Holiday Inspiration 2018

"He's just so itchy, see, look!" said my client, gesturing for my attention.  I was part of a team of about six people, variously veterinary students and undergraduate students, all helping with the office visit for this family and their four pets at Mercer Clinic.  I was assigned to the itchy pet in question.  From the record and from my physical exam, even though I’m still in training as a clinician, I had a pretty good idea what was causing the itching.  We were only waiting for my overseeing DVM to come and discuss the case with me, and write out the appropriate prescriptions.  I was getting a little concerned, though, because this was the fifth time that the client had pointed out the itching episodes that we were, hopefully, going to have a cure for very soon.  I was concerned that I hadn’t done enough to communicate with the client, to understand his observations and to communicate what we were going to do for his itchy best friend.  With their minimal means, our clients manage to get to our monthly clinic with their pets, and often wait for hours so that their animals can be seen.  I feel honored by their trust, and I want to honor their care for their pets, by providing them with my very best service.  It concerns me if there’s any sign of miscommunication or misunderstanding during a visit, so I was doing my best to understand whether anything had gone wrong.

When the volunteer DVM overseeing our team began examining my itchy patient, he repeated his concern to the vet, “Look, he’s just so itchy!” as the dog started happily scratching away again.  I had been hearing my client’s words, but only then did I truly understand their meaning.  He was not expressing frustration with how things were going, or doubt about my team’s ability to take care of the problem.  It was a little vague to me at first, but my client was actually expressing something very positive with his metronomic reminders about his dog’s condition:  the thing that he was expressing, was care.

Veterinary students practice communication in labs and scenarios, but the entirety of our professional communication cannot be summed up between the start and stop of an office visit or a phone call.  We need to broaden our view.  We should realize that clients who walk into our clinics with their four-footed best friends in tow, in that very act, are communicating a profound kind of trust in our profession.  They are placing the health of family members into the capable care of veterinary professionals and paraprofessionals.  At a charity clinic like Mercer, the fact that people are willing to wait patiently all morning and most of the day to get care for their pets, shows the respect and value that they place on the service we provide.  It also communicates the care and effort that they put into their animals’ wellbeing every day, as all good pet owners do.  On the other side of the exam table, vet students who do their best with every assignment and every clinical encounter – who even volunteer extra time to care for the pets affected by disasters such as the wildfires this summer, as many of my peers did – communicate just how passionate they are about caring, how dedicated they are to a lifestyle of humankindness.

All these things – inspirational peers, dedicated mentors, and clients who are doing their very best for their animals – surround me with hope and confidence in the field of veterinary medicine.  Pets can bring out the best in us, and pet care is a nexus where very different people can share their best with one another through their mutual interest in nurturing our animal companions.

As we wrapped up our visit, our itchy friend was already looking more comfortable, and his concerned caregiver was unambiguously relieved.  Their family was one of the last groups seen by the clinic that Saturday.  Not only were they some of the most patient clients of the day, but they were also some of the most grateful.  Our medical team saw four pets, addressed nine health concerns among them, and sent away one big, happy family at the end of the day.  That’s the kind of day that inspires a person like myself to keep doing one’s best in his or her training and career development.  It’s fuel for another day and another year.  For me, it’s what made 2018 a wonderful year to be a part of Mercer Clinic.

Thank you to everyone – volunteers, donors, internet friends, clients, and pets – who were involved with Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless in 2018.  You all make this amazing experience possible. Happy Holidays, and many blessings in the coming year!

by Russ-Erik Darnell

DVM Candidate, UCD School of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2021

Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless Webmaster and Historian

Mercer in the News! Nov 2018

Mercer in the News! Check out this article from local print news outlet ENTERPRISE, celebrating the 23rd anniversary of the Holiday Pet Baskets Program that adds some holiday cheer to our December clinic each year, thanks to a wonderful team of volunteers. Also, don’t forget that you can support the holiday pet baskets program here!

October/November Clinic Update

October clinic saw the summer heat finally giving way to a cooler fall. Wait times were longer than we wanted because a number of our volunteers were away for conferences or other reasons. However, congrats to the smaller team of volunteers that were able to come and run the clinic that day; you all still saw over 100 pets!

November clinic was heavily impacted by the smoke from the California fires. The haze was thick, but our pets and clients brought us sunny cheer to brighten up the gloom! Special thanks to the first year veterinary student volunteers, who came in force this clinic. Thanks to everyone’s hard work, our entire schedule of pets for the day was seen, and the clinic closed completely on time this month. See you all again for our big December clinic event, and don’t forget to support the Holiday Pet Baskets Program as we prepare for our holiday clinic!

