March 2, 2023 — Morris Animal Foundation came into being because a group of passionate people had a vision to improve the lives of animals everywhere. They recognized a lack of available resources for veterinary health research, which was impeding the discovery of diagnostics, treatments and even cures for diseases and other health challenges in dogs and cats (and later in horses and wildlife).
In 1948, veterinarian and scientist, Mark Morris Sr., and his wife, Louise, along with four close friends -- Agnes Fowler and Morris Frank from Seeing Eye, James B. Allison from Rutgers University and Judge Klemmer Kalteissen – established what today is Morris Animal Foundation. This forward-thinking group of individuals recognized the strong bonds between people and pets, and the need for better resources for owners and veterinarians to help provide better care for their animals.
During this time, few government dollars were earmarked for companion animal health research. Federal and state funding focused on keeping livestock and the food chain healthy and using animal health research to solve human health issues. Mark and Louise Morris and their friends felt it was time to support health research that solely benefited the animals – and they even figured out how they were going to support their vision.
Judge Kalteissen helped craft a contract with Hill Packing Company to produce and distribute Dr. Morris’ recently developed prescription diets for dogs and cats. Per the contract, Hill would pay ½ cent for every can sold to help fund animal health research through the newly conceived Foundation. At first the earnings were meager and the first year of funding only supported two projects of $,1000 each. But as prescription diets grew in popularity with proven health results, so did the funding for Morris Animal Foundation and animal health research.
The Next Generation
As the organization grew in the 1950s, so did requests for grants. A more robust and long-lasting structure was needed to meet the increased demand. With help from top scientists at veterinary institutions, the founding pioneering volunteers – also the Foundation’s first officers and Trustees – helped craft the structure of scientific advisory boards to oversee the granting process. Members of these boards served as volunteers without pay, a tradition that continues today.
Thousands of grants and millions of dollars later, the Foundation’s advisory boards continue to operate with a similar structure. Their goal is to review grants and progress reports, provide feedback to grantees and the Foundation, and of course to help identify the best science to fund that will improve the health and well-being of dogs, cats, horses and wildlife. Over the years, hundreds of animal health scientists have volunteered countless hours of their time and expertise as advisory board members. These special volunteers remain the scientific engine of the Foundation.
The Board of Trustees also grew over the years. From a few founding members to a team of 25, these individuals volunteer their time to guide and drive the Foundation’s mission to bridge science and resources to advance the health of animals. The Board is comprised of diverse and talented individuals, from veterinarians to researchers to business professionals. This wide-ranging pool of talent are the business brains of the Foundation, who help drive scientific innovation, education and inspiration, ensuring we fund critical health studies that benefit animals globally.
Volunteers on a Mission
In 1969, Morris Animal Foundation was granted nonprofit status. Since that time, thousands of animal-loving donors have come up with creative ways to support the Foundation and help spread the word about our work to improve animal health. From dog walks, to pet parties, to selling products they’ve made, to support from songwriters, authors and artists, volunteers continue to amaze us with their creativity and passion to raise funds for animal health. We even get proceeds from school fundraising projects that engage young people wanting to do more to help animals and the planet we share.
Today, volunteers also can raise funds through personalized fundraising pages on the Foundation’s website. This special community of people inspires others with stories about the extraordinary animals in their lives, from celebrating new pet adoptions to memorializing special pets lost. Many dedicate their fundraising efforts to animal health challenges that have impacted their lives and are dear to their hearts.
Groundbreaking, Volunteer-Powered Study
One of the biggest volunteer efforts in the history of the Foundation is the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. Launched in 2012, this Foundation-led study follows 3,000+ golden retrievers throughout their lifetime. This research would not be possible without the hundreds of volunteer owners and veterinarians who provide annual data and samples on the health of the enrolled dogs.
This first-of-its-kind animal health study provides the whole health history of individual dogs, and the Foundation hopes this invaluable resource will help identify risk factors for and causes of canine diseases, including canine cancers. The thousands of volunteer hours accumulated help drive the success of this study that will in turn help drive the future of animal health research.
Morris Animal Foundation is indebted to and deeply appreciative of the countless volunteers and donors who have given their time and talents over the years to support advances in animal health. Thanks to this inspired community of animal lovers, we are paving the way for better diagnostics, treatments and even cures, and creating a healthier tomorrow for animals everywhere.