This Couple Lives with 21 Dogs, a Small Fraction of the Hundreds They’ve Saved
It’s just before 8 p.m. and Chris and Mariesa Hughes’ day isn’t anywhere close to over.
They’ve taken a break to speak with Daily Paws from their home in upstate New York, but after hanging up, they’ll get back to what’s become their life: Saving hundreds of elderly and disabled dogs—oftentimes from the brink of euthanisia—through The Mr. Mo Project.
On this August night, the Hugheses have four dogs in the program set to see veterinarians. One needs surgery, and the three others are in the process of being medically cleared for foster homes. Mariesa has a couple potential foster applicants in mind.
Chris is in charge of tube-feeding their 8-day-old puppy, one of the 21 dogs in the house, who has a cleft palate. Those meals occur every two or three hours and don’t halt in the middle of the night. He’s sleeping on the couch.
Running The Mr. Mo Project, which has so far helped more than 500 elderly and disabled dogs find homes or receive medical care, is an all-consuming force. The Hugheses have to fundraise and care for dogs almost around the clock when they aren’t working their day jobs; she’s an occupational therapist and he’s a digital strategist. It can be stressful and barely sustainable.
When it gets tough, Mariesa thinks of Moses, their former dog and namesake of The Mr. Mo Project, who gave the couple so much happiness. Then she thinks of his legacy: the dogs they’ve saved who’ve gone on to live full lives.
“It makes the low points worth living through and getting to the high points, which there are many,” she says.
The Mr. Mo Project’s Origins
The Hugheses started the project in 2014 after Moses died. He’d been diagnosed with a spinal cord tumor when they were newlyweds and they needed $2,400 for an MRI. So they sold their hot tub to pay for it.
Moses was given four weeks to live, and the couple looked into any possible way to save him, whether through traditional or holistic medicine. There wasn’t a good option, and Moses passed away five weeks after his diagnosis.
“We would’ve sold a car,” Chris says.
The harrowing predicament of an immense vet bill inspired The Mr. Mo Project. Today, the couple helps pay for dogs’ lifesaving procedures and helps find them places to live, regardless of their age or disabilities. They believe each dog should get every opportunity to live their entire lives, no matter the cost. Age isn’t a disease, they say. Older dogs can still live for years.
Not everyone believes that, they say. They’ve run into some vets who’ve asked them why they spend, say, $16,000 on a 16-year-old dog. And while some families love their dogs, they sometimes surrender their pups to shelters or vets when the care becomes too costly or invasive. Shelters often face the same dilemma, and dogs with serious problems are often euthanized.
Sometimes a vet will call the Hugheses before euthanizing a pet who's facing a prohibitively expensive treatment. The project will then pay for lifesaving procedures and then help find foster homes. At times, a dog will come live with the Hugheses. That’s what happened with Pesto, an 18-year-old Chihuahua who’s now “as happy as can be” after being a day away from euthanization.
Mariesa also credits “incredible” foster parents who open their homes to dogs who might not live much longer. On the flip side, the project removes a major barrier—cost—that prevents people from adopting senior dogs.
Supporting all the dogs in the program is an expensive endeavor, often more than $40,000 a month. (This past month totaled $52,000.) Which means lots of fundraising and hoping for donations.
“We feel very blessed that we are able to do this, even on those sad moments. But we have such a unique friend[base] and fanbase that they allow us to continue to do this,” Mariesa says.
The Mr. Mo Project at Home
Currently, The Mr. Mo Project has 112 dogs in foster homes. Twenty-one more live with Chris and Mareisa.
Their home has evolved over time as more dogs have arrived, as Insider recently reported. It began with ramps for Moses, but it now features a $38,000 hydrotherapy treadmill, oxygen kennels, agility tiles, and one truly giant bed.
Most of the dogs like to snuggle with Chris and Mariesa at night, and they won’t all fit in a regular king-size bed. Heck, they didn’t even fit in a bed that was 10 feet wide. They had to get a new bed, double the width. Chris and Mariesa can wave each other goodnight.
“Having 21 dogs and this bed is probably the best birth control you could ever have because you say ‘goodnight’ and she’s 15 feet away with 15 dogs between me [and her],” Chris jokes.
The dogs take precedence over self-care activities, whether that’s an uninterrupted night’s sleep or an Italian vacation that’s canceled because they don’t want to leave a sick dog behind. Chris describes running the project as a “constant stressor.” Being financially responsible for dozens of dogs is tough to continuously sustain, and they use the organization’s website as one vital source of donations.
“We’re really good at saving dogs and just kind of mediocre at the rest of it,” Mariesa jokes.
But there are small moments that make it worth it. Mariesa enjoys the morning cuddle sessions with the pups, when they’re still groggy. Chris loves seeing the dogs start to rule the house and enjoy life after the trials of disease and old age.
“We’re very lucky to be their parents,” Mariesa says. “I love them.”
You don’t have to have a 20-foot bed to provide the kind of loving foster home that the Hugheses do. If you live in the northeast United States and are interested in fostering dogs through The Mr. Mo Project, you can apply here.