Our Animal Hero of the Month award winner for May is Chris Hughes of Rowdy to the Rescue in North Olmsted, Ohio.
Chris switched careers to be able to do what he loves the most: help animals. He has a desire to help dogs that are difficult to place or would otherwise die in a shelter. Each of his own pets has an amazing story, and his work with animals is how he met his fiancée, Mariesa, whom he will marry later this year.
It’s a crazy busy life with eight dogs at home, more dogs in foster care, a superhero appearance and a cooking show hosted by one of his rescues. We’ll explain these details and his cast of characters a little later.
Michele Phillips wrote in to nominate Chris for the tireless work he does for dogs and children:
“Chris Hughes does amazing things for dogs and kids! He is an amazing man making a difference for the pit bull breed.”
Michele asked us to look a little further into Chris’s rescue and efforts, and we’re glad we did. Not only does Chris take in some of the most unadoptable dogs, but he also takes his therapy dogs to area schools and hospitals and promotes autism awareness. He participates in charities that help children and dogs, and it didn’t take us very long to see why Chris was so deserving of this award.
Here’s what each of our Animal Hero of the Month award winners receives:
- A feature article like this one
- Social media mentions across all of our platforms
- A permanent spot on the list of winners
- Our custom, engraved gold-tone paw print medal with ribbon
- $50 cash award
- $50 gift card to Pet Food Direct
Chris has chosen to donate his cash prize to Lilly’s Fund, a charity set up by Lilly the Hero Pit Bull‘s owners to combat breed-specific legislation and help other pit bulls in need. The donation represents Pets Adviser’s ongoing commitment to give back to the animal welfare community.
About Chris’s Organization
Rowdy to the Rescue was named after Chris’s first dog, a Golden Retriever named Rowdy. Rowdy went everywhere with Chris over the years, and the dog would later play an important role in easing grief. Chris’s parents lost both of their dogs within one week, so Chris sent Rowdy to stay with them for comfort.
Rowdy ended up staying there permanently, but Chris wasn’t dogless for long. He would eventually end up with a pack of eight dogs, not including those in his rescue. Part of Chris’s compassion can be seen through the history of the dogs he gave a second chance.
A pit bull was being used for breeding by people operating a dog fighting operation. When this poor dog could no longer produce puppies, her back legs were broken so she could be used as a bait dog. Fortunately, an undercover officer was able to get the dog and her mother from the operation, and they were held as evidence in a cruelty case. Once the case ended, she was picked up by Odessa Second Chance Rescue & Rehabilitation and later adopted by Chris. Dubbed Gremlin for the appearance of her ears, she would soon regain better use of her legs through rehabilitation and hydrotherapy.
Gremlin went on to become the first pit bull ever accepted into the Pet Pals therapy program at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, a university hospital, since the program first began 24 years ago. She also visited cancer hospitals and schools for children with autism until retiring recently. She is a permanent resident of Chris’s household.
A blue pit bull named The Stig arrived when the City of Cleveland’s kennel asked Chris to take the dog. Chris pulled The Stig only hours before his scheduled euthanization, and he has been a part of his pack ever since. The Stig was the second pit bull to be accepted into the Pet Pals therapy program, after Gremlin.
Another addition to the family would come once again from Odessa Second Chance Rescue & Rehabilitation. A mixed breed named Quinn was rescued from a hoarder.
Sammy, a pit bull mix, was found chained with another dog in the basement of an abandoned home. He was underweight and shy, but he recovered and received training in socialization so he could stay with Chris and the other dogs.
A bull terrier named Meatball came from rescue with a self-mutilation condition. He had once chewed his tail so badly it had to be amputated. Distraction techniques such as holding onto a ball now prevent Meatball from harming himself.
Money and Tejas arrived through Mariesa’s compassion for rescuing greyhounds. Money came from Alabama through Forever Home Greyhound Adoptions. Tejas went to the Second Chance at Life prison program before heading to the same rescue. Both of these retired racing dogs were taken in by Mariesa, and they were foster fails that happily became permanent residents.
Finally, one more dog in the family makes eight. Because he is old, has a black coat (known as black dog syndrome for being difficult to photograph and advertise) and is a pit bull mix, Mr. Moses had three strikes against him when he went into a Florida shelter. He had been surrendered at 12 years old because of his age. Sniffing Snouts Pit Bull Rescue pulled him, and he was later adopted by Chris. Now “Chef Mo” is the co-host of a cooking series that shows pet owners how to make safe pet treats at home.
