Friday dawned early for me with the incessant, painfully familiar buzzing of my phone. Josh was asleep peacefully next to me, his dreams uninterrupted. As someone who instantly wakes up at any noise and can’t fall back asleep easily, I saw no point in ignoring my phone.
Reaching over, I squinted at it and smiled. Our friend Jason was back. I had known it was a gamble to refuse to negotiate price with him, but I had gone with my gut, and my instincts had proven correct.
“I can’t keep this dog. You got $225?” asked the text.
Well, that’s a drastic price cut, I thought.
“Sorry, Jason. I just want Briggs,” I texted, biting my lip and praying I was not screwing that poor little dog’s life up and that my ploy would work.
“I can’t find anyone to take him. Please. $200.” Jason’s desperation was apparent.
“Jason, I want Briggs. Have you heard anything about him?”
“No. My cuz and I be searching, but we ain’t heard nothing.”
“Jason, you had your chance at $100. That was it.”
“Man, come on! Just $200. You gotta see this dog. He’s a good-looking dog. I looked him up. Blue and white Bostons are real special. This is a deal.”
“No, I don’t want to see him. I want Briggs.”
My phone went quiet.
Hoping that I’d played this correctly and that Jason would come back to our original deal, I got out of bed and snatched my laptop. I emailed my main crew of street warriors, filling them in on the developments.
After mulling the situation over, I decided to update the Briggs Facebook page. At that point, the followers had become as much of the story as anyone else, and they already knew about Jason from a post earlier that week. If I did manage to get the little gray and white dog from him, I wanted to make sure that the word was out. My suspicion was that he’d been stolen, and the more people who knew about it, the more likely we would be to find his owners.
The flood of comments followed shortly:
“Go get him!”
“Save that pup! We’ll help you find his home!”
“I can foster him if you need me to!”
Bolstered by the comments, I felt confident that we could handle whatever came our way that day — until I checked my voicemail.
“Have you ever considered that maybe you just lost your dog? And have you ever considered answering your phone so people can help you? I mean, not me, ‘cause I can’t,” an annoying voice rang out at me from my phone, followed by the dial tone.
Amazed at the complete disrespect of some people, I immediately posted that delightful message to Facebook. And I admit it was nice to see other people were just as enraged as I was over this brand of calls. I felt Josh’s arm circle me as I angrily typed, and then he rested his head on mine.
Silently, I nodded.
Deciding to make use of our daylight time together, Josh and I picked a neighborhood to canvas before he had to go into work. While we were incredibly grateful for social media and the ability to share information quickly, we were finding out that our flyers were reaching the kind of people we needed to reach.
My phone buzzed with a text message, a picture from Jason. I opened it and gulped back tears as I stared into the face of the puppy whose head was too big for his body. He leaned a little, off kilter, tied to a dirty deck. His huge head was in decided contrast to his rail-thin body, and ribs poked out from his matted fur. His eyes stared dully at me, begging me for help.
“What are you going to do with him when you get him?” Josh asked, knowing me too well.
“Feed him and find him a home…and keep looking for Briggs.” One thing I would not allow was for that dog to distract us from finding ours.
“Mm-hmm.” Not only did Josh know me well enough to know how quickly I formed attachments to animals, but he also knew when to keep some of his thoughts about me to himself. Josh knew me well enough to not voice his thoughts: “She’ll keep this dog in a heartbeat if it needs help.”
I had to be honest with myself; I would save all the dogs in the world if I could. Any animal, for that matter. I’ve always had a strong affinity for animals. Oftentimes, I found that when I had difficulties communicating with people, animals were a strong source of comfort. I think that’s why so many people love animals. They provide companionship, loyalty, understanding, and comfort without judgment; attributes that few people offer one another. The truth of it is that I like most animals more than many of the people I’ve met in my life.
“Keep me posted…and don’t do anything stupid,” Josh warned, breaking into my thoughts. “I’m serious. I can’t go to work thinking you might end up in a stand-off in the hood, trying to rescue some dog.”
“What! Crazy. No, of course not,” I said, unable to look him in the eyes.
Smiling a bit, he kissed me gently and left for work.
Okay, Jason. Let’s play ball, I thought to myself as I contacted my backup.
“Code Red. Code Red. Jason is back and willing to negotiate. I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes down in price. Will one of you go with me today if he does?” I asked them.
