By Heidi Simmons

Heading north bound on Palm Drive just after Two Bunch Trail, the clear wide sky and pristine shadowed hills of Desert Hot Springs become tangible on the exterior wall of the new Save-A-Pet Animal Hospital. Here a loyal German Shepard, a playful Orange tabby cat and a lumbering tortoise greet passers-by.

“So many people honk and wave,” said artist John Coleman. “It makes them happy and feel good.” Coleman has spent seven to nine hours a day for nearly three weeks painting the 68 by 23 foot wall.

With a generous bequest from Mary Kahn, Save A Pet, a non-profit organization, was able to purchase the building at 13700 Palm Drive for a new low-cost animal hospital. The convenient location is more accessible and allows Save A Pet (SAP) the space to expand services, treat more animals and prepare dogs and cats for adoption. The SAP “no-kill” animal shelter is still located at 67600 18th Avenue in Desert Hot Springs.


“The people at the hospital do a wonderful job,” said Coleman. “I’m in there and they are just amazing with the animals.” Coleman says the mural is not only for the hospital, but also for the community.

Coleman is donating his time for a cause he loves. “I paint wild life murals,” said Colman. “It’s emotional. I love all kinds of creatures. I hope it will touch people.” Colman specifically chose the German Shepard in honor of the DHS police department’s K-9 unit. Coleman owns an energetic mixed Jack Russell–Black Lab named Max.

Born and raised in Reno, Nevada, Coleman has been in the CV for two and half years. He started painting murals in 1994. Inspired by artist Robert Wyland’s marine life paintings, Coleman has painted large-scale wild life murals for schools, businesses, hospitals, private homes and an observatory.

One day, driving through town with his friend Veterinarian Paula Terifaj, owner of the Dog Spa Resort and Wellness Center, Coleman saw the blank wall. “I thought it would be ideal for a mural. Paula contacted Save A Pet and got the ball rolling,” said Coleman. “I did a sketch that Save A Pet liked and it went through to the Commission and was approved by the city.”

Coleman uses latex enamel house paint in a high-volume-low-pressure sprayer or HVLP to paint the sky, clouds, mountains and desert. “It covers quickly and is great for layering clouds,” said Coleman. “The technique makes an effect you can’t get any other way. The fuzziness creates distant for the mountains so the animals appear close-up and focused.” He painted the animals with a brush. SAP and Chris Walcott of Vista Paint in Cathedral City donated the paint.

The tortoise in the mural is SAP’s mascot, Dozer. “His shell is as big as a man’s torso,” said Colman. “He probably weighs 100lbs.” The cat is probably a female. Coleman didn’t plan it that way but said, “A lot of things that happen in a mural the artist can’t control. The universe just kind of comes through and manifests whatever it manifests.”

Coleman is hoping SAP will sponsor a contest to name the dog and cat in the mural. “Hopefully it can bring an awareness to Save A Pet and bring the community together for a good cause.”

“My mission is to bring more outdoor art to the CV with the help of other artists and local youths,” said Coleman. “I think its great that artist can paint outdoors and everybody can share in it. I’ve done a lot of youth art projects where I’ve work with teenagers and taught them to paint murals. It’s always amazing to see what they can do. It’s nice to give them a chance.”

Coleman has enjoyed his time working on the mural. “I’ve learned a lot about the people in Desert Hot Springs while painting. It has a warmer and happier spirit than it is given credit for. People stop by and say Hello. They talk about the mural, tell me what a great job I’m doing. They are very encouraging,” said Coleman. “People are noticing and they go into the animal hospital. So it’s good.”

From marine life to wild life, natural landscapes to solar systems, Coleman enjoys what he does. “Painting animals makes me feel good. I love painting. There is nothing that gives me more pleasure,” he said.

“Judy McAbee is the community development director for Save-A-Pet and none of this would have been possible without her direction, involvement and wonderful leadership,” said Coleman. “She’s the glue behind it all.”