Choking sobs woke me; it took a moment to realize they were my own. I was struggling to breathe. Gut-wrenching, deep cries tore their way out of my body. I covered my mouth and tried to be quiet, but the bed shook with my emotion. I heard the puppy whimpering, and I felt the bed dip as Josh rolled over and put his arms around me.
“I — I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to do this. I can’t. I can’t keep this dog. There’s no way I can stay focused on Briggs and save this dog too.”
After a series of unattractive hiccups, I wiped the tears from my face in a losing attempt to calm myself. It was hopeless, though, for I simply could not stop the flow of tears.
“Do you want me to take him to the Humane Society?” Josh asked. It was an option I didn’t want to consider.
Crying, I shook my head. No.
The whimpering from the floor grew louder, but I couldn’t bear to look at the puppy, knowing we were deciding his fate.
“How about we keep him for a few days and see if we can find any owners? I thought that was the plan,” Josh said.
I nodded. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t stop crying.
Josh pulled me to him and comforted me.
“Maybe you need a good cry. You haven’t since Briggs was stolen…not really anyway. You know that, right?”
I nodded, acknowledging his statement; I hadn’t told anyone about my tears in the bathroom earlier that week. Josh’s beard scratched my shoulder as he held me, and I tried to concentrate on regulating my breathing. I didn’t know how to convey my feelings to him. What I did know was that the new dog had bonded to me, and I couldn’t bear to break his heart. But I wasn’t ready to accept that yet. I needed to keep my wall up, or else I would let Briggs down. There was no “save and nurture new puppy” portion to our relentless campaign.
“Call that girl at Central Bark and see if she’ll take the puppy for the day, and we’ll figure out what to do tonight. How does that sound?” Josh asked, his words slurring with sleepiness.
Nodding, I breathed deeply, trying to pull myself back together. A few minutes later, I called Jess, the owner of Central Bark Menomonee Valley, and explained our predicament.
She readily agreed to take the puppy for the day.
“Girl, you sure it isn’t that time of the month or something? You’re a wreck!” Jess laughed at me, trying to break the tension and make me smile. It worked, sort of.
Smiling weakly, I let her know I’d be there shortly. I then gathered the puppy up, put him through the rigors of the morning feed-poop-walk routine, and then proceeded to get dressed.
Wearing bright colors as requested by my friend, Chuck, for his sister’s funeral, I could see that the poppy red of my shirt highlighted the pallor of my skin and the large circles under my eyes. With a shrug, I dismissed it. Makeup could only cover so much.
Driving to Central Bark turned out to be more emotional than I had anticipated. The puppy wouldn’t leave my lap and cried the entire time. Doing what I could to reassure him, I promised him that we’d only be apart for a few hours and that I’d be back to pick him up that night. Uttering soothing, nonsensical words, I carried him into Central Bark.
From behind the brightly colored desk, Jess let out an exclamation. A lover of Bostons, she couldn’t believe how tiny and cute the little gray one was.
“Wow! I’ve never seen one that color before.”
I explained to her that he was pretty bonded to me already and might have some issues with separation anxiety.
She laughed a bit and dismissed me.
“He’s a puppy. He’ll be okay!”
Promising to be back before four o’clock, I left without looking back.
It was one of those perfect, early summer days, and the sun shone as we drove to the memorial service. Julie, Chuck’s sister, had died that week, and we were there to support Chuck and to help him through the loss of a sister he dearly loved. I hadn’t known Julie, but Chuck had told me of her deep love of animals, as well as her infectious love of humor and a good joke. I hurt for my friend, yet it seemed like just another unwelcome layer to my pain.
Josh and I walked into a beautiful, white Episcopalian church. Stark in contrast to many overly ornate churches, this one had huge, clear, antique glass-paned windows that ran the length of the room. It was white inside, almost sterile, with little ornamentation. The message of the minimalistic, plain décor was simple: all who stepped through those doors were there to celebrate the simplicity and beauty of life.
Sitting in a wooden pew toward the back, I fought back tears as I watched my friend and his family honor the sister they had loved so dearly. Trying to maintain my composure, I stared out of the huge window to my left. A beautiful tree, situated directly outside the window, waved its leaves delicately in the wind. I watched the sun dancing through the bright green leaves, a melody of light and color; the beauty of it stinging my eyes. I prayed furiously as I sat there, asking God, Julie, the lover of animals, and any other spirit guides that cared to listen.
“Please. Please help. I can’t take this much more. I simply can’t. I need your help.” Focusing on the tree, I repeated this over and over. “Please. Please help.”