Watch this video of Chef Mo and Mariesa making “Pitty Pies”:
Rowdy to the Rescue takes in dogs that are difficult to place. There are foster homes in place, but more are always needed. One of the animals currently in foster care is Bunny, a pit bull that was sitting in a shelter with large mammary gland tumors down both sides.
“She wasn’t going to get any better sitting in a shelter,” Chris told me. So he took her in. She has had a mastectomy and is scheduled for a second operation. The tumors are malignant, but she is responding well to treatment.
Sarge, a 10-year-old German Shepherd mix, lived his entire life chained up behind a house. Food, water and shelter were provided, so authorities could not remove the dog. The family moved out and left Sarge tied up in his usual place, and a neighbor retrieved him and called Chris. Sarge has some gastrointestinal issues and muscle atrophy from the lack of exercise, but he is doing well in foster care.
Other rescues include a pit bull receiving treatment for the Parvo virus and the occasional intake of puppies as they arise.
Chris also founded and runs the Thera-Pits Therapy Dog Program. The organization comprises therapy dogs that visit schools for reading programs, dog safety education, general therapy or to ease stress and keep kids calm. Inner-city schools have been affected by budget cuts, but the program is offered to the schools at no cost.
A teacher from one of the schools visited by dogs in the program for the past four years explains the changes in her students:
“I work with students who have a variety of disabilities, ranging from autism to specific learning disabilities. The students not only enjoy reading to the dogs but are able to read without being self-conscious of their disabilities. Since the beginning of the year they have increased their fluency and reading comprehension, which I believe is a direct reflection from the dog therapy program. The dogs also have decreased many negative behaviors and have provided the children with a calm and soothing environment.”
If you have a therapy dog and would like to join Thera-Pits, see these instructions.
As if we didn’t have enough reasons to bestow this award on Chris and his rescue, there is yet another that is worth mentioning. Chris dresses up as a superhero — yes, a superhero — and visits ill and terminally ill children. The program, Superheroes for Kids, has a team of people who dress up in various superhero costumes to visit hospitals or attend special events designed for the children. Chris dons the Hulk costume to play his role.
Chris’s compassion for animals and children can hardly be disguised, and that’s probably a good thing. Chris met Mariesa through Gremlin’s therapy work. She was referred to him by a friend regarding a rescue, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Q&A With Chris Hughes
Chris, what got you started helping animals?
When I was 2 years old, we got our first dog named Beethoven, and from there I have always loved animals. I moved to Washington, D.C., and worked in operations at a hotel in 2008. One day I was really trying to figure out what I was doing with my life, and I realized I was placed on this earth to help the animals. So I quit my job, sublet my apartment, moved home and started Rowdy to the Rescue.
What’s your earliest childhood memory that is animal-related?
I have so many, I can’t really pick one.
What is your favorite animal?
My favorite animal is a dog. They are awesome companions, and it’s never a boring day with our whole pack.
Tell us about the one animal you will never forget.
I will never forget our dog Missy. She passed away at 17 years old and lived life to the fullest every day. For her last couple of months she was not able to walk very well, but she would make her way out to the yard and lie down. She used to love chasing squirrels and would lie down and pretend to chase them.
What are the least and highest amounts of pets you have had at one time?
The least we had was one dog, and right now we have our pack of eight.
If your pets could talk, what would they say?
I think they would thank us for saving them from the situations they were in and for all the fun we have every day.
If you could solve one problem facing animals, what would it be?
I would love to stop dog fighting. It is such a barbaric thing, and I can’t believe people do this. Dogs don’t ask to fight; they are forced into it.
If you could be reincarnated as any animal, which would you choose and why?
I would love to be a dog in our house. I like to think our dogs have a very good life here.
If the rainbow bridge exists, which pet would you most like to see waiting for you on the other side?
We have rescued many dogs over the years and have had some pass away. I believe they are at the bridge waiting for me to come and meet them. There is not one specific dog I want to see, though. Every dog that comes into the rescue becomes a part of our family, and when they pass away they take a part of us with them.
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If you would like to nominate someone to be Pets Adviser’s next Animal Hero of the Month, nomination details are available here.
Help us make this award even more special. If you or your company is interested in sponsoring our Animal Hero of the Month award or adding prizes, contact us at [email protected]
- Learn more about how Pets Adviser is working to help make a difference: How We Help.
Photos are copyrighted and used with permission from Chris Hughes unless otherwise noted.