The morning dawned with a phone call from a case coordinator.
“I’m sorry, but who are you again?” I asked, annoyance defining my voice. Zero sleep and emotional overload had frayed my already short temper. Her referral to herself as “Case Coordinator” just didn’t make sense.
“I’m Kathy, and I work with Lost Dogs of Wisconsin. We help people who’ve lost their dog and work with them to get their dog returned.”
Automatically, I pointed out that Briggs was stolen, not lost. I had to let her know that we weren’t bad dog parents. This had happened to us; it wasn’t our fault.
Kathy, an extremely patient woman, kindly expressed her condolences and spent a half-hour suggesting avenues that we might explore. Speaking with her, I realized that the organization was the real deal and had fantastic resources for people in our position. Bolstered by Kathy’s solid suggestions, I hung up, ready to take action.
“Honey, don’t miss your oil change appointment,” Josh said, cornering me in the kitchen and gently holding me by the shoulders.
Groggy, I stared at him and wanted to scream. An oil change? How can something so insignificant even enter his head at a time like this? Our dog had just been stolen.
“You’re 3,000 miles overdue, and we don’t know how much driving we will be doing. Maintenance is key. Go.” My levelheaded husband ushered me out the door, promising to keep me updated.
But it wasn’t his number on the flyers. I’m the one who’d receive any news, I thought as I trudged to my car.
The dealership waiting room was pure torture, like a straight jacket restraining me from action. I watched as the service department huddled over the flyers that I had given them. I hated that their looks of sympathy were for me. I hated that our dog was on the flyer.
After a mental shake to remind myself to remain in lockdown, I opened my laptop to see what I might be able to accomplish while my car was being worked on. Many of my friends suggested that I contact the local news stations, as the loss of Briggs was a heart wrenching enough slice-of-life piece that it might pique their interest. I decided they might be right and composed an email about the story — the subject line burning into my brain — “Our Dog Was Stolen.” I called a few stations, and two requested that I send the email over. Shortly after I did so, TMJ4, the local NBC affiliate, returned my call and probed for more information.
“Are you childless? Would you say this dog is like a child to you? Did you file a police report?”
“Yes, yes, and yes,” I said, wearily.
“We’ll be at your house in two hours to film,” the reporter said. He shared that they were doing a story about people who treated their animals as if they were their children. Our story about Briggs would apparently be the perfect lead-in for the series.
How lovely for you, I thought, slightly annoyed that our story would help pimp their series. Mentally kicking myself, I forced myself to stop. No matter the reason, this was a huge opportunity to get our story out there. Elated, I rushed home to tell Josh. This was it. This would be what brings Briggs home. Everyone watches the news, right?
Hastily, I did my best to conceal the massive bags under my eyes from a sleepless night of crying while Josh and I waited for the news team to arrive. We kept talking about Briggs, wondering if he’d been fed, if he was running scared, and hoping he was all right, wherever he was. My gut churned with worry, lack of food, and a high-level rage for whoever had done this.
The reporter called to let us know that they were outside, filming the exterior of our house. Nervous, we stepped outside to greet them.
I was unprepared for how painful it would be to see the news truck sitting in front of our house. Similar to an ambulance, news vans rarely signal that a positive event has occurred. News, after all, is mostly governed by the notion that “if it bleeds, it leads.”
My hand trembled in Josh’s as we waited for the reporter. We are behind-the-scenes people and did not relish being in the spotlight. This was our first major realization that the whole dog-search process was going to drop kick us far from our comfort zone. Steeling my nerves, I pasted a fake smile on my face for the reporter.
The reporter introduced himself, and his cameraman immediately began filming. A little off kilter, I tried to remain calm and appear as the coherent person that I like to think I usually am. I had thought we would have more prep time before the camera rolled — don’t they say “action” or something? We took them on a tour of our private deck, through the back alley, and watched as they interviewed Whitney, our neighbor-turned-eyewitness.
When she was finished, it was our turn again. As the microphone turned to us, I did what I could to keep my emotions at bay. I wanted to articulate the facts quickly and drive home the point that we were not going to give up on finding Briggs — no matter what. I wanted to resonate strength and intimidation, not turn into a weepy mess.
The reporter didn’t hesitate to go for the emotional questions. “What would you say to Briggs, your darling dog, right now if you could?”
“I love you.”
“What would you say to the awful man who stole him?”
“Nothing fit for television.”
“How do you feel right now, knowing Briggs is out there and scared?”
“Scared, angry, and sad. How do you think?” And, finally, I administered my plea. “Please keep him safe.”
As the reporter wrapped up the interview, he commented about how fabulously the piece would coincide with their news story about people considering pets as family-members.
I nodded. We had a choice: we could either be angry at the media’s insensitivity, or we could be thankful for their help. The help and exposure was all that mattered, and I was grateful for the opportunity to take our plight public.
The reporters tromped off with their equipment and Josh left for work, unable to take another personal day. Within moments, I was left alone in the kitchen. My breath shuddered through me as I absorbed the emptiness of the house. Questions assaulted me mercilessly. What do I do? Where do I go? I’m all alone. How do I do this? Is there anywhere I can go on my own, someplace safe?