As the service came to a close with the rousing song, “I don’t wanna work. I just wanna bang on my drums all day!” The song shook the mood and turned the memorial into a celebration. Suddenly, everyone’s bright wardrobe made sense.
Squeezing my hand tightly, Josh pulled me to offer our condolences to Chuck. We explained that we couldn’t stay; we had to use our day to put up flyers. Chuck, a strong supporter of the Briggs search, hugged us and wished us luck.
Emotionally exhausted, and it’s only noon, I thought.
After that, Josh and I split up for the day. He was finally going to repair the brakes on my car using his co-workers’ tools.
When I kissed him goodbye, he held me for an extra long time and said, “I love you.”
“You too,” I said. Taking a deep breath, I moved on to my plan for the day.
My friend Kristine had agreed to meet me at El Rey, a Hispanic grocery store on the South Side. We planned to set up shop with a folding table and chairs and try to capture as much attention as we could.
The day had grown hotter, and I crankier, as I waited for Kristine to meet me. Another beautiful day, and I was out hanging flyers. Pushing my heavy hair off of my neck, I went to greet Kristine at her car and helped her with the table and chairs.
“Let’s ask the manager to make sure it’s okay, just so we don’t get yelled at,” Kristine suggested.
As we walked inside, we saw that the food carts were congregated around the entrance and exit to the store, so we’d need to find another spot for our table. I noticed an area by the entrance and exit to the parking lot and pointed it out to Kristine. It was a perfect spot to get attention. After speaking with the manager, who was exceptionally kind, we were able to set up our table in the spot that we had scoped out.
I mentioned to Kristine that we surely would have gotten much more hassle had we gone to a chain grocery store, with all their rules, regulations, and red tape. Loving local stores and their ability to make quick decisions, I was happy that we were able to set up our table with no fuss.
Having considered in advance what our sign should say, I had printed a large neon sign in both English and Spanish. Huge rewards were offered. Our desperation had made us up the ante. My hope was that it would catch people’s eyes as they drove in and out of the lot.
The next three hours dragged on. Kristine’s enthusiasm and willingness to chase people down in the parking lot to hand them flyers was a huge help. Already at an emotional low, I was having a hard time fighting for people’s attention.
One man approached and asked us, in Spanish, about my dog. He appeared to be well off, and his concern was clear. Even more so, we noticed that he seemed like the type who’s able to “take care of things.” Saying as much, he walked away and pulled out a cell phone.
“Interesting,” we both said, taking notice of the gentleman.
“It’s better than the assholes who completely ignore us as we try to hand them the flyer,” Kristine noted.
That was true, for we’d pleaded with many, but the language barrier, or indifference, had them turn their backs on us.
“Some of these people worry me,” I mentioned to Kristine.
“Like the crack addict who keeps circling us?” Rolling her eyes, Kristine gave him the death glare.
“Yes. He’s particularly annoying, especially when he asked if we’d go home with him.”
A minute later, Annmarie called.
“Tricia, I have great news for you! Remember me telling you about my brother who lives in Seattle? Well, he’s a ghost-hunter. I know how crazy that sounds, but he’s the head of some paranormal society out there, and they’re going to have a show on A&E this year.”
Her voice hummed with excitement.
Listening and squinting against the heat of the sun, I encouraged her to continue. I remembered that she had mentioned that her whole family had psychic abilities.
“Well, he called me today and asked me what’s wrong. He never does that, and we don’t talk very often. He literally could feel how upset I am and called me up. I explained to him the whole story of Briggs and how Kirk and I had gotten involved. Understanding quickly, he told me he has two friends who are animal communicators and would be happy to help for free. How great is that? Are you okay with that?”
I’ve always believed there is more out there than we know, and I wholeheartedly believe in the ability of some people to tap into other senses.
“Yes, beyond okay! What do you need from me?”
“Forward me as much information as you can about what you know from the day he was stolen. I should be home in an hour or two and by my computer, and I’ll email it to him then.”
I agreed quickly, and then happily hung up, glad to have more strong people on my side. I would use all forces at my disposal, crazy as they might otherwise seem.
I relayed the conversation to Kristine, and she agreed with me that it was time to pack up. We had been at El Rey for hours, and I was starting to worry about the rescue puppy. I snapped a few pictures for the Facebook page and gratefully thanked Kristine; her strength had helped to keep me sane throughout the day. Doing this alone would have been a nightmare, if not impossible.
Leaving El Rey, I idly contemplated whether we’d given a flyer to the man who had taken Briggs, or perhaps to a family member of his. In any case, I hoped we’d made our presence known in that community.
