When times are tough, there’s nothing like having a companion to see one through. For many homeless or otherwise needy people, having a pet companion is a lifeline.
But pets, like humans, need care.
That’s where the Mercer Veterinary Clinic for the Homeless comes in. Open monthly in Sacramento and operated by volunteer faculty, students and practitioners at UC Davis’ William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the clinic provides basic and emergency veterinary care, as well as pet food — free.
When the holidays roll around, Mercer Clinic volunteers coordinate a pet basket drive. Monetary donations are collected to help fill 130 holiday-wrapped boxes with toys, treats, leashes, food and pet-care products, as well as sweaters and coats.
The drive celebrated its 18th year in 2013, "and we are grateful to members of the public for the generous monetary donations that have allowed us to continue,” said Eileen Samitz, who coordinates the holiday basket program.
The clinic also offers a great opportunity for UC Davis veterinary students. Not only are they able to utilize a clinical application of their studies, but they also gain valuable time working with and learning from practicing veterinarians. Students must follow up on their cases — if waiting on test results — by contacting the clients, which in turn teaches them valuable communication skills.
The Mercer Veterinary Clinic is one of a number of UC programs — for pets and humans alike — that help Californians in need. Student-run clinics at all UC medical school campuses — Davis, Irvine, UCLA, San Diego and San Francisco — serve thousands of human patients. Some are homeless, some are the working poor; all are in need of basic medical care just outside their financial reach.
“The need is infinite,” said Dr. Ellen Beck, who helped start UC San Diego’s Student-Run Free Clinic Project in 1997. The clinic provides medical care, health counseling and even legal services for more than 2,000 people a year at four San Diego locations.
Similarly, UC Davis operates seven such clinics in Sacramento, offering culturally sensitive health care to a broad spectrum of patients. The UCSF Homeless Clinic serves homeless and transiently-housed people in San Francisco. UC Irvine Outreach Clinics serve English- and Spanish-speaking patients in Orange, with plans to expand to mobile sites in Orange County. For more than a decade, UCLA’s Mobile Clinic Project has set up shop Wednesday nights at a corner in West Hollywood, providing medical and legal services, and dispensing medicine, clothing and hygiene kits. UCLA’s mobile clinic was inspired by the Suitcase Clinic, which is run by students at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and the UCSF Joint Medical Program.
There’s no questioning the impact these clinics have. Spencer, a Los Angeleno who relies on UCLA’s mobile clinic, said it best: “They save lives.”