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In 2012, Chris Hughes adopted a senior dog named Moses from a kill shelter in Florida. His previous guardians had surrendered him for no other reason than the fact that he was aging and the vet bills were piling up. “This was BM — before Mariesa,” explains Mariesa Hughes, Chris’s now-wife. She soon met Chris and fell in love with him and Moses. Unfortunately, about two years later, Moses was diagnosed with an inoperable spinal cord tumor and died. Motivated by the experience of losing a pet while struggling with vet bills, Mariesa and Chris created the Mr. Mo Project. For nearly a decade, the organization has been rescuing senior dogs who find themselves disproportionately dumped at shelters, often because of high medical costs.
Even for longtime dog parents like the Hughes family, Moses’s issues were eye-opening. “It showed us the cost of care for an elderly or ill dog, and it made me wonder how many dogs are landing in the shelter purely based on the cost of care. People just don’t have the additional income to care for a senior pet or a sick pet,” Chris says. To date, the couple estimates that the Mr. Mo Project has saved more than 1,000 aging or ill dogs. They’ve helped pay each one’s medical expenses for the remainder of their lives, which has ranged from as little as five days to as much as seven years. In total, this has amounted to just under $3 million dollars in medical costs.
How Mr. Mo Project Works
The Mr. Mo Project enlists a team of fosters to help house all the animals they’re financially supporting, which is currently around 100. And that’s not counting the ones Mariesa and Chris personally take in. Today, the pair live alongside 17 dogs in their upstate New York home — though this is far from an irregularity for them. In fact, they’ve modified their house to specifically accommodate this routine influx of pups. Up until recently, they had a king-sized bed pushed against a full-sized bed to provide ample space for all those sleepy and snuggly dogs. They have since reclaimed their well-earned bedroom space; however, the floor remains coated with dog beds.
Like in any large family, dinner can be tumultuous. “Feeding time is probably the most chaotic time because a majority of the dogs eat different diets. We have kidney diets. We have digestive care diets. We have homemade hydrolyzed diets. So everybody needs something a little bit different,” Marisa says. While caring for that many animals at once may appear overwhelming, Mariesa and Chris have a deep connection with every canine who waddles through their door. They know every single dog’s name, unique personality, and specific needs — though, according to Mariesa, this can be a double-edged sword.
“It’s very bittersweet,” she explains. It is the most rewarding, fulfilling, and incredible feeling to love and be loved by these animals…Watching them become the dog that they want to be but then losing them and losing the purposefulness of caring for them are two of the hardest things for me.” Chris, on the other hand, views this sadness as more occupational and adds that he mostly feels proud that they’ve accomplished what they set out to do: Help these pups.
“We started the project to give these dogs what we call the best for the rest — the best possible life for the rest of their life. At the end, however long that is, we’ve served a purpose where we did what we promised to do. It’s more rewarding to me knowing that they passed away as part of a family and not just in a shelter and put in a garbage bag to never be remembered again,” he adds.
Mr. Mo Project’s Fundraising Efforts
Additionally, the day-to-day is its own reward according to Chris. As he puts it, “There’s never a dull moment ever. There’s always something going on, and there’s always something to make you laugh. No matter how hard of a day you’ve had, there’s always somebody here who is going to make you smile.”
Both Chris and Mariesa have had to get creative through their fundraising efforts, as well. It started when Moses was initially showing signs of debility, and they needed money for an MRI to get a diagnosis. In response, the then-newlyweds sold their unopened hot tub. This created a pattern that would continue through the launch of the Mr. Mo Project. Chris has shaved his beard to raise money and once conducted a weightlifting fundraiser out of their basement. At one point, Mariesa even auctioned her wedding ring for funds, though the eventual winner refused to accept it and essentially just made a massive donation. It’s something they naturally credit to the goodness of others.
“We’re very lucky to have the support we have,” Chris says. When we need support and we need help and we put it on our social media, our supporters are great and they really believe in our mission and they believe in the goals of what we have.” Thanks to this passion and support, the Mr. Mo Project found itself on the Rachael Ray Show during which they received a $10,000 donation.
Monetary benefits aside, the Mr. Mo Project wants to promote the idea that age is not a disease — for dogs and humans alike. “We’re all getting older, we’re all going to be older and I don’t ever want someone to treat me any differently or not give me a chance because of my age…And every dog deserves to be loved and die in someone’s arms being loved,” Mariesa says. Her husband offers a similar sentiment: “My goal is to make today better than yesterday and if they need to be let go today, I know that I did what I had to do.”
If you want to get involved or support the Mr. Mo Project, they’re always accepting donations and new foster applications to keep Moses’s legacy alive.
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Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and whose behavioral issues rival his own.