I am convinced that the phone sounds different when there is bad news on the other end. It’s as if the pitch of the ring shifts ever so slightly. My husband’s picture flashed across the screen.
Somehow I already knew this was not an “I’m thinking about you,” or “how’s your day going,” kind of call.
“Briggs is gone!” Josh shouted into the phone, speaking of our two-year-old sassy, stinky, laughable Boston terrier, a central focus of our lives.
“What!? What do you mean?” Confused, I scribbled down everything he was saying, my words chaotically strewn across a pink Post-it note. The note’s cheerfulness battled in vain with the terrifying words it held.
“I left him on the deck while I went inside to change. I had this really bad feeling so I ran back downstairs…and he was gone!” Josh’s voice scratched through the phone as if he were willing the words to be untrue.
“Okay, okay. Calm down. He clearly must have gotten out of the fence somehow. Just run down the alley and call for him. You know he never runs far. You’ll find him, honey. Just go!”
This was a time for action, not words, and Josh hung up. I stared at the phone with intensity, hoping that I could use some manner of Jedi mind tricks to lead Josh to Briggs. Within ten minutes Josh called back. Increasingly panicked, his words were fractured by gulps of air. The sound of his feet pounding on the pavement echoed his panic through the phone.
“He’s not here — he’s just gone! I can’t find him!”
“Just keep looking!” I said, my chest tightening as bands of fear snaked through me. I slammed my laptop closed, the fluorescent light piercing my eyes, as I rushed to tell the office manager that I had to leave.
I had to go.
As I raced home, numbness crept through me. The beating of my heart amplified in my ears, silencing the everyday sounds of traffic that flitted by my open window.
Somehow, I knew. I don’t know how, but I just knew.
Briggs was stolen.
With a complete disregard for safety, I raced through several red lights and reached our neighborhood in record time. I slowed down, my eyes blurry as I desperately scanned the yards and alleyways, praying for a glimpse of black and white. I startled strangers on the street, screaming to them from my open window, “Hey you! Have you seen a Boston terrier?”
My thoughts were at war with each other, tumbling, tripping, and falling all over themselves. Yet a consistent theme emerged.
Help. Please. Help us. Help me. Briggs. Briggs. Please help him.
The spring day laughed at me as I squealed to a stop in front of our house. Our neighborhood was disgustingly picturesque. Sunlight filtered through the leaves while stay-at-home moms pushed their peaceful babies in strollers.
I was the chaos in this otherwise heavenly little slice of Americana.
Josh clattered down our front steps, panic radiating from him. Sweat dripped from his clean-shaven head, and his pale Irish skin was flushed from sprinting around the neighborhood. He climbed into the car and slammed the passenger door with a ferocity that mirrored his disheveled appearance. Panting, he looked at me, his warm brown eyes terror-stricken.
“Go!” he said.
Terrified, I floored the engine. We circled the neighborhood, screaming.
Disturbing the peace.
Was he hit by a car? Stolen? Hurt? Scared? Helplessness pulsed through our veins. We pulled into the alley behind our house. The sunlight made our congested alleyway, with its tightly placed garages and parking spots, appear almost charming. “No trouble here,” it seemed to say. “No, ma’am.”
Abandoning the car, we walked up and down the alley, calling for Briggs. “Briggs! Come here, sweet baby. Briggs! Briggs! Briggs?” The hoarseness of my voice mirrored my sorrow.
A shriek shattered my search. Shocked, I turned and looked. It was our neighbor, Whitney. She shouted from her second-floor reading nook, which just happened to lend a clear view of a portion of our otherwise private rear deck. As I looked up, I saw Whitney desperately waving through the open window.
“I saw your dog get taken!”