September Clinic Update

September Clinic ran smoothly, with the influx of students back for the new term and more volunteers from the new Veterinary Medicine Class of 2022 joining us at the clinic (thank you, first years)! It took me a while to gather the data about the September clinic, but turned out September was a big kitty month for Mercer! We had about 120 patients, this time with 40 cats and 80 dogs. The kitties are taking over!

August/September Inspiration: "Intersections"

September clinic at Mercer was noticeably cooler than clinic day in August.  Here, on the first day of fall, the change of seasons reminds me that I’m approaching a full year of volunteering with Mercer Clinic.  I’ve seen our little outreach building in just about every kind of weather that our (admittedly mild) Northern California climate offers.  In a sense, my total time at the clinic has been brief – especially since our clinic day happens monthly – but at the same time, a year is not a small part of a human life.

In a similar way, the human connections I’ve seen at the clinic would be considered brief to any outside observer – and yet they are disproportionately impactful.  As month follows month, each time I volunteer I’m starting to see more than one familiar face during the day.  Beyond familiar, in fact.  It would be fair to call many of these familiar faces – human, canine, or feline – friends.  The human ability to bond with another being through empathy can transcend the limitations of time, place, differences of experience, and sometimes even differences of species!

Meditating on how these admittedly brief vet/patient/client visits have affected my life, inspires me to improve the other encounters in my life.  Every day we reach many intersections.  We cross paths with other drivers or pedestrians at literal intersections on roads.  We have brief interactions with the stranger behind the counter or the person coming out the door.  Every meeting, every intersection, is a snapshot of two lives:  lives full of individual history, cares, and hopes.  In that intersection, those two lives share a connection, if for the briefest of moments, and that’s our opportunity to pour something good from our lives into others.

In sharing goodness, enriching other lives, we enrich our own.  That is an idea which I have observed to ring true – both for myself, and for my fellow volunteers at Mercer.  Seeing these new friends each month is a refreshing reminder of what we are trying to do as medical professionals.  It’s a reminder of our drive to bring healing to the world around us.  It’s an encouragement for us to maintain our studies, so that we will have high quality knowledge and skills.  That knowledge and skillfulness is the gift that our lives will give to those around us throughout our careers.

A gift of empathy doesn’t have to be career-defining to change someone’s life, though – or, at least, to change their day.  No matter what your occupation or your social position, you have the opportunity, time and again each day, to turn a chance encounter into a memory.  Let’s join together to make fellow lives better!  Maybe you can find an opportunity to be kind rather than angry at that guy who cut you off in traffic.  Maybe you take a moment to share a friendly greeting with a stranger passing in the hall.  Maybe you choose to slow down for a moment to tell that loved one you interact with all day long, how much you appreciate them being a positive part of your life.  These moments we share make our lives brighter too.  Even a dog recognizes someone they got along well with last month.  Even a nervous kitty can relax a bit when they meet a human who was kind before.  Taking a moment to enrich one another works for our best friends; surely it can work for humans too!

by Russ-Erik Darnell

DVM Candidate, UCD School of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2021

Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless Webmaster and Historian

July Inspiration: “Rescue”

“I rescued this dog!” my client said proudly, as her delightful little Chihuahua mix wiggled happily in her arms.  The young woman standing there with her dog, at one of our outside pet exam tables, could not boast of any material prosperity as the world defines it. At the time, she didn't even have a roof over her head, not a home to call her own. Home was just an idea between her and her dog. She told me a story of abuse and neglect that had led to a pup almost being drowned in the River.  When the she saw the little creature’s life on the line, she stepped in with her rescue.  “You sure did rescue her!  Looks like she’s doing great,” I said as I listened to her story, and examined a happy, healthy, well-cared-for pet.

I've had similar conversations many times at Mercer.  There's always a special glow to a person as they assert, "I rescued this pet."  It's like seeing the perfection of our humanness, glimpsing someone's ideal self.  Hearing the statement so frequently from our Mercer clients has made me reevaluate my mental image of the term "pet rescue."  I realized that somehow my mental picture implicitly involved more -- well -- resources.  I guess that, before, I mostly pictured a family from the suburbs going to the shelter and picking out a pet for their kids.  Here, at Mercer Clinic, I found an equally valid interpretation of “rescue.”  The image of these fine folks, who were sharing what little they had with a fellow creature, even represented the idea of “rescue” better than my old mental image had.  They proved that you don't have to be rich to rescue a pet -- you don't even have to be moderately prosperous.  These beautiful people are doing a service of inestimable value to society, keeping precious creatures out of our crowded shelters, creating homes where there were none before.

