A six a.m. phone call startled me out of my restless slumber. A Milwaukee County park ranger’s harsh voice tore at me as he demanded that we immediately remove the posters on a popular street that ran the length of the beach on Lake Michigan. It was one of our best spots for high-traffic coverage, as people constantly walked and ran the lakefront. He informed me that the County forbade tape on their light poles, and unauthorized sign postings were prohibited. Angry, I informed this self-righteous security guard that I was under the impression that it was also prohibited to steal a dog off of one’s private back deck. I hung up on him, in awe that he would expect us to take down our flyers. We weren’t trying to sell anything or scam anyone; we just wanted our dog back.
It had now been two weeks since Briggs’ abduction, but it felt like a lifetime. I ignored the park ranger’s demand, other than to post the ridiculous exchange on the Briggs’ Facebook page. It was kind of fun to read the resulting suggestions of how to handle the park ranger. Our Briggs’ community had turned into quite the support system.
Thinking of how far we’d come in only fourteen days, I tried to console myself with the lost dog stories people had told me over the past two weeks. One seemed to linger in my mind: “I heard one dog, Buddy, returned home after two years! Have faith.”
Two years? We could not keep this pace up for two years. I knew we were both getting burned out, starting to drag. We would have to throttle back at some point.
But not yet.
“Relentless” was still the name of the game, and it was too soon to stop, too soon to give up. The fact of the matter was that someone had stolen Briggs, and I refused to stop the pressure until the person gave up and gave him back. I prayed that I was making the right decision — that we wouldn’t scare this incredibly poor excuse for a human into hurting Briggs.
I am a firm believer in trusting one’s instincts, and mine told me to keep pushing. I was beginning to worry people in my life, and annoying the crap out of some — the Milwaukee County park rangers most recently — but I didn’t care. Briggs wasn’t back home yet.
I checked my list and decided to make a few calls before work. I had been repeatedly calling the company that had sent a crew to wash our windows a few weeks prior. I knew I was offending the owner by asking her to question the Hispanic workers who had come to wash our windows. I pleaded with her to understand that I wasn’t accusing her workers; I was simply pointing out that they’d seen Briggs, and perhaps they’d taken a shine to him and spoken to other people about him. I had to keep pushing.
Josh held my hand while I spoke with her.
When I hung up and suggested that we call the roofing company again, Josh said, “Damn it, Tricia, he was a nice guy.”
Josh liked the owner of the roofing company, who’d come out to give us a quote the day Briggs was stolen. He had brought his own dog with him, and the dogs had met and played together.
“I’m sorry, babe. I just have to,” I said as I dialed the owner. I pled my case, and he understood where I was coming from and realized I had to ask. He was clearly offended, though, so I tried to soften my intent and asked him if he could rack his brain about anything he might have seen that day.
I hated being in this position. No one wants to question someone else’s honor. As much as I hated it, though, I had to persist. Next, I called the church and followed up with any workers they’d hired recently. It didn’t matter how hard it was for me to make the call; sometimes the difficult questions have to be asked.
With my stomach evolving into a permanent web of knots, I drove into work for the day. Listlessly, I stared at some reports, the numbers blurring in defeat against my distracted brain.
When my phone rang, I looked at the display and was bolstered by the fact that the call wasn’t blocked. At the very least, the caller wasn’t trying to hide their number. Sad that it’s come to that,
“Hello?” I said, not expecting much.
“Yeah, um, are you looking for a Boston terrier?” A man asked me.
“Yes. Do you have him?” I asked bluntly, and then held my breath.
“Well, I’m not sure. I’ve got a Boston, but I don’t think he’s yours. Is yours gray and white?” he asked.
“No. I’m sorry, but ours is black and white. Can you tell me more about the dog? How big is he? Where did you find him?” The questions came tumbling off my tongue. I was on high alert.
“I found him tied to a fence. He’s real tiny, about ten pounds. A good-looking little guy, but gray and white, like I said. I just thought he might be yours or that you might be interested in buying him since you like Bostons so much. I can’t keep him.”
My heart skipped a beat as I tried to process the information. My initial thought was that he had Briggs but was dancing around the truth. That or I was finding out about another stolen dog that was being moved quickly. Not wanting to scare off the caller, I gently asked if he could explain more about how he found the dog, and I mentioned that even if it wasn’t Briggs, I might be interested. For all I knew, there was a dog-stealing ring in Milwaukee, and I’d just stumbled upon a cog in that nasty little wheel.
“Um, I just seen him tied to a fence of an empty house. It looks like they’re working on rehabbing the house, but nobody’s there, and the dog was just tied up.”
“It’s crazy that anyone would abandon a dog like that. Do you know what address you got him from? Maybe I could help return him,” I said, pretty certain that most people wouldn’t just leave a dog tied to a fence.
