Mark L. Morris, D.V.M., had a vision to help the animals that bring so much to our lives.
It was June 26, 1963, at Morris Animal Foundation’s Annual Meeting when Mark L. Morris Sr., D.V.M., reported on how and why the Foundation had been formed in 1948.
Dr. Morris said, “In the years between 1930 and 1950, the need for canine and feline research was very obvious in our practice- almost daily. It was most difficult to have canine or feline research done at the veterinary colleges as funds to support these institutions, mostly Land Grant Schools, were oriented toward livestock and agriculture. There was no one responsible for organizing or funding companion animal research.” A great need existed for an organization to sponsor studies concerning the health concerns of dogs and cats.
The funding that made Morris Animal Foundation possible grew out of Dr. Morris’ work as a practicing veterinarian in Edison, New Jersey, in the late 1930s. He discovered that some canine kidney ailments could be successfully managed by changing the diet from high-protein dog food to a diet containing a low amount of protein and salt. One of his first patients, Buddy, the first Seeing Eye, Inc., guide dog in this country, was suffering from kidney disease and responded favorably to this new diet.
Buddy and his owner, Morris Frank, traveled nationally to speak on behalf of The Seeing Eye, Inc. Frank was told to combine a mixture of dry cereals, vitamins, and minerals with fresh cottage cheese, fat, and meat in his hotel room, as he traveled. Frank’s blindness made it difficult for him to obtain and prepare the needed fresh foods for Buddy’s special diet. At Frank’s request, Dr. Morris’ wife, Louise, canned the mixture for Buddy in their garage. Morris Frank and his guide dog, Buddy, launched the Morris family and the veterinarians of America into dietary management of canine and feline diseases.
Eventually, the Morris Family could no longer meet the demand from other veterinarians for the special canned diet. Dr. Morris met with Mr. Hill from Topeka, Kan., who owned Hill Packing Company. The two men signed a contract for the company to package the special diets. This early success encouraged Dr. Morris to study the beneficial effects of dietary management on other dog and cat diseases such as liver and heart disease, pancreatitis, and obesity. His pioneering work led to a line of pet foods used by veterinarians. Today, these products are called Prescription Diet® pet foods.
The contract with Hill Packing Company made it possible for Dr. Morris to fulfill his dream and start a foundation dedicated to improving the health of companion animals. When Dr. Morris signed the contract with Mr. Hill, he stipulated that one-half cent per can sold would go to the newly formed Buddy Foundation, named for Morris Frank’s faithful guide dog.
At that time Dr. Morris commented, “For years animals have been used for medical research into human ills, and now it’s time that something was done for the animals themselves.”
The royalty from Hill Packing Company continued until 1968, at which time the Foundation received a financial gift to set up an endowment. The Foundation took on annual fund-raising in earnest. Today, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc., as it is now called, continues to sponsor animal health studies; in addition, individuals, corporations and animal clubs also provide financial support.
The Buddy Foundation was later renamed Morris Animal Foundation ” and today depends on the support of many generous animal-loving people to make the world’s animals healthier. Morris Frank, a spokesperson with a strong vision, became the catalyst from which Dr. Morris would pioneer veterinary medicine. Today, Dr. Morris’ dream is a reality. Since its inception in 1948, the Foundation has sponsored more than 100 studies with funds exceeding $32 million.
The quest for knowledge that makes life better for animals is achieved one small step at a time. From understanding the role of a specific enzyme, to unmasking the mysteries of a new virus, the advancement is slow. However, the achievements are often pivotal. They lead to the next important step, which may be the solution to an animal disease or disability.
Morris Animal Foundation has made significant achievements in controlling deadly diseases. It has played important roles in the discovery of vaccines for feline leukemia and canine parvovirus. It is responsible for the studies that led to the breakthrough in the development of a vaccine for Potomac horse fever.
The Foundation’s successes have been impressive, but there is still much to do. Continuous new scientific discoveries make some five-year-old findings obsolete; therefore, the need to pursue new approaches and to increase funding is ongoing.