Two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and his wife Erica raise awareness … and four rescue pups

By Joseph Grammer

Photos by Carina Thornton/Fuzzypants Photography

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April 11 was National Pet Day, so NOVADog Magazine took a look at the loving pets of activist Erica Scherzer and her husband, Washington Nationals pitching star Max Scherzer. Their family includes rescue dogs Rafi, Bo, Rocco, and Gigi.

NOVADOG: What was your relationship with dogs like growing up?

Max Scherzer: We had three German shepherds. My first one was in 7th grade; obviously we fell in love with her. I just enjoyed having a dog around, the loyalty she showed.

Erica Scherzer: My family always supported rescues, dogs with rougher backgrounds. I grew up with Huskies and Samoyeds mostly. From the time I was a baby, we always had dogs—they were protective of my sister and me.

At first we just had Kodiak, but then we brought in Brandy. I saw a huge difference between having one dog and having two dogs. Sometimes it took a little while to get used to their personalities, and for them to get used to us, but it was worth it. We would watch the two of them wrestle and play; they were really close. Brandy was devastated when Kodiak passed away.

Eventually we brought in Chinook, and that helped Brandy a lot. Now I always want two dogs. I feel like I have to have at least two because you see how they bond, how healthy that is for them.

NOVADOG: Can you tell us about the dogs you have now?

MS: It started with two of them, Bo and Rafi. They’re both rescues. At first it was pretty difficult—they were these shy females. It was a challenge to socialize them, get them used to the new environment, but honestly it’s amazing how much they’ve warmed up to us. They’ll nap on my shoulder now without any nervousness, so they’re definitely more comfortable here. That never would’ve happened on Day One.

At first we were looking for Huskies. A lot of people gave us recommendations based on the two different-colored eyes [Max has heterochromia iridum, which means each iris is a different hue], so they’d show us a lot of those dogs. Eventually we found Bo, whose eyes were different colors. We knew we wanted to have two dogs, and then it turned out that to get Bo, we had to get Rafi, because they’re a bonded pair. So we kind of accomplished both goals.

At some point we decided we needed an alpha, which is when we got Rocco. He loves people, he wants to give everyone kisses. He can just get attention all day and be happy. Rocco is great because he brings out the personalities of the other dogs, and he also has the different-colored eyes.

ES: For our fourth, we ended up taking in a rescue named Gigi that Max’s aunt had. She’d suffered a hip injury, so she couldn’t give the dog as much exercise as she needed to. We met Gigi over this past holiday season, and she was very similar to Rocco. She had all this pent-up energy just waiting to get out.

Max’s aunt ended up having a full hip replacement, so we fostered Gigi for few months. She thrived with our other dogs: we watched them all wrestle as a pack, and it was amazing. Eventually Max’s aunt thought it would be better for Gigi to live with us fulltime.

MS: We got a pack. *laughs*

ES: These days it’s like a dog park in and out of the house. Bo and Rafi are less shy for sure, and they’re better around strangers. And Gigi for example has a pretty strong personality. She’s not afraid to fight a bit more for what she wants. Basically, they all work out the alpha thing with themselves. Gigi used to be alpha, but she gets bumped a little bit in the order sometimes. I’d say Rafi is an alpha in her own way. She’s an instigator, very sassy, but also a mother hen who keeps an eye on everyone. Even Bo tries to challenge Gigi sometimes. But really, they all have their pack order in different ways. Like on runs they’ll have one arrangement, hanging out it’s another order, and when they’re playing with toys it’s another. They figure it out for each activity.

As for breeds, our best guess is that Bo and Rafi are a Husky-Cattledog mix. Rocco and Gigi are mixed breeds as well, but we really can’t know about any of them. They’re all mutts, and we love them.

NOVADOG: Are they trained?

