The Mercer Clinic Holiday Pet Baskets and Winter Pet Coat and Sweater Program

The gift of holiday cheer… one squeaky toy at a time!

The gift of holiday cheer… one squeaky toy at a time!

Learn how to support the Mercer Clinic Holiday Pet Basket and Winter Coat program here!

a history of holiday hope

a firsthand account of the mercer clinic holiday pet basket and coat gift program…

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 Veterinary Clinic for the Pets of 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. 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 28th year doing the Holiday Pet Basket event.

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. To this day, the Clinic is still held every month at the Loaves and Fishes complex at 1321 West “C” St. in Sacramento.

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.

Veterinary student “elves,” Mercer Clinic officers, also help us with assembling, transporting and distributing the holiday pet baskets. These Mercer Officers themselves are regular volunteers at the Mercer Clinic during the school year. We appreciate the extra time that they invest in the pet basket program each year; the event has been an inspiration and a joy to all involved.

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 now yearly use up our entire supply of coats and sweaters, we are in great need of 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.

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. Last year we were inspired by the support we received as we went about the difficult task of raising enough donations to fully fund and supply the program. However, we were fortunate enough to see generous contributions from several 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 supply 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 are demonstrating 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. We have been fortunate enough to have been given pledges of donations or discounts in the past from 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, but the generous support of individual contributors provides the lion’s share of the program’s very lean budget.

Several years ago we learned that, unfortunately, the pets are the homeless are generally not allowed into the homeless shelters with their owners. So, we added the Mercer Winter Pet Coat and Sweater Program to help these special pets get through the cold and wet winters. This important program has helped many of pets of the homeless, particularly older or more frail pets, survive the winters. Last year we issued over 250 pets coats and 250 sweaters; however, we need even more generous contributions to continue this program, since it has become vital to the survival of these special pets.

As one might imagine, in order to produce 130 baskets filled with gifts, and also provide our winter coat distribution program, 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, last year. However, we wish to remind everyone that every year we rely on the kindness of the public 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.

To make a financial donation (which is tax deductible) the Mercer Clinic Holiday Pet Baskets and Coats Program, 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. Please include a donation form printout, which can be downloaded here.

Alternatively, you can make a donation for the Holiday Pet Baskets on the web at the UC Davis Give programs link:

All donations are tax-deductible and all donors receive a confirmation receipt for any monetary donations.

Mercer Veterinary Clinic and the crew of the Holiday Pet Baskets and Winter Pet Coat and Sweater program wish to thank all of our financial contributors for your generosity. Thanks also to all the volunteer participants that help us to continue these two programs. 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

Mercer Clinic Holiday Pet Baskets and Winter Coat Program Donations Page.

Downloadable form for donations by mail (click here).

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.

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 website here and our facebook page.

The year-round operations of the clinic are separately funded from the Holiday Basket program. We highly encourage you to be a part of our pet basket funding for this year, but a donation to the clinic itself would not go amiss as well! For anyone who wishes to make a financial donation to the Mercer Vet Clinic for the Homeless please have a look at our direct donation page here. Either way (or if you choose to give to both!) we appreciate you sharing a part in our mission to deliver health and wellness to the pets and people of our hometown.

For other questions and further information, you can also email:

Images on all come from actual clinic events. Images courtesy of the Mercer Clinic student historians, used with permission.