As these thoughts careened around my head, I stopped and took a deep breath. I knew that sitting at home feeling overwhelmed would not help Briggs.
Right then, I also decided that we needed a mantra.
“Relentless,” I said and felt strength flood through me. I can do this. We can do this. If anyone knew how to be stubborn, focused, and difficult, it was me. Now was the time to put all that training to good use.
I wasn’t nearly as alone as I thought, as several friends with irregular schedules began to call. Two of our bike-loving friends, Kylie and Blake, rode to our house to pick up flyers; they wanted to post them throughout the city as they rode. I was certain the flyers would make a difference in their hands.
Sadness overwhelmed me when they left. Alone, again, I grabbed a stack of flyers and got in my car, driving aimlessly, as I tried to figure out the best spot to start flyering.
One of my best friends, Kristine, called and asked me to meet her downtown. She had printed flyers and was ready to dedicate her afternoon to Briggs-hunting. Grateful for the support, I swallowed tears. I needed backup.
Downtown, I walked the trendy Third Ward while waiting for Kristine. Almost every shop I went into refused to post my flyer. Dejected, I sat on the curb. Not remembering if I had eaten that day, I felt lightheaded as the sun beat down on me and sweat dampened my neck. I hurt everywhere. My body ached with sadness, and I couldn’t help but think about Briggs.
Hearing a horn, I watched as Kristine pulled up. A beautiful brunette in her 30s, she radiates a wonderful mixture of kindness and “don’t mess with me,” both being traits this mission and I were in dire need of.
Sighing with relief, I let her hug brace me up. It was time to keep moving.
Furious with the Third Ward in general, I insisted that we move further south. Kristine took the reins and drove on, stopping repeatedly at bus stops, empty telephone poles in high traffic areas, and in front of large groups of people on the sidewalks.
My phone rang with an unknown number.
“I saw a dog I’m pretty sure is yours, running alone and headed north. I couldn’t get out of my car, as it’s a really rough neighborhood. I’m sorry,” the caller said, apologizing profusely.
“Let’s roll.” Without hesitation, Kristine raced toward the neighborhood that the caller had described.
“God, I hate this.” I tapped my fingers on the open window while I scanned roads, sidewalks, and alleyways, hoping for a glimpse of black and white fur.
The caller hadn’t lied about it being a run-down neighborhood. Every decrepit porch held groups of people, sullenly watching as we drove by slowly. One back yard was filled with people, standing around a grill, drinking cheap beers. The third time we circled, they motioned for each other and reached in their jackets; it was obvious that we were putting people’s nerves on edge. It wasn’t an area to drive slowly past houses, and they were letting us know that. Unfazed, we continued to circle. If Briggs was there, we had to find him — and quick.
We pulled in front of a small, dilapidated house on the corner, where one man sat on the stoop with his dog. His bare chest gleamed with sweat and dirt, tattoos snaking over his biceps and around his back. He stared us down as we slowed to a stop.
I got out of the car and approached him with a flyer, unsure of the response I would receive. “Excuse me, sir. Our dog was stolen and spotted in this area. Have you seen him?”
He jumped up and moved toward me quickly, his dog right at his side, barking furiously. As he yanked the flyer from my hand, I flinched.
“Those assholes.” The man shook his head sadly and took a drag from his cigarette. Angrily, he gestured with the flyer and spat. “Bruno here’s been stolen twice. Twice! I recovered him both times, but that shit sickens me. I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
Relieved, I let out a breath that I wasn’t even aware I’d been holding. He gets it, I thought. Dog people just get it.
We picked an alley at random and cruised slowly through. Alleys are not the suggested thoroughfare in that part of the city as they offer very little room for maneuvering, and one can be flanked easily. I shook my head at the ridiculousness of realizing that I was concerned about being flanked in an alleyway. These were not the concerns of last week.
We came to a crawl as we approached a large garage that housed several motorcycles and a variety of burly, tattooed men. This comforted me — these were our people. Milwaukee is home to Harley-Davidson, after all; both of us had many friends and relatives who looked quite similar to the garage inhabitants. The men happily agreed to take flyers and said they’d watch for any sign of Briggs. It was refreshing to have them onboard, especially since they rode the city daily and patrolled their own neighborhood nightly.
As we bumped through gravel lots and nosed behind abandoned warehouses and train tracks, my stomach grew more and more upset. This is such a big city for a little dog. It would be so easy for Briggs to get hurt. The odds were strongly against us. I stared at the train tracks and tried not to cry as I thought about Briggs attempting to cross them. Would he even sense if it was safe to cross? How would he know what to do?
As it grew dark, we were forced to abandon our search, realizing it would serve no purpose to put ourselves in danger. Abandoned warehouses did not feel safe to us. It was time to go.
Driving home, I refused to let my emotions break out of the box I had locked them into. I hated the night for forcing us to stop our search, our efforts shackled by the need for safety.
My phone rang, and I answered it to hear a popular local reporter requesting an update for his evening newscast. In an interesting twist, I had gone to high school with his daughter and mentioned that to him. It’s all about who you know, and that tiny, seemingly insignificant connection would get the story run for us four more times that weekend.