I hoped we’d given the message loud and clear: “We’re here. We aren’t going anywhere. We can get even more obnoxious than this. We aren’t scared of you, and we will continue to be a thorn in your side until you give Briggs back.”
Bolstered by the good news and the progress of the day, I drove to Central Bark, eager to hear how the puppy had fared.
“Hey, Jess. How’d he do?” I asked as I entered the front room.
A thud shook the half-door that separated her office from the desk. Accompanied by hysterical crying and scratching, the thuds grew louder.
“Um, you weren’t kidding when you said he’s bonded to you,” Jess said as she reached through the door to pick the rescue puppy up.
Squirming hysterically, he dropped from her hands and rushed to me. Scrambling and scratching at me, he twisted and turned and pawed at my legs in a desperate attempt to climb my legs and be closer to me.
“Whoa! Calm down, buddy. I’m here, just like I told you I would be.” I picked him up and cradled him close.
He instantly calmed down. Licking my face, he gazed around serenely, an entirely different creature from the hysterical monster he’d been just moments before.
I noticed that he was sporting a dapper new blue collar. Admiring it, I thanked Jess.
“I just wanted to rid him of any reminders of his old place. Figured it might have a bad smell or energy for him.”
I thanked her again and asked her how he did.
“Well, I took him to get his vaccinations, as he couldn’t be around the other dogs if he wasn’t vaccinated. I hope you don’t mind.”
Understanding, I thanked her.
Continuing on, Jess told me, “It was truly the funniest thing. I kind of blew you off when you said he was bonded to you because…well, for the most part, puppies love everyone. But then he did something today that no other dog has ever done on my watch. When you left, he freaked, ran into my office, leaped on top of the desk, put his paws against the window, and watched you leave. In all my time here, I’ve never seen a dog do that.”
Hearing that was like a knife to my gut. How could I possibly re-home a dog that’s bonded to me like that? I knew, with 100 percent certainty, that giving him up would break this little dog’s heart. He was a fighter, and I was his final choice for safety. How could I let him down?
With my heart aching, I cradled him in my lap as we drove home. I didn’t know what to do. This was my low, my rock bottom. My energy was tapped. I didn’t know how to do what I was doing anymore. Feeling fiercely protective, while at the same time hating that I was considering how to give him up, I squeezed the puppy close.
“Briggs. I am not giving up on you.”
Saying it out loud helped to strengthen my resolve.
I’m smarter than this, I thought. I can figure out a way to save both. I just need to be stronger. While talking myself up and simultaneously criticizing myself for being a wimp, I thought about our next moves.
As I carried the rescue pup to our front door, I witnessed joy in its purest form; he was ecstatic that we were returning to the same house. Squirming and dancing in front of the door, his little paws lifted and twisted as he emitted yelps of joy at our front door.
“Whoa!” What else could I say? The dog had picked his home, even if I wasn’t yet sure how to make it work. Unlocking the door amidst joyous yelps, I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. Checking the screen, I saw that Annmarie was calling me back.
“Tricia, are you sitting down?”
“Um, no…but I can be.”
Annmarie explained that she hadn’t gotten home yet to forward my email on to her brother. Since she was a little behind the times and didn’t use a smartphone, she had to get to an actual computer to forward an email.
“Well, you’re not going to believe this, Tricia, but my brother just called.” All but hysterical, Annmarie’s voice was cracking with excitement.
My heart started pounding faster. Did they know where Briggs is?
“Seriously. I am still on my way home. I haven’t sent him anything, but he called me and told me his friend called him and said, ‘I know where Briggs is.’”
I almost dropped the phone as my heart dropped into my stomach. Holy shit! But wait… How could this person in Seattle even know Briggs’ name? Annmarie’s brother didn’t even have the information yet to send on to her, so how could she know? I was baffled.
“Keep going,” I coaxed, trying to breathe slowly.
“I couldn’t believe it either. He hasn’t even called her yet! She told my brother, ‘Be careful about how you tell the owners this because they’re not going to want to hear it.’”
“What!?” Pain shot through me. Tense, I waited. I didn’t know if I’d be able to bear what I was about to hear.
“No, just listen. The animal communicator went on to say that Briggs has found a new home. He was in a really, really bad place and was treated horribly, but he is happy now, with a young couple in their thirties. He’s deeply bonded with the female, completely in love with her. He stresses that he will not go back to his old home and that nobody can make him. He says if someone forces him to leave, he will try to go back to where he is now. He was crated by the bed this morning and desperately wanted to be up by the female. He was playing with puppies all day today, got his vaccinations, and is gray and white, about four months old. And he was given a new blue collar today.”
