My damn phone. Again.
Fumbling for it, I missed the call. I squinted and peered at the screen, none too happy to see that it had been from an unavailable number. I also quickly noticed that I’d already missed several calls and that there were several voicemails waiting for me.
Quietly, I rolled away from Josh and turned the volume down on my phone so I could listen to the messages. As was becoming par for the course, some were nonsense. I rolled my eyes and looked at the rescue in his crate. He looked at me questioningly, his head cocked to one side.
The next voicemail was from a man that had left a similar voicemail the week before: “This is Thomas Ardison. I have information on your dog. Call me.” Sighing, I deleted the message. We had already played that game with Mr. Ardison a week ago. I’d received a similar message and when I returned the call, a different man had answered, one who’d gotten very angry with me. Fun stuff.
Furious, I looked at all the missed calls. Are you kidding me? I thought. It’s Sunday morning. Leave us alone. I was so sick of people messing with us. In desperate need of more sleep, I turned my ringer off for the first time ever.
Two hours later the doorbell rang.
Waking suddenly, Josh and I looked at each other. Was that the doorbell? At eight thirty on a Sunday morning? Confused, and unsure if the doorbell really had rung, we waited to see if it would ring again. Silence answered us.
Groggy, I agreed to go check it out. I wanted to take the rescue puppy out anyway since he was still young enough that bladder control had yet to be mastered.
Josh, not a morning person due to his second shift schedule, murmured, “Okay,” and rolled back over.
I grabbed my phone, threw on a sweatshirt, picked up the puppy and went downstairs. I opened the door, squinting into the sunshine. The music from the church next door serenely greeted me.
Our side walkway was empty, but I was on high alert. My senses were tingling. I put the puppy down to potty, pulled my phone out, and started listening to voicemails. More crap, more crap, more crap.
But then: “Hi. This is the church next door. Your dog walked into church this morning. Please call us immediately.”
As the words registered, I simply started running. I ran backward, forward, stopping, stalling, and almost tripping as I scooped up the rescue dog. Confused and shocked, he yipped at me. In my pajama shorts and hoodie, I raced down the steps and onto the sidewalk. I looked both ways, frozen. I had wanted the moment to come so badly, yet I had no idea what to do. I simply could not believe what was happening. I spotted the gardener in front of the church next door.
Hysterical, I raced to him, “Do you have my dog?!”
Jumping up, he gestured excitedly with his shovel.
“Your neighbor is holding him. Your neighbor has him. He’s home!”
Almost dropping the rescue dog, I turned and stumbled. Frozen, I didn’t know if I should run inside first or go get Briggs first. My mind, usually so quick to process, failed me.
Josh! The thought registered. I turned and ran back to our front door and slammed it open.
“He’s back! He’s back! He’s back!” The words tore from deep within — a dream being realized.
I had to see Briggs. I turned and ran back to the street, the rescue puppy jostling under my arm, my heart pounding, knowing that Josh would be close behind.
I will never forget that moment.
Our neighbor must have heard my screams because as I reached the street, I heard their door slam. Two houses down from ours, theirs was a typical walk-up house, with steps leading up to their porch from the sidewalk.
I held my breath and stopped. I couldn’t comprehend what I would do if it wasn’t Briggs in their arms. I knew they had to have the right dog. They wouldn’t lie to me about this. This couldn’t be another mix-up. This had to be him. It just had to be.
I was unable to take another step. Vaguely, I could hear Josh pounding down the steps behind me.
And then I saw him. Briggs, our baby. There he was, being carried down the steps, his sweet brown eyes boring into mine.
Oh. My. God.
Running without knowing it, I threw the rescue puppy at my neighbor and grabbed Briggs.
Ecstatic, he licked the tears from my face as I buried my face in his neck. I could feel him. I could feel the weight of him in my arms. He was real. I held him — heart-to-heart. He licked and licked my face. I couldn’t look up. I just held and rocked him.
He was safe.
My emotions were whirling so fast that I couldn’t even process. My skin felt hot, my breath coming in small gasps.
Dazed, I handed Briggs off to Josh, and then just stood there, staring at my husband. He was standing on the sidewalk in loose, thrown-on shorts and no shirt, holding Briggs, with a completely stunned look on his face. I will never forget that image. It was as if his emotions were taking too long to process and catch up to his face. Finally, finally, I saw a smile crack open on his face. Locking eyes, we both just started to laugh.
As people started to pour from their houses and surround us, I finally noticed that there was some hysteria going on next to me.
“Um, I think he wants you.” My neighbor handed the squealing rescue puppy back to me.
In all the commotion, I’d completely forgotten about him.
“Oh shit, yes. Thank you. Do you want to meet your brother?” I held the rescue dog and gestured to Josh to put them both down together.
Setting them both on the grass in front of our house, we watched in amazement as Briggs immediately bounced into the play position, and they began to tear around the yard, chasing each other ecstatically.
“Wow! It’s almost like they really are brothers,” someone in the crowd said.
“They are.” I said, smiling.
Deliriously happy, I finally looked around at the laughing crowd.
“Can someone please tell us what happened?” I asked.
It wasn’t until then that I realized that we didn’t even know how Briggs had gotten home, aside from the voicemail telling me he’d walked into the church, and Josh didn’t even know that much.
The story unraveled from various sources as everyone chimed in.
“He was just sitting outside the church, waiting patiently!”
“The gardener brought him inside!”