“Nah, nah. I just want to know if you want to buy him or if you know someone who might. He’s real cute. You oughtta see him,” he said.
Okay. So this dude’s going to dodge all of my questions in an attempt to make a few bucks off of someone else’s stolen dog, I thought. Testing him, I asked him for his name.
“My name is Jason,” he said.
“Well, Jason, I would certainly be interested, but I’m most interested in finding Briggs, my black and white Boston. You know there’s a reward if you find Briggs, right?” I said, realizing I needed to keep Briggs at the forefront of the conversation.
“Yeah, yeah. Me and my cuz be looking for him too. But do you wanna buy this dog, too?” Jason was very focused on getting rid of the dog he had.
“How about this, Jason? Can you send me a picture of this dog, just so that I can make sure it isn’t Briggs?”
“Um, I ain’t got a picture phone, but the girls next door do. I’ll get you one,” he said and hung up.
I sat and stared at my phone, overwhelmed. I wanted so very badly for that dog to be Briggs. I prayed that Jason was colorblind and that it was really a black and white Boston terrier. If that were the case, it would be one of our strongest leads to date. Shaking, I quickly texted Josh and waited.
A half an hour later, my phone beeped with an incoming text. It was from an unknown number, but my phone signaled that it was a picture message. Jason had come through.
I took a deep breath and opened the message. The picture was a little blurry but showed a young man in his twenties, presumably Jason, holding a gray and white Boston terrier at arm’s length in front of him. The dog was tiny, completely malnourished, with a huge head and eyes that stared straight into my soul.
Calmly, I put my phone down and walked to the bathroom, bypassing the women gossiping at the front desk. I opened the bathroom door and was grateful to find it vacant. I slipped into the handicapped stall and quietly locked the door. As I leaned against the door, I lost it. Everything poured out of me. Tears ran in salty rivers down my cheeks, and I tried to breathe silently so that I wouldn’t emit those awful gulping, sobbing sounds that happen when you cry from the very center of your core. My entire body shook with emotion, draining me. I needed it; I hadn’t cried since the day Briggs was stolen.
I buried my face in my hands and acknowledged what I had already decided the second my eyes had seen that picture: I needed to save this dog too. I wiped my face and took a deep breath, preparing myself to talk to Jason.
When I returned to my desk, I found that he’d sent several text messages. He wanted to know if I had received the picture and if I wanted the dog.
It was time to negotiate.
I called him back.
“Jason, I need to know where this dog came from,” I said flatly.
“Like I told you, I found him tied to a fence. I saved him,” he said.
“Why’d you save him if you knew you couldn’t keep him?”
“I’ve got two dogs already, and I thought they’d get along with him okay. The girl don’t mind him so much, but my male, Cujo…well, he ain’t having it. I guess he ain’t keen on havin’ two men in the house. Know what I mean?” Jason laughed like we were buddies sharing a joke.
“Sure, I get it. But why didn’t you just take him to a shelter?” I asked, as that would have been the obvious course of action to me.
“Nah, I can’t do that. I already got money tied up in this dog. I bought a bed, food, a collar. My girl’ll be pissed if I don’t get that money back.”
The picture came into focus: Jason’s girlfriend demanded that he make some money off of the dog. Now that I understood, I said, “Okay, Jason, here’s the deal. I’ll give you seventy-five dollars for him because that’s all I’ve got. The rest of the money is in the reward for Briggs. I want you to look for Briggs, but I’ll help this dog in the meantime.”
“Seventy-five bucks? C’mon! I can’t do that! I need $125.”
Continuing in this same manner for half an hour, we finally settled on a fee of $100. The next issue was how to make the exchange. I was understandably reluctant to meet him at his house (truly, as relentless as I was being, I was nowhere near that stupid), so I suggested we meet at a gas station across from a police station after I got off work (the same neighborhood the psychic had predicted — hustling territory), and Jason surprisingly agreed.
With my anxiety gnawing my stomach, I started running through the potential holes in my plan. Am I being set up? Does Jason think he can lure me in with a dog and jump me for the reward money? Steal my car? I had no idea what kind of person I was really dealing with.
Foolishly, I posted the picture on my personal Facebook and asked for advice. Eighty comments later, I quickly removed the post. It was clear to me that quite a few of my friends were ill-equipped when it came to street smarts. I received many useless suggestions that would have made the situation much worse, things like — “Go in with the cops!” While I understood that they were trying to be helpful, they certainly weren’t thinking about the bigger picture. If Briggs was still in that neighborhood, the last thing I needed to do was ruin our reputation on the streets by surprising Jason with an ambush from the cops.
On the flipside, I was concerned about the message that I would potentially be sending. Would I be advertising that we were willing to pay cash for all Boston terriers that are “found?” The last thing I needed was for word to get out that I would pay for stolen dogs.