As I stared numbly down at the rescue puppy at my feet, his new blue collar shining brightly against his gray fur, dizziness struck me. I shook my head, as if to clear it. Her words took hold and emotion slammed into me.
“She was talking about the rescue dog! Oh my God, Annmarie!”
“Oh my God!” Annmarie screamed on the other end of the phone, echoing my amazement at the clarity of the vision, albeit for the wrong dog.
Annmarie went on to say that the animal communicator stressed that the rescue puppy hadn’t been stolen by Jason. The puppy didn’t want to go back, however, because he was home now and loved the female deeply.
He’s home now?
Shaking, I had a hard time holding on to the phone.
“He has a new blue collar on. He got it today while I was at El Rey. He was vaccinated when he was at Central Bark and got to play with puppies, and he was crated by the bed this morning. He cried because he wanted to come up.”
Annmarie hadn’t known any of that. I hadn’t spoken with her since she asked me hours earlier to email her information about Briggs.
“Shut up! Oh my God! This is just…incredible,” she said, amazed.
Thanking Annmarie, I stammered with as much force as I could, “If she can do that, describe his day in full like that, tell her to find Briggs. She has to find Briggs.”
Annmarie agreed to call her brother back, but cautioned me that it might take some time and that she had no idea when I’d get a response from the communicator.
Breathing hard, I hung up and looked down at the rescue dog standing at my feet, and staring up at me with complete and utter trust in his eyes. His little tail wiggled uncontrollably.
Shit. I finally acknowledged what I’d known from the first moment I’d seen a picture of Jason holding him. This dog was ours. I was pretty sure that was why I’d been crying so horribly that morning. Somehow, I’d already decided that he was ours and absolutely hated myself for considering re-homing him.
“So you’re home now, huh?”
The wiggling went into overdrive, and he rolled over on his back, cute as could be.
“Uh-huh. So you’re a hustler. Don’t forget that I’ve got your number.” I smiled down at him.
The most crucial part of the revelation for me was that the puppy wasn’t stolen; he’d simply been in a bad home. Mulling that over, I realized it made me significantly more confident in my decision to keep him.
“Okay, buddy. If nobody claims you over the next few days, you can stay.”
Smiling, I leaned over and scratched his stomach. He writhed in joy on the kitchen floor. When the front door swung open and Josh walked in, the rescue puppy barked like crazy and ran over to meet/attack him. He still couldn’t seem to decide if he was happy to see Josh or ready to protect me from him.
Josh looked at me.
Shock must have been apparent on my face.
“Um, wow. Where do I begin?” Still absorbing the news from the animal communicator, I filled Josh in on my day.
His eyes met mine as I told him about Annmarie’s latest phone call. Focusing on the blue collar, his eyes widened with shock.
“I know,” I murmured.
“Wow. Just…wow. That’s some shit, Tricia. That is some crazy shit.” Josh paced the kitchen, still staring at the blue collar on the rescue dog.
“I know!” The thoughts were scrambling in my brain. Deciding not to delve too deeply into the how of the matter, I simply accepted it for what it was.
“So is this our dog now?” Josh asked, cutting right to the heart of it.
“Maybe. I kinda think he’s home now, but we need to take it day by day. This is too much for me right now.”
“Yeah, I don’t need you driving yourself crazy nursing this dog to health on top of finding Briggs,” Josh said, worried.
It sounded somewhat cold, but I knew where he was coming from. It’s hard to watch someone you love work herself to the bone over something. I also knew that it killed Josh that his odd work hours and obligations meant that he couldn’t be as involved in the search as I was. I couldn’t blame him for that. He was my rock through it all.
“Let’s just see what the weekend holds. We can’t do anything with him anyway. Tomorrow is Sunday,” I suggested. Really though, I just wanted another day to think.
“Okay, but this is just crazy. Seriously. Do you think the animal communicator will conjure up more information on Briggs? Is that what they do? Conjure?” Josh asked with a quizzical expression on his face.
“Um, undetermined.” I laughed a little. “Can you feel it? The energy is rolling,” I said to Josh.
It was true. The entire day had been that way. Still, this day was different, and there was something specific about it. From the memorial service to the psychic, the energy was palpable.
“I have goosebumps,” Josh said, agreeing.
“This is good. Something good is happening.”
Josh had to go help his friend move some furniture, but he promised to be back quickly. He didn’t want to leave me again.
“Okay, okay, okay.” I wandered aimlessly in circles in the kitchen, trying to process. Tapping my fingers on my jeans, I just let the thoughts circle in my head. So many pieces to the puzzle. How does one know which is the right direction to pursue? When my phone rang, I sighed and reached for it.