Several texts bounced back in response: Annmarie after six o’clock, Megan in the late afternoon, and Paulie might, if he was back in town in time.
Once I got an idea of timeframe for my backup, I responded to Jason.
“Aw, he certainly is cute. Have you heard anything about Briggs?”
“Naw, I be looking. Me and my cuz look. Miss, do you want this dog? I been calling him Diesel. He’s real sweet.”
“Listen, Jason, You had your offer — $100. You said no. The offer still stands.”
“I need $200. Please. You gotta see him. This is a show dog.”
“Jason, you can’t sell this dog in Milwaukee. You know you can’t because you clearly tried this week. Everybody is on the lookout for a Boston. You’re stupid to ask for more. If you need money, mine’s the best offer you’re gonna get.”
“I can’t, my girlfriend be pissed if I don’t get money back.”
“I highly doubt that dog food and a collar cost you $200 this week.”
“It did! I swear. I bought a bed too.”
“Uh-huh. I told you $100.”
“What about $175?”
Phew, I thought, glad he was finally budging. As negotiations continued, I became increasingly tense. Was I committing this dog to a horrible outcome by not just agreeing to Jason’s price?
“Just come look at him. You’ll see that he’s a good-looking dog.”
A fool I was not. That was the last thing I was going to do. Obviously, I’d fall in love with the puppy if I saw him in person and lose all ability to negotiate. A price had to be decided ahead of time. Hours later, I finally negotiated Jason down.
“Lady, $125. Please. I really need it.”
“Fine,” I agreed, if and only if he promised to take the flyers of Briggs and to contact me immediately if he heard anything on the streets. I wanted him to know that the real money was in finding Briggs.
Jason agreed to meet me at the gas station again. Frantic, I knew I had to move quickly. The last time I’d given Jason too long to think he had backed out. I did not want to lose that dog again.
Only Megan could go with me, it being four o’clock on a Friday afternoon. Extremely nervous, she peppered me with questions on her way over to pick me up. Understanding her concern, I told her I’d call the police station across the street and speak with an officer before we met with Jason.
“Sir, I’m about to purchase a dog from a man at the gas station across the street,” I explained to the officer on the phone and gave him a rundown of the transaction.
“Really? That gas station gets robbed almost weekly. Probably not the smartest move,” the officer said, his sarcasm almost dripping through the phone.
Ahem. Well then.
“Um, what do you suggest?”
“I suggest you have him meet you here. If the dog isn’t stolen, he shouldn’t have a problem with it.”
Fair enough. I let him know we were on our way and to keep an eye out for us. He agreed. I could all but hear him thinking, stupid girl.
I decided to wait until we were en route before I asked Jason to meet me at the police station. Megan picked me up, and I took a towel with me, ready to wrap the puppy up. Having no idea of his condition, I was scared that he would transmit fleas or something worse to Megan’s own Bostons. I instructed her to head toward the police station, placed my mace in the cup holder, and picked up my phone.
“Meet us at the police station instead, across the street. On our way.” I sent the text and held my breath, praying that Jason wouldn’t hassle us.
Located on a side street, the police station was situated directly across from a row of dilapidated houses. I couldn’t help noticing that we were smack dab in the middle of one of the neighborhoods that the psychic had told us Briggs might be in. I silently wondered if this was still the case, or if they’d moved him. Megan waited in the car as I paced the sidewalk.
I stared down every car that drove by, intently looking for the telltale ears of a Boston terrier. The minutes ticked by. Cars pulled up, and people got out, but I saw no dogs. A thought occurred to me: am I a sitting duck standing out on the sidewalk by myself? No. I knew I wasn’t. Instinctively, I knew that Jason wasn’t out to hurt me. He was just an opportunist looking to cash in.
My phone rang, and Jason asked, “Yeah, why you ain’t at the gas station?”
Breathing a sigh of relief, I told him that the girl I was with felt more comfortable meeting by the police station and that I was standing outside, waiting for him.
“A’ight. I be over.”
Two minutes later, a battered red Trans Am turned the corner, sped up, whipped a U-turn, and parked across from me. The infamous Jason had arrived. A tall, good-looking man in his mid-twenties, Jason was dressed in a matching Adidas tracksuit and shoes. Stretching out his lanky frame, he casually crossed the street, cradling the tiny puppy under his arm.
