By Janet McAfee

The crowd outside the special events center at the Fantasy Springs Casino swelled. People calmly formed lines, and more kept arriving. It was two days before the Diana Ross concert, but these folks were not concert goers. They were pet owners on a mission to help their beloved cats and dogs.
Some people carried dainty little Chihuahuas in carriers. One man brought two female pit bulls who tugged at hand made rope leashes, the dogs appearing to have never been leashed before. People arrived carrying cats in their arms, and small crates were provided to prevent escapes. Some of the dogs pranced around happily, seemingly unaware of the reason for their outing on this mild July 31 morning.
The Fantasy Springs Casino hosted and funded a two day free spay and neuter clinic for the pets of low income Indio residents. A low cost vaccine clinic was also provided. This amazing partnership between a private successful business and the nonprofit Animal Action League is a model that hopefully others will copy. The Animal Action League mobile spay unit parked outside the event center concealed a well equipped clinic and veterinary staff who performed the surgeries.
The Coachella Valley has a serious pet overpopulation problem. Stray animals battle hunger and disease. Pets are found in abandoned homes. Boxes of newborn animals are dumped in fields, and some survive while others succumb to a slow painful death in the heat. Our public shelters are overwhelmed, and many adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized. The situation is heartbreaking for the animals, and expensive for the taxpayers.
Kim Hardee, Indio resident and animal advocate, is the organizer behind this event. This happened because one citizen decided to do something about the problem of homeless animals in our community.
Kim had a vision for a free spay and neuter clinic in our East Valley, and refused to take “No” for an answer when others were skeptical. She explains, “We have all these unwanted animals, and everyone was talking about the need for free spaying and neutering. Our government can’t solve the problem alone. Why can’t we Indio residents do it and take care of our own animals? My heart breaks every time I see a stray animal. I feel the community needs to take responsibility for these helpless animals. Now that the Indio shelter is closing, the timing seemed right to put this together. We need other businesses and private citizens to join the fight and sponsor a clinic.”
Kim is pictured here with Armando Meza and his black Labrador, Nala. Armando just completed a tour in the Marines. While he was away serving his country, family members took care of Nala who had two litters of puppies. When Armando heard about this clinic close to his Indio home, he was in line early with his dog.
Armando reports, “This program was great! I want to thank the Fantasy Springs Casino. I can’t thank them enough. You can see by the large turnout what a good thing this was for the community.” Nala wagged her tail in agreement, appearing happy and unfazed after her surgery. Large female dogs like Nala were given priority, because large dogs are the major group being euthanized in shelters.

Chris Castling, a College of the Desert student, rescued his puppy Eva, a Rottweiler mix, after she was abandoned in North Palm Springs. Chris recently lost his part time job and lives with his mother who is on disability. Chris stated, “Stray animals are a big problem where I live. Stray dogs are running around. Stray cats are being killed. Animals are being run over by cars. We need more spay and neuter clinics.” Because Chris’ puppy was still a small size he was on stand-by, but the long wait paid off and Eva was the last dog spayed.
One Indio resident brought in her male pit bull because her landlord mandated he get neutered. Her option was to move or surrender the dog to a shelter. Neutered male dogs are less aggressive, less likely to run away, less likely to bite, and make better household pets. The woman was given a voucher to return the next day.
Rates vary, but it can cost up to $700 to spay a large female dog at the private local vet clinics. It can cost up to $500 to spay a female cat. When people struggle to feed their families, spaying and neutering pets falls behind the priorities of rent and groceries. Most low income people love their pets and want to do the best for them.
One unemployed man arrived with his son and their dog at 3:30 am. About 400 people showed up with their pets. There were 56 cats and dogs spayed and neutered at the Fantasy Springs event. Low cost vaccinations were provided to 250 animals. People patiently waited in line for hours to get vouchers for the next day and to sign up for future clinics. For low cost spay and neuter services, call Save A Pet at (760) 251-1400 or Animal Samaritans at (760) 343-3477.
Kim Hardee is working with local businesswomen, Diane Dunne and Teri Munselle, to set up more clinics in the East Valley. There will be a nominal fee charged. They are seeking businesses and individuals to help. It costs $2000 to do a one day clinic, and $2800 for a clinic including vaccines. Contact Kim at (760) 250-8181 or