There is something to be said of the human-animal bond — you know that whole man’s-best-friend thing. Either you get it or you don’t. Dogs have inspired humans to make fools of themselves for years. Whether you are a tough guy who coos sweet nothings to your dog or an owner who switches dog collars based on the day of the week — once an animal has entered into your life, it is impossible to remain untouched. There is something instinctive about this bond: the adoration the animal has for you, the laughter and companionship they bring to your life, and your willingness — and responsibility — to be their protector. That’s how it works when you sign on to be a pet owner; above all else, you commit to protecting them.
Josh and I took our roles as new pet owners very seriously. Before we decided to get Briggs, we studied breeds for months. We argued tirelessly about which breed would be best for the space we had, what kind of dog would suit our personalities, and so on. Finally, we settled on a Boston terrier, a good-natured, happy breed that does well in city environments and smaller spaces.
Our three-story townhome on Milwaukee’s East Side had virtually no yard, but several parks were just a happy dog walk away. Plus, our small side yard, which was tucked behind a neighborhood church, offered a place where our new pet could take care of business quickly and sniff around freely.
After careful research, we decided we wanted to get our puppy from a reputable breeder who specifically bred for temperament and love of the breed. We weren’t interested in a perfect show dog — just a happy, healthy puppy to join our family. Armed with our research, Josh and I visited the breeder in southern Illinois to ensure that it was a tip-top operation.
The drive was six hours each way. Eight of those twelve hours were spent arguing over potential names; one was spent arguing about the speeding ticket I earned; and the rest were spent in happy discussion about how adorable our new puppy was. When we met the litter, we knew immediately that ours was the runt and the oddball of the group. Tiny, with too-big ears, he squeaked adoringly at us and melted our hearts.
Being the responsible (slightly-obsessive) first-time dog owners that we were, we spent the next eight weeks reading books on Boston terriers, investigating training methods, and getting all the necessary components for creating a puppy-proof home.
The day finally arrived when we could pick up our puppy, Briggs. Our drive was significantly shorter this time, as the breeder agreed to drive just north of Chicago to meet us at a rest area where the “exchange” could be made.
A laugh tore from me the second that I set eyes on Briggs. The most recent pictures had made him appear significantly larger.
He was tiny. Tiny in an — I’ll-kill-him-if-I-accidentally-step-on-him — sort of way. Immediately in love, we cuddled our new addition to the family. Briggs stared up at us with his warm brown eyes, and stretching up from my arms, he gave both of us a lick.
We’d been approved.
I insisted that we attempt to potty Briggs prior to the ride home. As he ran in circles around Josh, his little body vibrating with joy as he tugged the leash in his puppy teeth, I cried from laughter. This nine pounds of energy was going to give us a run for our money. Ready to begin the journey home, we climbed into the car, Josh cradling our precious new bundle, a bundle that he proceeded to drop between the seat of the car and the door.
Headfirst, that is.
Annnnd, welcome to the family, I thought.
Briggs quickly became the light of our lives, his silly antics pervading our daily emails and text messages. His quirks kept us constantly laughing. From his deep distrust of plastic garbage bags (an environmentalist, perhaps?) to his vicious barking attacks at cooking tongs, he consistently surprised and amused us.
His natural inclination for hilarity revealed itself whenever I attempted to hang up my clothes. Every time a hanger crossed his line of sight, Briggs went through the roof, barking and dancing his way across the room, eyes rolled back in fury. I secretly applauded his stance on putting clothes away. Who really likes to do that anyway?
With an innate sense of humor, Briggs’ actions soon had a following among our friends on Facebook. Our research had enlightened us to the fact that Boston’s have a sense of humor, but we never expected the immense depth of this personality trait, especially in a dog.
Everywhere we went people were naturally drawn to Briggs. He radiated happiness and loved people. From the dog park to Josh’s hurling matches with the Milwaukee Hurling Club (an Irish sport similar to rugby), our dog was a favorite. A wiggly-butt dog, he often laid his ears flat and shimmied his way up to anyone willing to give him attention. Little did we know then that the impact our sweet puppy had on others would benefit him in more ways than we could have ever possibly imagined.