Slow is the way to love.
Fast is a highway of fear.
Kookie Morrison does everything quickly. She speaks quickly, laughs quickly, dances quickly, cries quickly. But tonight, Kookie is determined. It will be slow. Tonight is the last birthday of Innocent, Kookie’s beloved old dog. The party will feature a DJ, hot food, 150 of Kookie’s best friends and 30 of his favorite dogs. The dogs will travel to the party in three white limousines. People will ride in a parade of 22 cars. The parade will consume two city blocks. It will arrive in downtown Englewood at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday, the busiest hour of the week.
This plan makes Englewood cop Brian Havlicek nervous. He was assigned to escort the parade from Morrison’s house to the downtown party in an old tattered police car. He stands in Morrison’s driveway and looks at the white limousines. They are very long. He is fidgeting. Officer Havlicek has been with the police department for only two years, but he knows the city well. This parade is going to make some people very angry.
The column continues under the gallery.
“Are you all ready to go?” Havlicek said. “That’s a lot of cars. I’ll do my best.
He walks over to his cruiser, turns on the lights and moves forward.
No one is following. This nervous cop isn’t in charge. The limo drivers and everyone else stand in Kookie’s yard, waiting for his word.
Tonight, it’s love that rules.
“Slow! Drive real slow, all of you! Kookie yells at his friends.” Make that cop take his time! “
“My baby has a soul”
Let’s follow Kookie’s example. Let’s stop here for a moment and go over the basic facts. Kookie Morrison is 71 years old and very popular. She is known to the people of Hackensack New Hope Baptist Church and the church camp, where she served for years as an associate director. Other people know Kookie as a former janitor at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Teaneck, where she also helped run the after-school program.
“She treated my kids like they were her kids,” said Andre Dunnell, who performed music at Innocent’s party under the stage name DJ Omega. “So what if Miss Kookie tells me she’s going to throw a doggy birthday party and needs a DJ?” I’ll be there in two seconds.
Other friends come from the east side of Englewood, where everyone with a dog eventually meets Kookie. She is the neighborhood dog walker, dog sitter and emergency vet par excellence.
“When Koko feels bad, Kookie comes with Pedialyte and Bayer aspirin,” said Kookie’s neighbor Jeline Lawton, whose beige Schnauzer arrived at the party wearing a pink taffeta dress. “She saved me a $ 150 trip to the vet.”
Kookie loves all the dogs she meets. But his love for Innocent is something different. She bought a Burberry stroller to take Innocent shopping at ShopRite. The dog’s wardrobe includes outfits from Gucci and Chanel. Kookie trained Innocent to serve as a therapy dog for patients in hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes.
Innocent is happiest when he is sprawled out on Kookie’s bed, the wind blowing his face. So Kookie spends winter nights under a pile of blankets, an air conditioner, and a fan running at full blast.
“Innocent breathes better when air is circulating. I’m in there frozen. But Innocent is so happy! Kookie said. “My baby has a soul. Believe me. When he looks me in the eye, we connect.
At 14, Innocent is at least as famous as his mother. He has the face of a Miniature Schnauzer with the eyebrows of a Yorkie. The idea to throw a birthday party for her came from the students at Kookie Elementary School. Each year, the event grew. The first, when Innocent was 7, featured him around Englewood in a friend’s Mercedes. After that came a Hummer. In 2018, Innocent brought traffic to a halt in downtown Englewood when he arrived to his party at the Splish Splash Doggie Daycare and Salon in a white Rolls Royce limousine that carried Yoko Ono, Liberace and the Jackson Five.
“It’s bigger than my birthday party!” Tara Stillman, the owner of the salon, said at this event three years ago.
Innocent’s gray fur masks his advanced age. But the past three years have taken their toll. Innocent and Kookie both look a little smaller now. They move a little slower. Innocent still runs and barks at the factor, but the drugs and congestive heart failure leave him tired.
Antoinette Bush has been Innocent’s veterinarian since he was a puppy. Last summer, she believed Innocent would die before Christmas.
“We didn’t think he would live six months,” said Bush.
