A Friend In Need

The Mercer Clinic for Pets of the Homeless sees that homeless animals get the care they need and deserve, too.

Back Article Jul 25, 2016 By Jennifer von Geldern

Founded by UC Davis students in 1992, and located at Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento, the Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless serves not only animals, but the people who love them and the community as a whole.

“This clinic is a success story,” says CEO Dr. Laurel Gershwin, who is also a veterinarian and UCD professor of immunology. Gershwin says that because founders Dr. Frank Lutz and the late Dr. Tom Kendall had such a strong relationship with the City of Sacramento, and through the dedication of university faculty, students, and private veterinary practitioners, the clinic has been successfully operating for nearly 25 years.

The Mercer Clinic helps heal animals and helps heal the souls of their human companions. “Animals give unconditional love, and anyone who’s homeless needs that as much as anything else,” Gershwin concludes. “By helping the animals, we are helping the people.”

Through the years, Mercer has had temporary sites at Loaves and Fishes with rooms, trailers and corners of warehouses, but was permanently established about two years ago in an 80- by 20-foot prefabricated building, complete with electricity and plumbing. “Now we have individual exam rooms, storage for prescription veterinary diets, pharmaceutical and lab equipment, and an isolation room, which helps control the spread of infectious agents,” Gershwin notes.

However, the clinic’s surgery suite needs an anesthesia machine, surgical instruments and a surgical table — its dated ultrasound equipment could stand an upgrade, too. Fundraising for the nonprofit is an ongoing commitment. “I work with students in fundraising opportunities and writing grants to maintain our overall financial stability,” says Mercer CFO Dr. Alissa Burnett. “The short term goal, though, is $75,000 to get our surgical suite functional. We need to be able to do our own surgeries so we don’t have to pay other clinics.”

Currently, the Sacramento SPCA performs Mercer’s spaying and neutering, and some private veterinary practices perform surgeries at reduced costs. “We’re a nonprofit organization and don’t receive a penny from the university,” Gershwin says. “We exist on private donations and grants when we can get them.”

The clinic has facilitated the spaying or neutering of more than 1,200 animals since 1993. “The animals we serve would not have any veterinary care if it weren’t for us,” Burnett says. “In that way, we’re helping control parasites, communicable diseases and pet overpopulation.”

The clinic has received the 1998 American Veterinary Medical Association Humane Award, the 2005 Sacramento SPCA “Humane-itarian” Award and the 2015 Presidential Award for Community Service. A board of interested laypeople, veterinarians and veterinary students guide the clinic, and the all-volunteer staff comprises veterinarians (some from UC Davis and some from private practice), veterinary students and undergraduate students in the vet aide club.

The clinic provides vet students, supervised by licensed veterinarians, with a rich opportunity in high-quality medicine, technical skills, budgeting and client relationships. “Our UCD vet med teaching hospital has every possible diagnostic you could want, but at Mercer we do with very little,” Gershwin says. “Students learn to diagnose without all the fancy gadgets, with just their eyes, ears, nose and hands, in addition to gaining invaluable experience with clients in a clinical setting.”

The clinic is open the second Saturday of each month, and clients often begin to gather before dawn, as service is on a first-come-first-served basis.