Nervous, I smiled at him before he reached me and immediately cooed, “Aw, he is really tiny,” trying to radiate as much kindness and goodwill as I could muster.
I reached for the puppy quickly; I was terrified that Jason would step back and hold him out of my reach. Luckily, he handed him over right away, and I passed him the folded wad of cash. Looking down into the dog’s eyes, I simply melted inside. He stared up at me with utter conviction, and then stretched up until he could sniff my face. Giving me a singular lick with his abrasive little tongue, he settled back into the crook of my arm.
“Wow, I ain’t see him do that before,” Jason exclaimed.
“Really?” I asked, surprised, since puppies tend to lick and love up on everyone. I wondered what had been going on at Jason’s house that the puppy didn’t feel comfortable showing that type of affection.
“Yeah, he’s kinda grown on me actually. I been taking him everywhere with me, since he can’t be in the house with Cujo. Man, Cujo ain’t having it, that’s for sure.”
“Is that so?” Unsure of how to respond to that statement, I simply cuddled the puppy.
“Yeah, little Diesel’s a good dog. Please take care of him.” And with that, Jason loped across the street and was gone, but my phone buzzed immediately with a text from him.
“Please send me pics if you keep him. Take care of him.”
So, I thought with a smile, this little pup had wormed his way into the hustler’s heart, after all. Thinking of my next steps, I pulled the towel out of the car, wrapped him up, and sat down.
“Oh my God!” Megan squealed. “He is so freaking cute. Oh my God! So…tiny!”
She was right about that, and the little rescue pup (I refused to call him Diesel) just kept staring at me, only looking around a little bit. Jason was right. He was a beautiful dog. I spoke to him in mindless, soothing words — anything to let the little guy know that he was safe.
Megan dropped me off, and I thanked her profusely. Not everyone has the guts to go through with that little mission we’d just pulled. I’ve always admired a strong backbone in a woman.
“Okay, buddy, stay with me. We have to get you checked out.”
Keeping him wrapped in the towel, I immediately went to my car, hoping I’d make it to the emergency vet while they were still open. I knew if he’d been microchipped, we could find his rightful owners, if he had any. For all I knew, Jason’s story was true, and the rescue pup really was an abandoned dog.
The puppy nestled in. He didn’t cry, didn’t whimper, and didn’t squirm around. He just sat quietly in my lap, fitting easily between me and the steering wheel, and continued to stare up at me in complete and utter faith.
“You’re safe now.” Crooning it over and over, I patted him gently.
Relieved that I’d made it in time, I let the rescue puppy out on the grass by the vet to do his business. When he was finished, I scooped him up and took him into the clinic, all the while debating how I was going to explain the situation without flat out saying that I might have just paid for a stolen dog.
Much to my surprise and delight, after I delicately explained the situation, the vet’s office agreed to check him over for free. My little rescue, on the other hand, was far less impressed with the free exam and began to shake uncontrollably.
“It’s okay. I’m not leaving you here. I promise,” I said to him over and over.
Trembling, he kept staring up at me. I was surprised by his complete focus on me. Most puppies I’d met were a bit roly-poly and all over the place. I could tell that he had gone through some rough times in his young life, but just how rough had yet to be determined.
“Are you Briggs’ owner?” a woman asked as she stepped out from the back.
“Yes, I am,” I said, assuming the receptionist had filled her in.
“Oh my goodness! I’ve been following your story. You should know I’ve shared your story with many people, and we’re all rooting for you. How good of you to rescue this guy too.”
“Thanks! Every share helps, and we really appreciate all you’re doing.” Cuddling the rescue puppy, I walked back into the exam room.
The vet came in, a pretty lady with smiling eyes.
“So, what exactly is the story here?”
I filled her in, and she pulled out the wand to scan him.
Holding my breath, I prayed for…well, truth be told, I prayed there wasn’t a microchip. I’d already formed quite a bond with the little rescue dog, which came as a shock, even to me. Though I truly did not have the time or energy to nurse him back to health, and I knew that I needed to focus entirely on Briggs, a part of me wanted to keep the little rescue.
“No chip,” the vet proclaimed.
The puppy looked at me. Shaking to near convulsions, his little body looked even smaller on the large exam table. He was a beautiful gray color, but his coat was dull and matted. His large head seemed to droop under its own weight, and his ribs stuck out precariously.
