The Mercer Veterinary Clinic will continue its 13-year long tradition of making holiday gift baskets for pets of the homeless this December.
“These baskets help make the holidays a little brighter for these special animals and their loving owners,” said Eileen Samitz, the holiday pet basket coordinator. “These animals are not only pets, but they are warmth, comfort and sometimes protection, and often they are the only family that these less fortunate folks have.”
The Mercer Clinic is a nonprofit organization operated by faculty, resident and student volunteers from UC Davis’s Veterinary School and relies on donations from the public and different companies for its continuing services.
On the second Saturday of every month, the Mercer clinic also provides free medical care for pets of the homeless. The second Saturday of December is an especially joyful visit for these pets, as they receive special present from the staff, the “Santas,” and the students, the “elves.”
“The gift boxes are the frosting on the cake,” said Laurel Gershwin, a UCD professor in Veterinary Medicine who regularly volunteers for the clinic.
Mercer volunteers stuff food, treats, leashes, care items and an assortment of toys in empty boxes covered with holiday wrapping paper each year. The holiday baskets are brought to the Mercer Pet Clinic in Sacramento where an expected 80 wagging tails and 50 felines are waiting patiently to get their free monthly checkup.
“We give them routine healthy animal treatment and provide up to date on vaccinations and medicine,” Gershwin said.
The holiday basket program was started in 1995 by staff of the Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital and operates within the Mercer clinic.
“There wouldn’t be people to give out the boxes if there is no clinic,” Gershwin said.
In the first year, 25 baskets were produced for the event. The number of baskets increased rapidly in the following years, eventually reaching 130 last year. This year’s goal for the event is to produce 130 again, Samitz said.
“No recipients are selected,” she said. “All will receive a basket, thus there is a need for at least 130 baskets.”
The cost for these 130 baskets is estimated to be around $2,500, which covers the cost to continue the program each year. The money comes entirely from donations and fundraising, Samitz said.
Among the past recipients is Ruby, a homeless Sacramento woman, and her lab-mix Beethoven, who Ruby refers to as her “son.”
Beethoven serves as Ruby’s protector and guards her from danger, while keeping her warm in the cold evenings, she said. Ruby told the volunteers of Beethoven’s heroic act when he awakened her after her sleeve caught on fire because she slept too close to the flames, saving her from what would have been a deadly situation.
Beethoven, too, is indebted to Ruby. She saved the puppy from drowning in a gunnysack after he was thrown into the Sacramento River. They have been inseparable ever since.
“Ruby’s smiling face and Beethoven’s wagging tail while she opened up his gifts from Santa was heartwarming to all of us,” said the Mercer volunteers in letter on the organization’s website.
This represents what Mercer is about, Samitz said, which is providing free care and a little joy for families like Ruby and Beethoven, not just for the holidays, but throughout the year.
“Just seeing how important these animals are to them and the good care that they give to their companion. It makes you feel that it is all worth it,” said Samantha Klau, a UCD Veterinary student volunteer.
Nicole Ho, also a UCD Veterinary student volunteer, said that Mercer provides these people with a service that they usually cannot afford.
“It provides them a way to help their companion, or in some cases the only family that these people have,” Ho said.
This will be the first year that a lightweight cleanable brush, which should last the entire year, is provided in each basket, Samitz said. Samitz has been searching for this type of product for five years.
Also it will be the first time that the canine companions will get a tug toy and the felines will get a cat teaser in their gift baskets. These items are important since they promote human and pet interactions, Samitz said.
“The Holiday Pet event and the Mercer Clinic mean so much to the homeless folks with pets,” Samitz said. “We feel that these special pets deserve to have a happy holiday as well. We rely on the generosity of the public to continue since the holiday event and the Mercer Clinic could not exist without the help of these donations.”
For more information about the holiday baskets for pets of the homeless or to donate to the cause, visit vetmed.ucdavis.edu/clubs/mercer/donation_holiday.html.
MINH PHAM can be reached at email@example.com.