February 2, 2023 – Dr. Mark L. Morris Sr. was a visionary veterinarian who understood that dedicated scientific research was essential to advancing veterinary medicine. It was with this in mind that in 1948 he founded, what is today, Morris Animal Foundation. Through his work with the Foundation, innovations in veterinary nutrition, leadership of the American Animal Hospital Association and so many other achievements, Dr. Morris became an iconic figure for generations of veterinarians.
What some people may not realize is that Dr. Mark L. Morris Jr. continued his father’s groundbreaking research, and was a tireless champion of the Foundation until his death in 2007.
During his career, Dr. Mark L. Morris Jr. didn’t just follow in his father’s footsteps, he sprinted up the path with his own brand of creativity and passion for improving the lives of animals. In 1963, he received his PhD in pathology because at the time, earning a PhD in animal nutrition was impossible – no graduate programs existed in this specialty.
After graduation, he came back into the family business where he took over his father’s nutrition research laboratory. There, he helped develop the first iteration of the modern-day Science Diet for companion animals. Expanding on the four original prescription diets developed by his father, Dr. Morris Jr. went on to help develop hundreds of new products, providing innovative and quality diets for not only dogs and cats but many other species from ferrets to seals. His prolific work provided seed money for and facilitated growth of the Morris Animal Foundation endowment. Today, that endowment continues to support the organization and its animal health funding goals.
In addition to his laboratory work, the younger Dr. Morris joined the Foundation’s Board of Trustees after graduation. He helped create and personally led the first Scientific Advisory Board – which many consider the engine of the Foundation – for decades. He was instrumental in recruiting scientists to join the Board, who were tasked with reviewing grant requests in an impartial and unbiased way. Today, the Foundation has Scientific Advisory Boards specific to each species (dog, cat, equid and wildlife) as well as for special animal health initiatives. This thorough, rigorous scientific review model been duplicated by other institutions and remains highly respected in the scientific community.
Dr. Morris Jr. also had a passion for teaching. He lectured around the world to practicing veterinarians and veterinary students, lecturing on the importance of animal health. For many students, that was the only nutrition training they received.
Dr. Morris Jr. went on to change this dynamic by co-authoring the first definitive textbook in small animal nutrition, “Small Animal Clinical Nutrition.” He tirelessly promoted the benefits of proper nutrition to scores of veterinarians. He also was a founding member of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, enabling veterinarians to pursue advanced training in animal nutrition.
The impact of Dr. Mark L. Morris Jr.’s legacy on Morris Animal Foundation and the world of animal health is immeasurable. His passion for teaching is echoed today through the Foundation’s investment in training the next generation of animal health researchers, from early career veterinary students to fellowship training grants for advanced research training. His ability to bring veterinary scientists from all disciplines to the table to review and recommend for funding the best science to advance animal health remains the cornerstone of the Foundation.
Honoring this legacy, Dr. Bette Morris, Trustee Emeritus and wife of the late Mark L. Morris Jr., is the driving force behind the Foundation’s Mark L. Morris Jr. Investigator Award. First awarded in 2016, the grant provides up to $200,000 annually for three years, supporting impactful companion animal research for which there is a pressing need, and has the potential to make rapid, meaningful progress. To date, funding has supported research into heart disease in dogs, and improving the health and well-being of aging dogs and cats.
A debt of gratitude goes to Dr. Mark L. Morris Jr., whose legacy and inspiration continue to improve the lives of animals around the world.