“The pastor asked if he was that stolen dog and held him up to the entire congregation. He got a standing ovation.”
On that comment I looked up and started laughing. I bent over and laughed my heart out. Our dog had been held up to the congregation; the prodigal dog returned. I pictured a ray of light piercing the stained-glass windows, shining onto him as he was raised over the congregation. How entirely perfect, I thought. Of course that’s how he’d return to us — naturally with a healthy flair for drama. Briggs couldn’t just wait at our door like he’d been taught to do. Our dog had to be raised before an adoring crowd.
Josh and I simply couldn’t stop laughing.
Stupidly happy, we kept capturing tidbits of the story. The gardener had found him and kept him inside, giving him water, until the pastor held him to the congregation. Our neighbor heard of it and, knowing Briggs, took him in.
I told everyone about the phone calls that morning and how I’d turned off the ringer in exhaustion and frustration. We speculated that whoever had taken him had grown so frustrated with me not answering the phone that they simply dropped him at our house, where Briggs then waited.
But the time for theories was later. Now was the time to celebrate. After many hugs and tearful congratulations, we wandered back inside with our dogs.
Our dogs. Plural.
Dazed, Josh and I watched as Briggs immediately went to his toys, grabbed one in his mouth, ran over to us, and dropped it at our feet. He was fine, totally fine, and not hurt at all. He hadn’t had to walk fifteen miles home, and he wasn’t dirty, scarred, or beaten up. He was full of energy, clean, and ready to play.
Not even knowing who to contact first, I just stared at Briggs with pure happiness as the rescue puppy tried to pull the toy from his mouth.
Josh turned to me and pulled me close.
“You did it, baby. We did it, but you extra did it.”
Laughing and burying my face in his neck, I trembled with joy.
“We did this.”
Happily watching the dogs play, I called my parents as Josh picked up the phone to call his.
An 8:30 a.m. phone call on Sunday warranted both of my parents picking up the phone from different extensions in their house.
“He’s back. He’s home safe!” I exclaimed, watching as Josh repeated the same words on his phone to his parents.
“What!?” both of my parents stumbled over each other to speak. When I relayed the story, they shouted for joy.
“I have to tell you, I was pretty sure he was a goner,” my dad related to me gravely.
“I know, Dad, but I appreciate you refraining from expressing that while he was missing.”
I ended the conversation with them, and then called Kristine.
“He’s home! I think El Rey may have done it.”
Sobbing, she congratulated me.
Meghan was next, and her cries of joy shook me. The other Megan, our daily warrior that we’d not known prior to it all, got a message. She was riding in a bike race that day, wearing a Briggs flyer on her jersey. I knew she’d be ecstatic to hear the news after her race. Matt and Carrie were instantly informed, and then we turned to the rest of the Briggs community.
When I called Annmarie’s place, Kirk answered the phone and told me she’d had a difficult night and had gone back to sleep. I knew that the stress of the prior day had worn on her, and she felt things deeply.
“He’s home,” I said.
“He’s home!” I quickly explained the story, and he promised to wake Annmarie.
As I continued my calls, my email beeped with pictures from our neighbor who’d snapped several pictures of us with Briggs from his phone, so now I would have something to post to Facebook.
Facebook! I had forgotten for a moment about our Facebook page. Holy shit would this make everyone’s Sunday morning, I thought.
Uploading a picture of me burying my face in Briggs’ neck as he licked my face, the only caption I could think of was, “SAFE! SAFE! SAFE!” That seemed to be the quickest way to sum things up.
My phone rang, and I heard Annmarie’s tremulous voice on the other end.
“He’s back? Is he really back?”
Excitedly, I filled her in and promised to bring them both over later in the day.
“This has renewed my faith in humanity,” she said, and I could feel Annmarie’s joy through the phone.
As the news spread, our phones exploded with texts, calls, and email alerts. I grabbed a charger, plugged my phone in, and ignored it for a moment while I checked Facebook, only to find hundreds of likes, comments, and shares.
The unraveling aftermath was simply amazing. To say that more than one person’s faith in humanity was restored would do the situation no justice.
As a local police officer who walked our neighborhood nightly with his dogs said to me, “You understand that this simply doesn’t happen. I’m not even saying less than 1 percent. I’m saying .00001 percent.”
And he was absolutely right.
This doesn’t happen. At least not often.
And not even rarely.
We weren’t simply an exception. We were the exception.
We could speculate for years over what really happened, where Briggs really had been.
As far as what I believe, I think a man stole him for his kids, like the psychic had predicted. I think a woman close to this man, perhaps a wife, girlfriend, mother, or grandmother (the old woman Briggs stayed with during the day?) found out about it, went to the man, and said, “What did you do?” I think that woman forced him to return Briggs, without asking for a reward. The fact that it happened on a Sunday, during a church service, certainly gave a redemptive quality to the whole ordeal. After all, he simply could have driven Briggs outside the city, opened the car door, and kicked him out, problem solved.
But that isn’t what happened.
We had pushed hard enough, and now he was back. Someone finally said, “Enough.” To this day, we don’t know what happened. And that’s fine with us.
What I do know is that from now on, I’ll pay more attention to people who ask for help. Why? Because I know what it’s like to feel helpless. Because ultimately, that is what saved Briggs: a community of people who decided to care about a small dog, stolen from a porch, on a sunny day in May.
Maybe we all needed a happy ending.