Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless

History of Mercer Holiday Baskets

The Mercer Clinic Holiday Pet Baskets and Winter Pet Coast and Sweater Program 2015: An Overview

A group of volunteers at the UCD Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) has carried on a tradition of making holiday pet “baskets” for the Mercer Pet Clinic for the Homeless since 1995. The pet basket tradition stemmed from a VMTH staff newsletter meeting (The VOICE) where the group discussed how they could help with a holiday charity project. After brainstorming a while, Marcia Nelson and Becky Griffey came up with the great idea of making holiday pet baskets for the pets of the homeless through the Mercer Veterinary Clinic associated with the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. This year we are celebrating our 20th year doing the Holiday Pet Basket event.

Historically, the Mercer Veterinary Clinic was started by vet students Randy Singer and Dori Borjesson in1992. It was modeled on the Doney free pet clinic in Seattle that they had heard about at the time. The clinic was named after a fictional character with an ability to share an empathetic response. The Mercer Pet Clinic is a non-profit organization which offers free veterinary care monthly, for the pets of the homeless and is operated by volunteer veterinary faculty, residents, and students from the UC Davis Veterinary School and relies entirely on donations. The Clinic is held the second Saturday of every month at the Loaves and Fishes complex at 1321 West “C” St. in Sacramento between 8 AM and 12 Noon. Veterinarians who volunteer regularly include UCD faculty member Dr. Laurel Gershwin who has been the faculty head of the program for many years and Dr. Frank Lux D.V.M... The need for the holiday pet basket program was evident to all of us who saw the photos of the first event, where the delighted pet owners and their pets seemed to be having a great time. It was clear from the feedback and the photos that these very special pets were more like family, than a pet, to their loving owners. Our group was moved and motivated to make this an annual event. Although these less fortunate folks did not have the means to give gifts to their beloved pets, we could help by continuing to organize this event annually, and making the holidays a little brighter for them.

Traditionally, the VMTH newsletter staff wrap the pet “baskets” (i.e. open empty boxes) with holiday wrapping before a noontime “Holiday Pet Basket Stuffing” gathering.  Original VMTH newsletter members who still participate annually include Becky Griffey, and Eileen Samitz. Becky Griffey was the coordinator between 1995 until 1998 and Eileen Samitz has been the coordinator since 1998. These pet basket “elves” will be joined by other helpers, including UCD current or former staff members Becky Griffey, Judy Wall, Marion Derby, Monica Kratochvil, Diane Nayden, Jeanne Brown, Barbara Fowler, Felicia DonRussello, and Matt Nichols. We are grateful Pat Bailey and Trina Wood for helping us coordinate with the media to share this event with the UCD staff and the public. We are also ever so grateful to Celeste Borelli and Beatrice Le for their kind help in processing the donations.

The veterinary student “elves” also help us every year are the Mercer Pet Clinic for the Homeless officers who help us every year assembling, transporting and distributing the holiday pet baskets. These Mercer Officers are also regular volunteers at the Mercer Clinic during the school year. This years “basket stuffin” will be noon on  Wednesday December 9th and, distribution will be on Saturday, Dec. 14th  starting at 8AM until approximately 3PM at the Mercer Clinic site at 1321 West “C” St. in Sacramento near “Loaves and Fishes”.

In the first year, the holiday pet basket event produced 25 baskets. In subsequent years, the number increased to 40, then 75, 90, 100, 110, 120 and eventually 130 last year. This year our goal is to make 130 baskets again. The pet “baskets” are sorted by being intended for a dog or cat and labeled accordingly, then filled with a variety of gifts such as food, treats, and of course, toys for the pets.  In 2012 we voiced the need for sweaters and coats for the dogs to have warmer winter and we were fortunate enough to raise the money to provide sweaters and/or coats for the dogs who came to the Mercer Clinic in the winter months. We provided sweaters to a few cats of Mercer clients who would tolerate wearing them! Since we have now depleted the supply of coats and sweaters we are in great need to generous donations to continue this coat and sweater program for these special pets to help them weather the cold and wet elements that they face in our region now.

