All dogs go to haven

UC Davis vet-student volunteers still assist homeless pets after death of downtown clinic’s founder

For more info on the Mercer Veterinary Clinic for the Homeless, visit or call (530) 752-1143.

Mary, an older woman with frosty white hair similar to her Spanish water dog’s snowy fur, is homeless. “My dog is all I really have,” she says. This is why the duo and many other homeless dogs and owners are waiting in line this beautiful Saturday morning in February to take advantage of a free UC Davis veterinary-student-run clinic at Loaves & Fishes.

Each second Saturday of the month, students volunteer services at Mercer Verterniary Clinic for the Homeless, from spaying and neutering to checkups and emergency surgeries, to help the animal companions of Sacramento’s disadvantaged. “Knowing that people are here to help [my dog] stay healthy and remain my buddy means so much to me,” Mary explains.

The Mercer program allows vet students to get hands-on experience in their field, in addition to offering their unique skills to help the less fortunate. As early as 6 a.m., people begin to line up while the vet staff set up a station at 1321 North C Street, where they will work well into the afternoon.

The Mercer Clinic was founded in the early ’80s by Anneke Vos, known for saying often, “If you heal the pet, the pet will heal the owner.” Vos is responsible for creating ties between the UC Davis veterinary school and Loaves & Fishes. When you speak with those who frequent the clinic, you hear Vos’ name come up over and over again.

In January, however, Vos headed home with a heavy heart after a day of working with the animals she loved at the place she adored, and passed away.

Close friend and Loaves & Fishes volunteer Mark Chacon says that Vos’ aspiration was to simply “do everything she could to make sure no pet would suffer and no pet would go hungry.” For years, Chacon listened to Vos’ dream of getting a brand-new kennel at the Mercer site, a place where animals could be safe and cared for while owners received services.

After hard work by volunteers and many donations, the kennel is now a reality. “I called her days before she passed, telling her that the kennel was almost done,” Chacon said. “I remember her being very happy about that. She said she would be celebrating with her husband,” who had passed away years earlier.

The kennel has since been fully completed and proudly displays a sign that reads “The Anneke Vos Kennel.”

Since Vos’ passing, though, the Mercer Clinic-Loaves & Fishes partnership faces many challenges; she kept track of clients and ensured records were well-maintained.

So now, everyone who utilizes the Mercer Clinic must verify that they are in fact homeless. They also need to arrive at the clinic with an already-completed application in hand.

UC Davis vet student Smitha Srinath says that she loves helping animals who would never be seen by doctors otherwise. “We not only help heal,” she says, “but we help prevent.” For instance, the Mercer Clinic offers checkups and free heartworm medication, which decreases the spread of an illnesses among area pets.

Srinath walks over to a dog and puts pressure its bleeding paw. “It gets really busy here, but ultimately it is all extremely rewarding; actually being out here and interacting with the community offers a priceless level of learning.”

In addition to the one-on-one veterinary attention, each pet that visits the clinic leaves with food and any necessary prescriptions, including heartworm and flea medications. Recently, dog coats were handed out for the cold winter months. Clients also are given access to a hot line to call and speak with a vet or vet student in case of emergencies. It is estimated that at least 40 animals are treated each month.

“Many people underestimate how much a pet companion means to the homeless out here,” says Mary, white-haired owner of the white-haired pooch. “Sometimes, they are the only things you can count on.”