As we leisurely stroll down life’s bucolic lanes and roads, with a lollygag here and a vegetative gaze there, resembling a giraffe staring into a camera, we barely notice subtle changes such as the dulling of our taste buds and the growing pleasure of afternoon naps on sofas singing seductive songs, inviting forbidden time away from the computer.
I find myself becoming heavy handed with herbs and spices in cooking or ordering in a restaurant. There’s a reason that Emeril Lagasse’s audience applauds when he merely mentions the word garlic or goes “”BAM”” as he splashes in more blobs of hot sauce or empties a wine bottle in the gravy. These are the garlic years. Don’t laugh. Okay, laugh with the understanding that all this helps. The point is that every once in a while we snap out of it for a minute or two and realize that the times of our lives are passing in a blur like Turnpike scenery from car windows. Now and then, it’s a good thing to stop for a breather, to get out of the car and actually look at the trees, to remember the important times we’ve had and to relish with playful curiosity the times ahead.
I never met Mark Morris, Sr. By the time I came on to the scene, he was already a distinguished veterinarian and a legend for his innovations of pet foods formulated for specific ailments and the time frames of an animal’s life. He had already created the pet nutrition formulas that ultimately became Science Diet and Prescription Diet. By then, Mark Morris, Sr. had retired and passed the helm to his very gifted and truly brilliant son Mark L. Morris, Jr. with whom I have maintained a valued friendship for years. I particularly enjoy thinking about the health and nutrition seminar in Northern New Jersey at which we first met.
It was some time within the second week of October 1974 and the entire East Coast was enjoying an Indian summer. Actually, it was very hot. Water dripped down our white shirts and we praised the motel for its air conditioner. I remember all this because my wife was pregnant with our first child and almost two weeks past her due date. And like all first-time, about-to-be fathers I was a nervous wreck. She was determined to deliver her baby with natural childbirth techniques, which involved my participation, God help me. I left her with the phone number for the motel where the seminar was being given. No cell phones then. Considering that New Yorkers living in Manhattan without a car (most of us) become childlike trying to figure out New Jersey in our four-door rentals, naturally I was late. It was a wonder I arrived at all. The panel had already been seated and I was ushered to my seat while Mark was at the podium, lecturing the rather large audience about pancreatic insufficiency and malabsorption. It was a heavy subject and he knew he was losing them.
I was the new kid on the block, with a successful dog training book in the stores, writing about pets in the magazines and felt honored to be part of a distinguished panel composed of scientists, academics and highly-regarded veterinary practitioners. I believe my function was to be the token, well-known writer of the group, a job I have held many times. My contribution as a speaker was to talk about the pet owner’s side of the story.
As I conspicuously walked across the back of the stage, trying very hard to get to my chair without being noticed, Mark stopped his lecture in the middle and turned to stare at me. I smiled that grin we all know so well when trying to cover up our embarrassment. He turned back to the audience and said, “”Ladies and gentlemen, the man looking for his seat is the famous author, Mordecai Siegal.”” I stopped and straightened my back, leaving my crouched position. I smiled and waved to everybody secretly cursing the man. He then continued, “”Mordecai is about to become a father.”” Everyone giggled good-naturedly and then applauded. He turned back to me and said with a sardonic smile into the microphone, “”Mordecai, has your wife calved yet?””
I shook my head and thought, “”You gotta love a guy like this. Only someone from Topeka could frame the question that way.”” I lived in Greenwich Village then as I do now and had never heard of childbirth referred to quite that way. I barely knew what he meant. As Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains in the last scene of Casablanca, “”Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”” We hardly see each other often enough, but that’s because of time and geography.
Even though I never met Mark Morris, Sr. I feel like I sort of know him if he is anything at all like his son who has accomplished so much on his own and is one of the most interesting persons I have ever met in my pet world travels. He flies his own Piper Cub, he made his father’s various enterprises more successful than they had been, and has created a vast amount of valuable animal nutrition research on his own. We served together for a good number of years on the Advisory Council of the Cornell Feline Research Center and ran into each other from time to time at various meetings and functions. Mark was always on tap for advice and information for some of my books. He once formulated for me a weight-loss diet for those who enjoyed cooking for their fat dogs. As you may know, I am once again the MC for the Hill’s Science Diet Winner’s Circle Awards Dinner. Maybe, with a bit of luck I’ll run into Mark there. Maybe you’ll be there. If so, please come up and say hello.
Congratulations to Sue Cotter, DVM for being this year’s recipient of the Mark L. Morris, Sr. Lifetime Achievement Award from Hill’s. It is a very big deal.
Mordecai Siegal is the author of 31 books about dogs and cats. His most recent book is “”The Good Life. Your Dog’s First Year (Simon & Schuster)”” and the 10th Anniversary Revised Edition, of “”I Just Got A Puppy. What do I Do? (Fireside Books).”” He is a member of P.E.N., The Cat Writers’ Association, and President Emeritus of the Dog Writers Association of America.