The ability to provide the Mercer Clinic holiday pet baskets relies entirely on the generosity of donations from animal lovers who wish to help these needy pets, and pet supply companies who are kind enough to donate as well. This year appeared to be an especially difficult one for donations, due to hard economic times nationwide. However, we were fortunate enough to get donations from most companies, as well as donations from VMTH staff due to word traveling throughout the VMTH.  Hearing about our need, our terrific VMTH staff, plus other pet lovers outside of the VMTH, responded immediately with their kind donations of money and pet items. The staff of VMTH is known for their love of animals, reflected on a daily basis by their dedication to help and heal the animals that come to the VMTH. Once again, they demonstrated their commitment to caring for animals, by helping the pets of the homeless this year.

Although the baskets are distributed at Christmas time, Mercer Clinic welcomes donations all year round, since it relies primarily on donations to operate. Our needs for the Holiday Pet Basket event is greater this year since we started a coats and sweater program for the pets of the homeless two years ago to help these special pets weather the cold and wet winter elements that they face. The coat and sweater supply depleted this year so we so need your help to be able to continue this much needed program. So you generous donations are needed this year more than ever.

We have been fortunate enough to have been given pledges of donations or discounts so far from the following companies such as Purina-Nestle, Hills/ Science Diet, Virbac., Butler - Schein Animal Health Supply, Pet Edge, UPCO, Dechra Veterinary Products, Merial, Merck, M.W.I, and Elanco.

As one might imagine, in order to produce 130 baskets filled with gifts, it takes many contributors to make it a success. Thanks to all the above participants we had the ingredients to produce the biggest and best holiday pet basket event ever. However, we wish to remind everyone that every year we rely on the kindness of others to help these very special pets who are more than a pet. Instead, they are the constant companions and family members to the less fortunate.  For more information or any questions please contact Eileen Samitz at or call (530) 756-5165 evenings or weekends. To make a financial donation (which is tax deductible) to the Mercer Clinic and the Mercer Clinic Holiday Pet baskets please make your check to: UC Regents - Mercer Clinic Holiday Pet Baskets and send it to UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Office of the Dean, P.O. Box 1167, Davis CA 95617-1167, Attn. Mercer Holiday Pet Baskets. Alternatively, you can make a donation for the Holiday Pet Baskets on the web by simply choosing the “Mercer Clinic Holiday Pet Baskets” option under, “What can I support? Choose an opportunity” at:

To learn more about the Holiday Pet Basket event see our website about the annual holiday pet baskets at:

For anyone who wishes to make a financial donation to the Mercer Vet Clinic for the Homeless please e-mail or leave a message at (530) 752-1143. To send a financial donation (which is tax deductible) for the year-round monthly clinic, please make your check to: Mercer Vet Clinic and mail it to: Mercer Pet Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless, P.O. Box 297, Davis CA, 95617. You can also make a donation for the Mercer Clinic by Paypal at:

Mercer Clinic has recently managed to obtain a more permanent facility, however we continue to need donations towards $100,000 needed to complete the facility and towards operational costs. Mercer Veterinary Clinic for Pets of the Homeless has been proud to receive a number of awards including: the Biberstein Social Action Award in 2009 and  2015, the Outstanding Community Service Award in 2013 and 2015, the UC Davis Civic Engagement Award in 2015, and the Presidential Award for Community Service in 2015 from President Obama.

To learn more about Mercer Veterinary Clinic please see our website at for more information about the year round services that are provided by the Mercer Vet Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless. We invite you to see our new Video “A Day at Mercer Veterinary Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless” and our “Photo Gallery” on our website which helps show what Mercer is all about at:

Mercer Vet Clinic and the crew of the Holiday Pet Baskets wish to thank all the participants in our event and we also wish everyone a wonderful and happy holiday season.

For any questions regarding this overview about the Mercer Holiday Pet Baskets please contact:

Eileen M. Samitz, MT, (ASCP), M.A.

Coordinator, Mercer Clinic Holiday Pet Baskets and Winter Pet Coat and Sweater Program

(530) 756-5165 (H)

You will find more information about the year round services that are provided by the Mercer Veterinary Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless through our home page at:   

And you can also email:

Mercer Veterinary Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless and the crew of the Holiday Pet Baskets and Winter Pet Coat and Sweater Program wish to thank all the contributors for our programs and we also wish everyone a wonderful and happy holiday season!