Morgan, the bull mastiff, was so relaxed in her forever home that she would use her voice to “talk” and “sing” with her owners, Gillette residents Mary Melaragno and Brandon Larson.
Her friendly and warm demeanor, punctuated with a “butt wag” when she met new people, lives on in a foundation established in her name.
In May 2011, shortly after her fourth birthday, the adopted pooch blew her knee while chasing a cat.
Melaragno and Larson paid for a $3,000 knee replacement surgery, confident that Morgan would heal and forget about the mishap.
But during a follow-up appointment, a veterinarian discovered enlarged lymph nodes and eventually lymphoma. She underwent chemotherapy but died in November with Melaragno and Larson by her side.
Even today, Melaragno is so struck by grief she has trouble telling Morgan’s story.
“It was really hard,” she said. “Our home was so empty without Morgan.”
To move forward, Melaragno started the Fur Kids Foundation, Morgan’s Legacy, which assists people in need with vet bills.
“Luckily, Brandon and I were able to find the means to put her through chemotherapy,” Melaragno said. “I understand in this economy, people have children. It’s not easy to come up with $5,000 for your dog. We started doing research in this area to see if there was anything to raise money for it and found out there weren’t any.”
“It’s really quite sad how many people have to put their dogs down because they can’t do a small, $100 procedure.”
Pets as kids?
For Melaragno and Larson, who have been together for about 10 years, Morgan became like a child who taught them to love in a way they never knew possible.
Melaragno knew Morgan was unique, but that many people also have unique pets that teach them about love and life.
“Everyone has a story,” she said. “Everyone has a pet that had something. They can relate quickly.”
Fur Kids Foundation is partnering with Animal Medical Center of Wyoming on Lakeway Road to help pay for animal medical bills, which can add up.
“We’re going on a case-by-case basis,” Melaragno said.
Don’t let the foundation’s name fool you. Any pet — furry or non-furry — will be considered.
Animal Medical will help the foundation assess which families need help, which animals need treatment and whether the treatment can extend the pet’s life in a meaningful way.
For instance, if a pet only has a year to live and an operation will extend its life by four months, the foundation will likely turn the case down. Resources are tight and must be spent prudently.
“We’re hoping to fund half or up to $755,” said board member/Felicia Messimer.
Paying for it
As word has spread in the community, the foundation’s board members have met people who could have used assistance years ago.
“We had a few families come to us in tears, saying they had to put down their animals,” Melaragno said.
The foundation board would like to raise $3,000 before it can start assisting pet owners. So far it has raised a little over half of that. In June, it raised $850 in donations and items sold at a garage sale.
On Sept. 15, the foundation is hosting Pet-A-Palooza in Cam-plex Park, Shelter No. 5. The event will have a 5K race and mutt strut, a dog and cat food drive, a pet/owner look-alike contest and pet fashion show. The event is free to attendees. Race participants pay a $20 fee that includes a T-shirt. They area looking for volunteers and vendors for the event.
The foundation will auction artful doghouses at the Pet-A-Palooza. The Home Depot donated the materials, Boy Scout Troop No. 64 built the houses and local artists painted them.
The organization has submitted to the state paperwork to obtain nonprofit status.
While establishing the Fur Kids Foundation, Melaragno and Larson have adopted two English mastiffs, Daisy and Sam.
They got Daisy first. She was laid back and reminded them of Morgan,.
“She likes dogs so much we knew we had to give her a friend,” Melaragno said.
The couple fell in love with Sam’s “old man face.”
As her new dogs adjust to their forever home, Melaragno thinks the time when Fur Kids Foundation raises the necessary money to help the first “patient.”
After all, the foundation is a way to keep Morgan’s spirit alive.
“When we help our first kid, I will have a meltdown,” Melaragno said.
The American Veterinary Clinic estimated there were 72,114,000 dogs in the U.S. in 2007. The Fur Kids Foundation uses that statistic and the 2010 population to estimate 7,353 dogs in Gillette and 11,662 dogs in Campbell County.
Households that own dogs