As Whitney’s words shattered our world, I screamed for Josh. “He was stolen! He was stolen, Josh! Somebody took Briggs!” Whitney’s voice fell to background noise as Josh rounded the corner of the garage, panic lacing his steps.
We stared at each other, our reality shifting as Whitney’s words fell upon us from the second story like a final, unwanted verdict ruled upon us from on high.
“I saw your dog get taken. I tried to call to Josh, but he took off running. I’m not that mobile, and I wasn’t able to reach him,” Whitney explained urgently. “I saw…well, there was this man who came between our houses, jumped on the side of the deck, leaned over, grabbed Briggs, and then raced back out toward the alley. I thought it was weird, as nobody ever walks between our houses, but I figured you had friends in the back alley loading the car up. I didn’t realize until I heard Josh yelling a few minutes later that Briggs had truly been stolen.”
Whitney went on to describe the dognapper as a dark-skinned male in his early thirties, of stocky build and medium height, and with curly longer hair. She insisted he had some kind of product in his hair because it was shining in the sun. Our neighbor was a credible witness since her thirty years of experience in journalism had trained her to pay attention to details.
Operating on autopilot, I returned to my car. My palms, sweaty and trembling, slipped off the steering wheel as I eased my car into the garage.
There was no longer a need to circle the block.
Knives of pain shot through my lungs as I struggled to breathe. Tears riveted down my face, a cool caress on my flushed cheeks. Josh opened my door and pulled me to him, furiously rubbing my back as I cried into his shoulder.
Briggs was stolen.
Whitney’s news changed everything.
Josh took me inside so that we could call the police. I stared blankly at the kitchen wall and immediately felt the eerie silence like a cold weight pressing down on me; the house was too quiet without the pitter-patter of our dog. Josh’s words to the police were muffled as images of Briggs flashed through my mind — a half-drunk, manic slide show of what-ifs and could-bes. He was out there somewhere, and I was certain that he was terrified.
Immediately after Josh realized Briggs was missing, we both posted a notice on Facebook — the modern-day version of a “Lost Dog” sign — and asked everyone to keep an eye out for him in our neighborhood. Still reeling from the fact that my intuition had been correct, I achingly updated our Facebook statuses to: “Stolen Dog!”
Stolen Dog. The words stared back at me, their truth undeniable. That would be our battle cry, our cry for help — our refusal to be victims. I began the process of compartmentalizing my feelings. I needed to put my emotions on lockdown, and I needed to do it fast; otherwise, I’d be of no use to Briggs.
My fingers skimmed the keyboard as I frantically posted the information everywhere I could think of, from the Wisconsin Humane Society to the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC). I had no idea where to start, but I Googled all animal-related places in the Milwaukee area and posted away. Thinking more deeply, I began to go through my contacts at local media outlets.
“Help. Please help!” Over and over, I sent the plea out.
Our doorbell rang. Instinctively, I turned to tell Briggs to be quiet, but quickly realized my mistake. I watched silently as Josh shook hands with the police officer and assessed him carefully.
Everything from his baby face down to the stammering of his words made it apparent that we’d been sent the rookie. I suppose it was for good reason. In the grand scheme of things, a stolen dog is a minor issue in a city torn by poverty, racial division, a high crime index, and political drama.
Hoping for some advice, I peppered the officer with questions.
“Where can we go? What can we do? Can the police help?”
Officer “Baby Face” politely deflected my questions, took down the little information we could give him, interviewed Whitney, advised me against taking my baseball bat around the city on a search-and-rescue mission for Briggs, then went on his way — and that was that. It was clear that there wouldn’t be any police ride-alongs in search of Briggs. Ok, I thought to myself, it looks like this one is on us to solve.
Stunned, and a little uncertain of what to do, Josh and I started bouncing ideas off of each other. Josh’s phone interrupted us. Fortunately, it was two of Josh’s MHC teammates. They had just seen the Facebook posting and were on their way to help us hang flyers.
Flyers? Of course, I thought. Not everyone is on the Ol’ Facebook. We seized that plan of action and raced to the nearest FedEx Kinkos. On the way, Josh and I talked about what we should include on the posters. “Stolen Dog” was a must, as we wanted to evoke an emotional response — emotions being an innate cornerstone of all solid marketing campaigns.
Our first flyer boldly proclaimed “STOLEN DOG” across the top along with two pictures of Briggs. Beneath that, we gave our full address and Whitney’s description of the dognapper. We made sure to point out that Briggs’ front left paw was white, as if he was wearing a sock.