MS: Honestly the best part is we have them Off-Leash trained. Nick and Joe [from Off-Leash] are great, and their work was unbelievable. Even the basic training parts helped out a lot. The dogs can all heel to me while I’m on a bike, so I can be 7 miles out on a trail, and the dogs are right there with me the whole time. Sometimes it’s like, “What do I have to do to get them tired?” because of all their energy. But at the end when they’re lying on the floor panting, it’s great.

ES: When you bring them their leashes and say, “Do you want to go for a walk?” you can see the smiles on their faces. Their confidence has grown. We’ll do 11 miles, just hiking in the woods. At first we were doing a lot of leash walks, but we weren’t using up enough of their energy as we needed to. Then we figured out biking with them, and their anxiety really went down after that.

Luckily, we’ve kept up with the training, so Nick and Joe were happy. Those two are definitely lifesavers.

MS: We have the six basics commands down: sit, down, heel, come, place, and free. It’s nice now because I know they’re not going to run away outdoors.

ES: Because of the training I can handle them on my own—and that’s four 45-lb dogs. Max handles them better than I can, but I’m definitely still able to take them around. I feel more confident now. And they’re all good with other dogs now, too, so I can have all four walking down the street and not worry about it. That helps because Max travels a lot, so I have to be with them alone.

NOVADOG: How do you make sure you get some good family and dog time with your busy schedules?

ES: Time on the couch together, for sure. There aren’t a lot of rules with the furniture in our house.

MS: We’ll give them a walk—they love walking. It doesn’t matter if I have to correct them, or if I don’t let them do everything. They’re still happy.

ES: Offseason it’s nice, because we’re on the beach. We’ll give them baths. And they love getting brushed, getting their bellies rubbed. The dogs are not lacking for attention; they’re very spoiled.

Other times, we’ll hop in the pool; they all love swimming now. In the beginning, Bo and Rafi were deathly afraid of water. Rocco was hesitant for a while, too. So we started off with having them cross a creek, and at first they didn’t even want to touch it. But we slowly did that, got them acclimated to going paws-deep, and worked our way up from there.

Now, all of them love the ocean. Rocco goes around chasing ducks. This one time we found a shark, like a three-four footer just a few feet away from them, and they were not bothered at all. When they saw it, they all went right after it. They’re fearless.

Really, they’ll chase anything: squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, deer, possums. They don’t usually catch whatever they’re after, but they love trying. Bo and Rafi even chase coyotes. When we’re out in Arizona, they’ll both go straight after them. Rafi kind of looks like a coyote, too—she’d fit right in with their pack.

NOVADOG: What has taking care of dogs taught you about your own professional work?

MS: It’s a stress release. I like to walk, just relax and enjoy being with the dogs. I get away from baseball for a bit. Plus they’re great training. It keeps you in shape more, biking around with these guys—a lot of cardio.

ES: Our dogs have gotten me back into animal welfare. Over a decade ago I was into it heavily, but I stepped away for a while because it became really intense. I lost a foster, for example, and I couldn’t remove my feelings from the situation. But after rescuing Bo and Rafi, and especially after Rocco, we found this amazing, caring side in both of us.

NOVADOG: What do you hope to accomplish with the HRA?

MS: One goal is to help raise awareness for shelter pets. And two: if we can do anything at all to raise adoption numbers and have an impact, that would be great.

ES: I’d like to raise awareness for how exercising with your pet can help, but we also want to show the benefits of shelter pets. Rescue is always a wonderful option, and there are lots of ways to find a rescue who fits with you. Adopting the right pet is important because he or she will be part of your family. They’re not just an afterthought. You wouldn’t leave a kid alone for eight hours; dogs are the same way. They need a good environment, and they need engagement.

Of course, there are challenges. Chewing things in the house, fright issues sometimes. But you can look at the root of those problems and how to resolve them, instead of just giving up the pet and not trying anymore. Most things you can improve with simple training—that’s important to know.

NOVADOG: Do you ever want your dogs to compete professionally?

MS: We’ve always thought they could do that, but it gets tough to dedicate that time. Honestly, they’re happy just being little marathon runners in the woods.