It was a decidedly fine line to walk, and one I did not relish navigating. Trusting my instincts, I deleted the picture and all the comments from Facebook and told everyone that I’d keep them posted. I appreciated the fact that they cared, but it was clear that some people just didn’t get it. Luckily, before I removed it, the posting piqued the interest of a few friends I hadn’t spoken with in a while. I would later find out that they had set up their own systems of protecting me, unbeknownst to me.
I reached out to Annmarie and sent her the picture of the Boston and told her about my arrangements with Jason.
She immediately responded, “You have to get this dog.”
She agreed to go with me, and we decided to meet at the CVS and go together. She contacted her husband and filled him in, and I did the same with Josh.
Next, I called my friend Paulie.
“Can you come tonight?” I asked.
After a long-winded rant about opportunists and people who will use any opportunity to make a buck, Paulie agreed to be there to protect us should anything go down.
I was grateful, and I managed to breathe a little easier. Things are going to be okay, I told myself. We’re going to save a puppy.
I raced home from work, quickly changed into nondescript clothing, and rushed to meet Annmarie at the CVS. On the way, I received several text messages from Jason. It appeared as though he had done some research in his downtime, and now he wanted to up the ante.
“I looked these dogs up, and they real expensive. I want $500.”
I laughed. Hustlas gonna hustle, I thought to myself. Unfortunately for Jason, he had no idea who he was dealing with. I had long ago learned not to negotiate with people like this.
“Sorry, Jason, but $100 is all I have. Cash is yours. You can have it right now,” I said into the phone, then sat in my car and waited.
“No, these dogs are pricey. Come look at him. You’ll see he worth it.”
“No. It’s $100 or nothing,” I replied flatly.
I texted Paulie: “Abort mission. Jason is pulling out. Thanks for being there.”
I knew then that it wasn’t going to happen, and Jason would try to sell this dog elsewhere. Sighing, I pulled into the CVS parking lot and waited for Annmarie who pulled up shortly thereafter.
Looking stylish in her jeans and leather jacket, Annmarie approached me and gave me a hug.
“Jason is out,” I said.
“What?!” she asked furiously.
“He wants $500 for the dog, and I am not paying that. He’ll have to come down.”
“Well, let’s drive around and see if he calls back,” Annmarie said.
I agreed, grabbed my mace, flyers, and tape, and got into her car. I figured we might as well do some canvassing if we weren’t going to pick up a dog. We cruised slowly past the meeting point to look for signs of Jason, but nobody was there.
My phone buzzed.
“I’ll take $450, no less. He’s a purebred.”
So it’s going to be like that? I thought.
“Tell Jason he should be ashamed of himself, that he should do the right thing and save a dog,” Annmarie was vocal in her anger at Jason.
I texted her reply and waited for the response.
“I did! I saved the dog. He would’ve died without me.” Apparently, despite his inability to honor a deal, Jason nonetheless considered himself a good Samaritan.
“Listen, Jason, you found the dog in a sketchy way. You have no papers for the dog, and everyone is going to think he is stolen. Good luck trying to sell him. I’ll take him off your hands, but it is $100 or nothing,” I texted back and held my breath. I was worried that the mention of the dog being stolen would send him running.
“No, miss, I don’t steal! He is not stolen! I saved him! $450.”
“No. It’s $100 or nothing.”
“No. Good luck trying to sell him when the entire city of Milwaukee is looking for a stolen Boston terrier. I’ve got $100 if you want it.”
“No, only $400.”
“Good luck, Jason.” Silently staring out the window, I prayed that I hadn’t miscalculated my strategy.
“He’ll come back to you, you know,” Annmarie said, sounding entirely certain.
“I know,” I said.
We continued to drive around, trying to highlight the neighborhood the psychic had detailed in his email. Annmarie stopped at pinpointed locations and gazed silently out of the window. I wondered what she was thinking when she sat there so intensely like that.
We stopped in front of a holistic health store and noticed a woman standing out front, speaking with a homeless man. I got out of the car and handed them flyers.
“She really cared,” Annmarie stated when I climbed back in the car.
“Oh yeah? How do you know?”
“I just do.”
As we drove around, Annmarie began to question me about the psychics, and I explained my encounters with them. Annmarie nodded as she listened.
“My mother was psychic. She collected the odd, the weird, and filled our house with all kinds of people, from whackos to the real deal.” Annmarie stated this casually as she stared out the window at a building.
“Whoa! Really? Was she the real deal?”
“Yes. Sadly, she didn’t handle it well. Truth be told, everyone in my family has psychic abilities.”
As the words registered, I looked at her more closely.
“Everyone? Even you?” I asked.
“I have a gift, strong psychic abilities, but I never use it for personal gain,” she said, focusing on the road ahead.
