-cost, low-quality. It’s high-quality, affordable pet care that we want to be able to do.”