“Hi. Um, is this the woman with the stolen Boston?”
“Yes. What can I do for you?” Ready to dismiss the call, I idly looked down at the rescue on the floor; he was nibbling on my shoe, content as can be.
“I was out walking my dog and saw a Boston tied up outside a house. I’m around the corner right now. Here’s the address. I can wait for you if you want.”
I looked down at the rescue dog.
Luckily, the address was off of Brady Street, only about a five-minute drive from our home. Pulling into an empty spot, I saw a young man on the sidewalk with his dog. I got out and took the puppy with me on his leash.
“Hey, are you the one who called me?” I said.
“Yes.” He pointed out the house where he’d seen the dog and offered to wait for me.
Okay, I think I’ll just walk the rescue puppy down the sidewalk and look like any other person on the street with their dog, I decided. Then it dawned on me: of course. This was how I can use the rescue dog to help save Briggs. He would be my partner in crime. Anytime I receive a call about a Boston terrier sighting, I could simply go to that block and walk my dog. It was so brilliantly simple.
I walked the rescue slowly past the yard. There was a wall of bushes, and the house was set far back from the street. I saw a young couple on the porch and a Boston tied up in the yard, but I could tell from the sidewalk that it wasn’t Briggs. I stopped and effusively thanked the young man for contacting me. Not everyone would have waited to see if it was Briggs or not, and I appreciated this kind stranger’s support.
The man on the porch stood up.
“Hey, is that another Boston? Come on up!”
I thanked the guy on the street again and slowly walked up to the porch. The couple, in their mid-thirties, rose to greet me. I could see that the woman was hugely pregnant. She wore a funky haircut and a cool housedress; I admired the mama-to-be’s style. The guy, somewhat familiar looking, was super friendly and introduced me to their Boston terrier, Zoe. The little spitfire and the rescue dog immediately started tearing around the yard.
I introduced myself and explained why I was stalking their yard.
“Oh yeah! We’ve seen the posters everywhere! We’re so sorry for your loss.”
The couple, Matt and Kelly, were both avid dog lovers, and regularly walked and biked much of the city. As I talked with them, I learned that they’d both been watching, sharing, and looking out for Briggs. They told me they’d been stopped frequently by people checking to see if Zoe was, in fact, Briggs. They didn’t seem to mind being stopped, as it only meant people were paying attention to my flyers and trying to keep an eye out for our dog. We laughed and suggested t-shirts for the Boston terrier owners of the city that read, “No, this is not Briggs.”
“Wanna hear something really crazy?” Still reeling from what Annmarie had told me about the animal communicator, I filled them in.
“Holy shit.” Matt said.
“My thoughts exactly.”
I enjoyed the peacefulness of their yard and was happy to let the rescue play with another dog for a little while — until he ran through their freshly planted flowers. Apologizing, I dragged him back.
Remarkably cool, they offered to help in any way they could — even though their baby girl, Mili, was to be born any day. It was nice to spend time with another couple who owned a Boston and who had been involved, unbeknownst to us, in the campaign to find Briggs.
As the sun began to set, the puppy and I made our way home. Mentally reviewing the day, I realized I’d somehow transitioned from exhausted to revved up. Something was happening. I felt it, knew it. Again, the energy was palpable, like static in the air. Too many people were looking, watching, praying, and involved for Briggs to go unfound forever. I had to wonder — what would be the final push?
In a weird way, it was almost as if others felt it as well. That night, I received phone calls from people I had not spoken with for years. Repeating the story of my day over and over, I could feel the energy increasing.
My mom called to see how I was doing, and I could hear the concern in her voice as I told her about my day.
“Just know that you’ve done everything you could for Briggs, Tricia. I don’t know anyone else who would have pushed as hard as you and Josh have. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks, Mom.” I knew she thought I needed to ease back, and she was worried for me. If she only knew the half of what I’ve done, I thought.
That night, Josh and I had a somewhat celebratory cocktail with dinner. We were excited about the animal communicator and proud of our hard work. We were making a difference. People were noticing and caring.
In the throes of one of biggest political conflicts in recent years, all eyes were on Milwaukee and our governor recall election that was to happen the following week. That event was groundbreaking in itself and had severely divided Milwaukee — a city already suffering from crippling segregation. The fact that our dog had made an impact and was pulling people together in the midst of one of the most heated political events to strike the State simply amazed us.
We will find Briggs. We have to.
Exhausted, slightly tipsy, and somewhat content, we put the puppy to bed and curled up together, spent and done.