Sighing and clicking her tongue in a tsk-tsk way, the vet proceeded to examine him.
“Well, aside from what looks like serious dehydration and malnutrition, this little fella’s in surprisingly good shape. I think a bath, some healthy food, and a little comfortable rest will do wonders for him.”
“Really?” I said. “No fleas or cuts or anything?”
“Nope. Just some TLC, and he should be up and running.”
Relieved, I bundled the puppy back in the towel, more than ready to take him home and figure out what to do next.
Carrying him inside, I said, “Okay, buddy. This is your temporary new home. You’ll be safe here.”
In a sentimental move, we had left Briggs’ water dish out and refilled it daily. Almost to say, “We know you’ll be home soon.” I put the puppy on the floor, and he looked up at me with his big, overweight head, and then ran to the water dish. His entire body shook as he gulped the water desperately.
“Whoa, boy! Slow down.” I gently pulled him away, but he fought me and returned to the water dish and gulped. I pulled him away again, and his tiny body shook. He hung his head and water started pouring back out of his mouth. He wasn’t throwing up, I realized. He had literally drunk his small body to capacity, and the water was overflowing out of his desperate little mouth. The puppy’s head drooped, and water continued to pour out. Ashamed, he wouldn’t look at me and continued to tremble.
I sat down on the floor with him.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I murmured.
He walked over to me and tried to crawl in my lap, and I gently held him as he threw up everywhere.
Slipping through my grasp, he ran back to the bowl and gulped more water. Then he turned around and promptly threw up again.
“Oooookaay, buddy. Simmer down. Let’s take this a little at a time.”
After I restricted his water and hand-fed him very small amounts of food, he finally settled down a bit. I sat on the kitchen floor with him, and he curled into my lap, silently staring up at me.
“Shit. You are totally bonded already,” I said, not sure if I was talking more to him or to myself. I then sent pictures to Josh and Annmarie.
“I’ll be over right after dinner to see him!” Annmarie declared.
Josh texted, “Just don’t get too attached, all right? We don’t know what the situation is.”
“I don’t think I’m the one who’s attached. He’s totally bonded to me.”
“Of course he is. He’s a puppy.”
“No, Josh. This is something deeper. I just know.”
Used to his wife being slightly nuts when it came to animals, Josh again withheld comment and said he would see me when he got home. I cuddled the miniature Boston and promised to do everything to keep him safe.
In the meantime, I knew I needed to keep following leads on Briggs. I hopped online and informed the Facebook world of the safe acquisition of the rescue puppy. Hundreds of comments flooded the page with recommendations of what I should do with him. Quickly realizing that putting the rescue puppy’s picture up could put him in harm’s way, I deleted it from the page. It had been brought to my attention that people were known to lie and say that a lost puppy was theirs simply by describing it from a picture they had seen on the Internet. The last thing we needed was to deliver that poor, malnourished, shaky puppy into the wrong hands.
My phone rang. It was Annmarie letting me know that she was across the street at a pizza parlor and wanted to come over with Kirk to meet the rescue.
“Come on, buddy. Let’s go outside and wait for them.”
As we sat outside, the rescue pup sniffed the air tentatively. He ventured a few steps out and then quickly returned to the safety and warmth of my lap. It was new territory for him.
Annmarie and Kirk soon made their way across the street to our house. Both were animal lovers and understood the need to approach the puppy with a gentle demeanor. Kirk, with his strong shoulders and white beard, exuded a masculine confidence, coupled with a gentle love for animals. The three of us sat on the grass as dusk fell. The puppy slowly approached them, growled, and bounced back to me.
“Come inside,” I said. Inviting them in for the first time, I carried the rescue dog to the kitchen floor. I sat down and cradled the rescue pup in my lap, and Kirk and Annmarie sat next to me. What a surreal moment, I thought. Who are these people sitting on my kitchen floor on a Friday night? The owner of a large company and the head of several major radio stations were curled up on my kitchen floor, gently whispering to the rescue dog, encouraging him to approach. I felt as though I had known them forever.
Wobbling on weak legs, the rescue puppy made his way over to Annmarie. With false bravado, he barked at her, drawing a laugh. In terror, he skidded back to my lap, vibrating and barking.