We in the medical profession, student and doctor and teacher and assistant alike, pride ourselves on thinking with precision.  Our thoughts are disciplined.  Our opinions and impressions are meticulously shaped by research, honest observation, and Facts.  It's not often that we find a mental definition that we need to refine.  That's why I feel compelled to write down what I learned about "rescue."

As I worked on improving my definition of “rescue,” I remembered the common saying in shelter work, “This dog rescued me.”  It turns out that we can be rescued not just FROM something bad but TO something better.  The bonds I see between people and their pets are most often two-way rescues for both parties.  The pet is living an enriched, healthier life; and the person is expressing their natural capacity for care.  Both are thriving together.

For myself, treating a pet's health, helping that bond to thrive, is my rescue.  As Sherlock Holmes would say, it's "rescue from ennui."  Veterinary medicine is a vocation that brings interest and excitement, challenge and accomplishment to my work life.  Beyond that, it's also rescue to a life of caring, the opportunity to be just one player in a person's story and a pet's story. 

Our work at Mercer brings people together.  Students, clinicians, organizers, undergrads -- all of them volunteers -- work with and for some of the most humble and authentically caring pet people you could ever meet.  During a clinic day we are care providers and medical consultants to these wonderful people and their pets.  Beyond that, for the brief duration of an office visit, we get to be someone's friend.  Friend to our brother or sister of the human race, but also friend to the canine and feline beings who associate with us and make our lives richer.  Relationships are our true wealth.  My work here reminds me of that so clearly.  It's a lesson I want to keep in mind for the rest of my career.  It's how I want to practice medicine for every one of my patients, for as long as I’m allowed to stay on this earth and do this work. This is what veterinary medicine means to me and to my peers.  This is a life, rescued.  This is a life that thrives.  This is Mercer clinic.


If you'd like to support the work of Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless, click the donate button on our Facebook page at
You can also support via Amazon Smile at
If you are a veterinarian or pre-veterinary student who would like to volunteer with us, you can contact our team via our Facebook page or by email at

Our inspirational thought for July is written by Erik Darnell, DVM candidate in the class of 2021 at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Historian and Webmaster for Mercer Clinic.

July Clinic Update

Mercer Clinic continues to press on through this July heat!  Our July clinic day, on Saturday the 14th, ran smoothly despite the fact that many of our student volunteers are still not back for the next term.  We saw about our average volume of pets this month.  We're working on ideas to make fast visits, like for picking up preventive care only, even faster so we can see more pets during our limited time.  Thanks to everyone who continues to support us, and stay tuned for the full launch of our new website this month!

June Clinic Update

June clinic update: The heat was turning up in the Sacramento area for our June 9th clinic, we almost got to triple digits! Despite the heat and the fact that a lot of our student volunteers are away on summer break, we had a good turnout this month. The team saw over 120 pets this month, and the clinic ran smoothly. Great job everyone! See you next month. --Erik

June Inspiration: Health, Care

Early on a Saturday morning in one of the poorest communities of the greater Sacramento area, a team of volunteers gathers. Current veterinary students, many of whom have spent dozens of their precious few personal hours through the month planning, organizing, and raising funds for their all-day volunteer clinic, are here to share their growing skills with the least privileged among us. Community and faculty veterinarians arrive, after their 40-60+ hour work weeks, just to help make a few more lives happier and healthier. A team of pre-veterinary students supports the care team through the day, expressing the compassion of the field to which they are pledging many, many years of their futures.

Outside our small clinic, our humble clients with their four-footed friends, our patients, gather in the parking lot. In the clinician/client/patient relationships that occur at our clinic, something miraculous happens. For a moment, a client who may own nothing in this world but the clothes on his back is no longer one of the most forgotten in our society. As we talk about the healthcare of his pet, he becomes just another pet owner, a partner and peer with all these esteemed persons who have teamed up to deliver that care. For a moment, one of our fellow humans -- who might not know where she’s going to find shelter tonight -- can escape being viewed as homeless person, because she is her pet’s home.

Decades of experience; thousands of hours of study; lifetimes of passion for living things -- they all crystalize in a moment of diagnosis. “Yes, sir, your puppy looks healthy. You’re doing a great job caring for him; here’s some preventive treatment to keep him in good health.” “Yes, ma’am, I think we know why your dog is limping. We can help her feel better.” Our effort to help their companions thrive is our contribution to the health of humanity. This is what our careers in veterinary medicine mean to us. This is compassion. This is Mercer Clinic.

If you'd like to support the work of Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless, click the donate button on our Facebook page at
You can also support via Amazon Smile at
If you are a veterinarian or pre-veterinary student who would like to volunteer with us, you can contact our team via our Facebook page or by email at