Mookie Betts Garber Quarantine Dog

Mookie’s first photo shoot, photo by Jim McKenzie

In the spring of 2019, Greg made a deal with Julia. If she would clean out the litter box every day for three months, we could get a dog. Greg is not an animal lover, but Julia is easily disgusted, so he never thought she would do it.

But when she puts her mind to something, she follows through.

While Greg wanted to retract his offer after the three months were up, he knew he had to keep his promise, on one condition: the dog had to wait until after we got back from our 2-week family trip over Christmas.

Fast forward to January and looking for a dog was not my top priority.

Early in our marriage, Greg and I had a black lab named Flanders, who lived for 13 years. Flanders was a sweet dog, but a handful. There were countless times he got loose, and I had to search for him, only to find him lurking around a farmer’s pig pen or eating my neighbor’s compost. There were also emergency vet visits – once for eating a stuffed animal; another time for having seizures. His behavior only worsened when we had kids. His favorite chew toys became baby mittens, and in the worst scenario possible, he tore through a pail of dirty diapers.

Flanders & baby Julia

That said, one can see my hesitation in moving forward with a puppy. But we had promised Julia.

I began to fill out applications for rescues and contacted three (!) friends who agreed to serve as references. Slowly, our applications were approved, but in January there were not a lot of small puppies to choose from.

Finally, in March, just as I was beginning to think we may not get a rescue puppy, I applied to adopt through Mostly Muttz Rescue in Pottstown. Their application process required a home visit before approval. By then, I had heard there were a few Covid-19 cases in Philly, but the virus hadn’t made it to our area.

We were approved almost immediately and on Sunday, March 9 on our drive to church, our family brainstormed dog names. Greg wanted to continue with The Simpsons theme and name the dog Wiggum, but the kids refused. We brainstormed our favorite athletes’ names – the kids wanted Phelps and I rooted for Sampras, but we settled on naming him after one of Greg’s and Mitchell’s favorite baseball players, Mookie.

In the afternoon, Julia and I drove to a McDonald’s off the Pennsylvania Turnpike to meet two beagle mix puppies, Cozie and Techie. The pictures of the puppies on the website weren’t clear, but as soon as we saw them, she fell in love.

We decided on Cozie, the puppy with the shorter ears. He was so nervous he shook on the drive home.

Since we didn’t have any dog supplies, we stopped at PetSmart in Lancaster. Other shoppers ogled him as we walked through the store. Carrying a puppy through a store is like walking around while pregnant. Strangers reached out and petted him with no consideration of personal boundaries (or the approaching pandemic).

When we got him home, we determined right away he was a snuggler. Over the next few days, family members and friends stopped by to meet him.

Mitchell & Mookie
Julia and Mookie, photo by Jim McKenzie

Then on March 13, the world shut down.

What I discovered over the next few months was that I thought I loved dogs before, but I never anticipated getting so attached. Everyone commented on what a perfect time to train a puppy it was as we were home most of the time. But it also meant Mookie was not used to being alone and cried constantly when crated.

In typical puppy fashion, he also liked to chew and got ahold of one of Mitchell’s pencils for online school, his school-issued Chromebook charger (not plugged in), Greg’s work-issued credit card, and his new Seahawks hat (the seamstress at Highlander Cleaners worked wonders). While we were potty training Mookie, he also had an accident behind the couch during one of my Zoom calls. Like a custodian, Mitchell came in and swiffered up the mess behind me.

Even with these challenges, Mookie has made this difficult year so much better. Some think I’m over the top, with my “I love my rescue dog” car magnet, my dog pictures on Instagram (I won’t bore you on Facebook), and Mookie’s first Santa visit. But I’ve heard it said – in 2020 all dogs are therapy dogs. And we definitely got a good one.

Mookie, Santa & Santa’s helper

Herding Cats

Any animal lover married to a non-animal lover has learned that some people just lack natural affection towards pets.

My husband Greg is one of those people. Unfortunately for me, neither of my parents were particularly fond of animals either, so my only pet growing up was Swimmy the goldfish. Despite this, I always considered myself a dog person. As a newlywed, Greg agreed to get a dog, a black lab named Flanders, who lived to the age of 13. As a 30-something part-time student/farmer and father of two young children, there was no way he would agree to another. Which, at the time, was okay with me.

As far as cats went, he disliked the look of diseased, in-bred cats roaming on farms, so he instructed me not to feed stray cats. I liked cats, but was allergic to them so this wasn’t a problem.

But that was before we had kids. As soon as my daughter Julia could talk, she made it clear that she loved cats. Even at age eight, she still has 33 stuffed cats, prefers wearing shirts with cats on them to anything else and often meows rather than speaks when she is nervous or excited.

So when a gray cat appeared at our house three years ago, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity for Julia to have a cat without having a cat, i.e barn cats rather than house cats. We started feeding this cat, and soon other cats showed up, including a pregnant orange tiger cat we named Meringue.

After Meringue’s kittens were born, my anxiety built regarding my lack of control over the cats. I worried about rabies and precisely the in-bred, diseased cat herd that Greg had long ago warned me about. A farm wife friend directed me to the Humane League of Lancaster County’s spay and neuter/shots program for stray cats. Shortly thereafter, I borrowed a friend’s cat carrier and purchased a Havahart trap to catch the cats. My plan was to have Meringue and her kittens — Dessy and Creamsicle — spayed and neutered and vaccinated against rabies. Unfortunately, I didn’t act quickly enough. As soon as I set up the appointments, I discovered Meringue was pregnant again.

She gave birth to four more kittens, and our cat situation spiraled out of control.

Anytime Julia was outside, she spent hours searching for the cats and playing with them. After much thought, I decided the only way to prevent her from touching the kittens was to allow her to bring one inside. I could deal with my allergies by taking medication, but I knew it would be hard to convince Greg.

Rather than saying no, he came up with a counter plan. For years he had been trying to persuade me to pay for NFL Sunday Ticket on DIRECTV. Now he had a new bargaining tool. He agreed to bring the outside cat inside in exchange for Sunday Ticket.

Two and a half years later, Oreo is still in our house. Meringue and Creamsicle continue to live outside, but are spayed and neutered and vaccinated against rabies. We found homes for the other kittens. Greg tolerates Oreo and is enjoying Sunday Ticket.

I, on the other hand, have become Crazy Cat Lady. Oreo keeps me company on days when I’m home alone. She is smart and loyal and sweet. For now Greg and I have reached a truce. Until I can convince him of my next crazy plan – buying a goat.

From left: Dessy, Creamsicle, Meringue and her kittens, including Oreo