“He’s protecting you and thinks you’re the safe zone,” Kirk observed.
“I know.” I was quiet — too quiet. Trying to keep my emotions in check was really hard, and it was useless to hide anything from Annmarie who could read me from a mile away. Looking down at the puppy, I tried to hold back my tears.
“You aren’t giving up on Briggs by rescuing him, you know that, right?” Annmarie asked me.
“Yes, I know.”
“Don’t feel guilty about rescuing this dog. You have enough love in you to save him and still bring Briggs home. You can do this, Tricia,” Annmarie said, seeing straight to the core of things, yet again.
“I do feel incredibly guilty, like I’ve given up on Briggs or something. I’m scared that caring for the puppy will take away from my search. I don’t know how to save them both.” That really was the crux of it all. That tiny puppy, shaking and growling in my lap, already looked at me like I was his savior. Would I have it in me to break his heart and give him away?
“You aren’t giving up on Briggs,” Annmarie said. “You’re far too strong to do that. You’ll figure out how to make this work. For tonight, you saved one dog. Tomorrow, you can decide what to do with him.”
As Annmarie talked me down, I tried to acknowledge the truth of her words. I tried not to cry as I watched Kirk make faces and cooing noises at the rescue puppy. I loved how the puppy tilted his head back and forth curiously at the noises.
Annmarie stood up and walked around the house, stepping out on the deck to take a look at the place where Briggs had been stolen. She was trying to get a read on the man who had taken Briggs and to see if she could pick up any other residual information.
“I don’t like this place.”
Not one to pull her punches, Annmarie went on to talk about the negative energy on the deck and said she felt like the dognapper might have just been completely emotionally ignorant — as in, he saw a dog he wanted and simply took it, without any thought of our pain or the ramifications of his actions.
“If that’s the case, I hope they’re at least taking care of him,” I said.
After saying their goodbyes, Annmarie hugged me for an extra long moment. “You can do this. You did a good thing today.”
“So did you,” I said. Annmarie had insisted on covering the $125 for the rescue puppy.
After they left, I curled up on the couch and waited for Josh, contemplating our next move. The rescue stretched out next to me on his back, tummy up, softly snoring. At least I knew he felt safe with me; no dog who felt threatened would sleep like that. Already sensing that we’d encounter some trouble when Josh got home, I texted Josh to come in and sit next to me on the couch when he got home so I could put my arms around him and show the puppy that Josh was part of the family.
As I suspected, the rescue pup shot off the couch and barked incessantly when Josh walked through the door.
“Come over here,” I said, smiling at Josh and patting the seat next to me on the couch. When Josh sat next to me, I put my arms around him in a huge hug and gave him a gentle kiss.
“See? Family. See, puppy? Family…friend. This is family,” I repeated over and over.
Josh held me and watched quietly as nine pounds of frenzy barked at him. Eventually, the puppy quieted down into little yips and murmurs. Vibrating with energy, he walked across my lap and looked up into Josh’s face.
“Hey, buddy,” Josh said.
A stern bark informed Josh who the boss was (hint: it wasn’t Josh). I couldn’t help but laugh at the little dog’s spirit. He was certainly a little firecracker, straight out of the inner city, ready to stand up for himself and his new favorite person, me.
As introductions go, it was a little rocky, but by the end of the night, Josh had passed muster and was allowed to rub the puppy’s head and scratch his back. Still, every time I got up to use the restroom or walk into the kitchen, the dog would launch himself over the back of the couch in a desperate attempt to keep me from getting too far out of sight.
“Whoa!” Josh said.
“See? Like I said, he’s already bonded with me. Big time.”
We let the puppy out for the final time that night and watched as he tore down the walkway next to our house. Stopping and dancing around, he broke into a crazy run that is so typical of Bostons.
“Oh my God,” breathed Josh.
“I know. Just like Briggs.” It was heart-wrenching to watch the mini-Briggs run around and do all the same things Briggs did.
When we went to bed that night, I looked over at the rescue pup as he sat in Briggs’ small crate that we’d pulled from the closet. Whimpering, he stared at me.
“Not happening, bucko.”
Sighing, he laid down with his head on his paws.
“What are you going to do with him tomorrow?” Josh asked, concerned because we had a memorial service to attend in the morning, followed by a long day of flyer-hanging.
“I have no idea.”