ES: I talked to Nick [from Off-Leash] a bit recently at a game. We mentioned maybe doing some tracking work with some of them. They’re all really good with scent, especially Rafi. It could boost their confidence even more, we’re thinking. Bo in particular would be amazing at agility work if we can find the time. I don’t know if we would ever compete, but she has that skill naturally.

NOVADOG: Do you ever want more dogs?

MS: No. We thought three was the max, but then we got our fourth. It’s crazy now with four.

ES: I can’t imagine biking with five.

MS: I can … *laughs*  You really need to be aware of your surroundings biking with this many dogs. A lot of mental awareness.

ES: I mean, maybe when it’s settled to where it’s not chaos. Never say never, but four’s a lot. A lot of mouths to feed, a lot to track. A lot of dogs to get to the vet.

NOVADOG: What’s your favorite thing to do with your dogs?

MS: Honestly, exploring the hiking trails here in DC. That’s when they’re at their best.

ES: They love Donaldson Run. We’re so happy when they get down there. You see them just going into streams, running through stuff.

NOVADOG: Do you play catch with your dogs?

MS: They don’t fetch, actually. It’s crazy—if I throw the ball, they don’t bring it back.

NOVADOG: Why is it important for you to work with rescues?

ES: I’ve only ever had rescue pets, except for fish (although I’ve rescued fish, too). “Adopt Don’t Shop” is definitely a mantra for us. Every pet out there you buy, that’s one who could’ve been rescued. You’re saving not only the life of the dog you rescue, but now a new dog can go into the shelter in his or her place. That issue is very important to me. There’s a stigma with rescue dogs, and a lot of inaccuracies. Some people think you need a purebred dog or a dog from a breeder to have a “good pet.” I really want to use my platform for that: just expressing how wonderful shelters are. Shelter dogs are amazing. You can even find purebreds in a shelter if you want; it just takes a bit of work.

Bo and Rafi had basically been put on the e-list [euthanasia list] in their shelter, and without us they wouldn’t be here today. So many people passed them up; they’d been there a long time. That process of adopting them re-dedicated me to animal welfare with a greater passion.

MS: You can adopt the type of dog you want. With Bo and Rafi, we knew it would be a lot of work, but we wanted that. If you want a high-energy dog, you can choose that, like we have with Rocco. You can always adopt a dog on your terms and find someone who fits with you—like a family member.

ES: I like the challenge. I used to foster feral cats, for example, so I like helping animals that might otherwise be euthanized or overlooked. We have the time and the resources to do something, so we have a unique chance to take on animals who might be passed over. It’s a really cool, rewarding experience.

MS: We knew what they needed, we knew we could make this work. I was like, “If you give these guys some exercise, they’ll be OK.” And, hey—they are.

ES: Bo and Rafi lived their first year with little interaction and no stable environment. But sure enough, a year and a half into having them with us, they turned a corner. They came out of their shells more. You just have to be patient, and we were willing to do that.
Of course there are issues. Potty-training took a long time. When an animal has been roaming the desert, like Bo and Rafi did before they entered the shelter, they don’t have any structure. So that can be tough.

In the beginning Gigi was aggressive sometimes, but she shows much less of that now. She was alone a lot before we took her in. She came in wanting to be the alpha dog and take control, but now she gets along with everyone, especially Rocco. Gigi and Rocco are in love—it’s really sweet to see how they play together. And that’s the best part of adopting dogs, because you see their transformation. Now they’re these happy, healthy, and well-trained dogs who love everyone.

MS: They even like our cats.

Please visit the Humane Rescue Alliance to see what you can do for rescue dogs in need http://www.humanerescuealliance.org. You can also visit https://www.mlb.com/nationals to follow the Washington Nationals and find an upcoming game! ND

Joseph Grammer is Managing Editor for NOVADog Magazine. He lives in Alexandria, VA, but grew up in New Jersey with a bunch of adopted dogs, including a mutt (Blizzard) who he found on the street.