I wondered if she was worried that I would judge her. Secretly, I was a little jealous. Ecstatic, my mind filled with a zillion questions. All of a sudden, I felt like I had my own secret weapon in the Briggs hunt. Cautiously, I let her know that I thought it was an amazing gift and told her I was very interested in learning how it worked for her. Frankly, I didn’t care if she could read every thought in my head. At that point, I was happy to use every tool offered to me for the Briggs hunt.
As we drove around, Annmarie explained that she occasionally saw flashes of things or could read people and know whether or not they were telling the truth. At times, she could predict events or foresee when bad things were going to happen. She said it just happened on its own; she couldn’t summon any of those abilities on command.
Amazed, slightly in awe, and utterly impressed, I could only nod. I’d met people with psychic abilities before, yet she was perhaps the most believable person that I had ever met when it came to extra-sensory gifts.
“Is that why you came to our doorstep?” I wondered out loud.
“Absolutely. Tricia, you have no idea how many people ask me for help every day in my position at work. It is difficult to turn people down, but oftentimes I have to. Your cause touched me in a few different ways, and I had to reach out to help you.”
Annmarie then went on to explain that she’d seen my email to the radio station, yet had dismissed it at the time. She received hundreds of emails a day, so many that they were difficult to keep up with. That same day, she had seen our poster at Starbucks, and later that night, she was at dinner with her husband in the 4000 block of Oakland Avenue.
“I walked across the street to see what the vegetarian options were at another restaurant and saw your flyer. It slammed me in my gut. When I returned to the restaurant where my husband was, I saw another flyer on the door. I couldn’t look away from it. The emotion was so powerful,” Annmarie said. We had reached her four times in one day, and she decided it was time to act.
“Those were the first flyers we put up,” I said, amazed. I recalled the first night — the night the ragtag group of psychics had directed me to put flyers on that block. All of the sudden, it made sense. Briggs wasn’t at the 4000 block, but help was.
“I could feel it. Total sadness just hit me when I saw the poster, as well as great anger. I kept staring at it over dinner. I couldn’t even eat. I asked the waitress for more information, but she hadn’t even noticed the flyer.” Annmarie went on to detail how distracted and upset she was throughout dinner and on their way home. Her husband, knowing her well, had looked at her and asked if they should go back for the information.
“I have to. I have to go see them,” she told him. They then went back for her to gather our information, and their next stop was our doorstep.
“I wanted to read you,” she explained. “I wanted to see if you were the real deal, if what I was sensing from the poster was true emotion.”
“Now I know why I felt like you were staring into my soul,” I said, “and, why, for some reason, I felt instantly bonded to you.”
“I knew it was wrong to show up on your doorstep like that, strangers in the dark, and I was sure it would frighten you. I’m sorry about that, but I had to. I could feel how sad Josh was too,” Annmarie said.
“I wasn’t going to put our address on those flyers, but something compelled me to, even against my better judgment.”
As we mulled it all over, we continued cruising neighborhoods, periodically getting out and handing flyers to children who tended to be far more observant than most adults. I told Annmarie that I’d seen a mother and child walk past my car, and the child kept pulling his mom’s arm and trying to drag her back to show her the stolen poster in my back window, but she kept going, disinterested.
My phone buzzed yet again. This time, it was text message from my friend Peter. He wanted to know how things had worked out. After I filled him in, he agreed with my stance to avoid negotiations with Jason. Later, I would come to find out that Peter had stationed people at all corners of the intersection, with instructions to keep an eye on us. If anything had gone down, we would have been covered.
Again, I knew that kind of support couldn’t be bought. Grateful for my friends, I went home to continue our nightly online campaign and fill our followers in on what had happened with Jason. Recalling Annmarie’s suggestion that we needed to focus on the Hispanic communities, I began work on a Spanish website dedicated to Briggs. If we did manage to get a blurb on the Hispanic radio stations, it would be important to have a place to direct the listeners, and phone numbers would be difficult for people to remember or jot down while they were driving and listening to the radio.
My friend Matt and I worked late that night to get a site up and running for Spanish-speakers. I purchased a URL, www.leechodemenosmiperro.com (www.imissmydog.com), which would be easy for listeners to remember. The site was really nothing elaborate and was simply a Spanish version of the poster, translated by my friend Jessica, but it felt good to know it was up and running.
Matt, bona fide computer geek that he was, proved to be an invaluable resource to our hunt. From helping with the website to continually spreading the word, he was something like my social media campaign publicist. He continued to give me daily progress reports, and was I blown away that Twitter was all a flurry with the Briggs poster, even though I wasn’t on Twitter myself.
“This is how you know you’re good at marketing, Tricia. You didn’t even have to be on Twitter to get the word out. Twitter followed you.”