Innocent’s care regimen is complex. First Kookie reduces his medicine to dust in a crucible. She adds vitamin paste and pieces of pumpkin. Then she distributes the mixture in small doses so that Innocent does not vomit it up. This ritual lasts 45 minutes. Kookie performs it four times a day. Two slow walks in the neighborhood consume at least an hour more.
Bush thinks that all this love is the only thing that keeps Innocent alive.
“I’ve learned that if you take your time and go slowly, you can delay euthanasia and have fewer runs in the hospital,” Bush said. “But how many pet owners are willing to take that kind of time? “
“Cookie! You do it to the death, honey! ‘
Three white limousines walk down Dean Street. They walk slowly down Palisades Avenue and downtown Englewood. Officer Havlicek rushes in, but the limo drivers cut off the accelerator. They will not be in a hurry. Behind them, 22 carriages roll with their blinkers on, looking like the slowest funeral procession since the age of horses. A woman in a black Range Rover gives her horn a long horn of rage. Other drivers raise their hands and swear.
There is nothing to do. Finally, the lead limousine arrives in front of the Splish Splash spa. Innocent stands on the threshold of the car, his head out the window. Dozens of people shoot videos with their phones. Innocent is so turned on by all the attention that he shakes his head until his black top hat falls off.
“He knows!” said Bush. “Oh my God. Innocent knows everything revolves around him!
With his parade duties completed, Officer Havlicek arms him and flees. Kookie picks Innocent from the limo and places him on the red carpet next to her friend Nola, a black Havanese who wears a dress of black taffeta, black satin, white rhinestones and a pearl necklace. The dogs walk in a tight circle and feel each other’s buttocks, their usual greeting. Dozens of people applaud.
“Kookie! You do it to death, honey! Teaneck’s Betty Godette yells at the crowd.
Dogs and people crowd inside. Phyllis Wright uses a wireless microphone to address the crowd.
“I got on a Jet Blue plane from Miami at 7 am to be here today,” says Wright, who befriended Kookie in Hackensack before moving to Florida a few years ago. “I took the time because it’s important.”
Animals and people agree. A cameraman from New York’s NBC Channel 4 walks with people at the back of the living room for TV interviews. Curly Girl, a white Bichon Frize, and Sabrina, a brunette Yorkie, wear matching white taffeta dresses from Dolce & Gabbana. DJ Omega plays an aerial Afrobeat track called “Drogba”. Bush and Wright hit the dance floor, Bush with heavily syncopated stomping of his leather thigh-high boots, Wright swinging his brown kaftan circularly.
“This is amazing!” shouts Tanikquaa Foye from Englewood. “I’ve never seen anything like it! I wasn’t expecting any of this.
Church friends, neighborhood friends, camp friends, school friends, shopping friends, all kinds of friends take turns waiting to hug Kookie.
“It’s crazy! Look over there!” Keeshun Peterkin, 47, waves to Kookie from the sidewalk, where the crowd continues to grow. “Can you throw a party for me next year?”
He’s a rage. At 9 p.m. Stillman is sleepy. She announces that she is going home, then asks Kookie to take care of the shop.
“You’re lucky I have the keys to this place!” Kookie said.
Nothing bothers Innocent. He walks. He touches wet noses with his friends. People take him, hug him, put him down. He gets lost in a crowd of little dogs. Erica Patterson suddenly notices, when Innocent begins to lift his left hind leg.
“Oh no! Innocent is going to jingle on the DJ booth again!” Patterson shouts. She jumps out of her seat, hugs the little dog, and leads him to the sidewalk.
The party continues when Kookie takes a seat and pulls Innocent into his lap. People bend down to hug Kookie and Innocent a scratch. Neither seems to care, but they both need a rest. Their eyes droop. Innocent was not supposed to live after Christmas. Ten months later, he spent an entire day sniffing and running.
His mother knows it. This is his last birthday. Kookie sits in a white folding chair, cradling her dog. Soon she has to start cleaning. Just hang on. It’s time. Innocent’s head falls against his mother’s chest. Kookie leans in and kisses his dog.
Christopher Maag is a columnist for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to her unique take on New Jersey’s most interesting people and experiences, please register or activate your digital account today.
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