Perhaps putting our exact address on a flyer that was to be distributed citywide was not the smartest idea. Maybe we should have just put an advertisement up that proclaimed how easy we were to steal from — that we were sitting ducks, victims, easy targets. The thought briefly crossed my mind that it was idiotic to put our address on the flyer, but for some reason, my instincts pushed me to leave it.
The rest of the day ticked by — achingly slow — in a fog of posters, tape, and canvassing. There was no plan. No map. No instructions for this situation. Acting solely on impulse and desperation, we stopped, got out, and put up flyers wherever there was room. There was no right or wrong at that point, no protocol. All we could do — and what we had to do — was increase our exposure.
As I walked the eclectic, mostly youthful part of town centered on Brady Street, I came across a group of three men sitting at a table outside of a Jimmy John’s restaurant, and I handed them a flyer.
One of the men, a larger black man sporting a brightly colored poncho, read it and stared at me hard.
“Someone stole your dog? That’s fucked up.”
“Yes, sir. It is indeed fucked up.”
Keeping my emotions tamped down, I continued on, handing out flyers to the diners and disrupting happy sub-eating with sorrowful flyers. I also asked if the delivery drivers could put the flyers up in their car windows. We had no idea where Briggs might be spotted, or what a delivered sandwich might lead to.
As I walked out of the sub shop, the three men were huddled over the poster and called me over. It was an oddball group if I’d ever seen one. The large man who’d spoken to me earlier looked at me with compassion. His two companions, a young, thin, white male in a baseball jersey and an older white man with a very long beard and motorcycle boots, studied me intently.
This time, the man with the beard spoke, “You want a free reading?”
“Give me your hand. I’ll give you a free reading.”
Numbly, I gave him my hand.
He placed a quartz skull gently in my palm and wrapped his gnarled hands around mine, then looked to the sky. Raising his voice, he boomed out, “I can feel your emotions writhing — fear, sadness, despair, and turmoil. I can hear your puppy crying for his mama. He’s close, and he can’t stop crying for you.”
The other two nodded sagely at the man’s proclamation.
“Mmmhmm. Mmmhmm. Right on, my man.”
The man who’d earlier pronounced the fucked-up-ness of our situation added, “He is close, on the 4000 block. Head over there, and you will find your answers.”
I thanked them, unsure if I was supposed to bow or give money. Deciding to do neither, I retreated to the haven of Josh’s truck and looked at my desperate husband.
“A ragtag group of psychics just informed me that Briggs is sobbing for us and is near. The 4000 block, they said.”
Josh stared at me and wrinkled his brow, as if I’d gone insane.
“Psychics? What the…? Do you really want to go there?”
I shrugged. “It’s as good a lead as any at this point.” Little did I know that it was the first of hundreds of leads. But for now, it was all we had to go on.
Josh agreed. With a deep sigh, he turned the truck that direction. Unsure of what street on the 4000 block to pick, we randomly chose Oakland Avenue and drove there as night settled upon the city and our stolen dog. It was a busy street, and we posted flyers in as many restaurants, bars, and liquor stores as we could. Plodding along, immersed in our grief, we had no way of knowing if we were making any difference. For all we knew, it was too late for Briggs. Kicking this thought from my brain, I insisted we keep flyering.
Little did we know that our efforts that night would lead us to an angel.
Exhausted and having forgone food since the morning, we finally admitted temporary defeat, and stopped for food and drink at our favorite local pizza joint, Zaffiro’s. A small restaurant with a comforting, homey ambiance, Zaffiro’s has the best slice in town. More importantly, a good friend, Patrick, was tending bar. A dog-lover himself, Patrick had immediately reached out to us to ask how he could help when the news hit Facebook. It was comforting, yet anguishing at the same time to rehash Briggs’ story with him while pepperoni-soaked scents assaulted our weary senses. After mechanically chewing, unable to taste the pizza, we sought solace in a beer before heading home for the evening.
Our despair was palpable. We were unable to sleep, yet unable to go on. This time of night would prove to be the worst for us. It was too late to do anything productive, yet we couldn’t stop thinking of all the bad things that might be happening to Briggs while the world was sleeping.
Was he taken as “bait” for dog fighting? Why would someone put himself at risk that way in the middle of the day to steal our dog? Images of Briggs trembling flashed through my head. Why did his happen? Do they have a seller lined up? He could be anywhere. The unanswered questions brutalized my brain, making sleep impossible.
Having spoken with MADACC earlier that day, all I could hear was the woman repeating to me, “Ma’am, many dogs aren’t pictured on our website because by the time they reach us, they’re too injured to be photographed.”