Briggs: the dramatic story of a stolen dog returned home safely
On Thursday, May 17, Tricia O'Malley got a phone call that she will never forget. It was from her husband, Josh, and he told her that their dog, a 2-year-old Boston terrier named Briggs, was no longer on the porch where he had just left him minutes earlier.
Tricia came home immediately and the couple ran through the alley and streets yelling for Briggs. Once they returned home, their neighbor told them she saw a man take the dog, but she thought maybe it was a friend. She described the man as "Hispanic, stocky and in his 30s."
"We stopped and tried to register what she was saying," says Tricia. "I broke down, so did my husband. Then we called the police."
While waiting for the police to arrive, Tricia started the online effort. She posted stolen dog reports on every website she could think of, including the Wisconsin Humane Society, MADACC and more.
She and her husband printed 1,500 flyers – they would print 4,000 total throughout the course of the 17-day campaign to find their dog.
"We weren't messing around," she says. "The first day was particularly insane. We had no idea what to do. We didn't eat. We were in shock. I drove through neighborhoods with a baseball bat and mace looking for this dog."
The first batch of flyers had their address, a detail that could have been problematic, but in reality, brought strangers to their door to help. (They did not include their address on subsequent batches of flyers, only their phone number.)
The next day, the O'Malleys called television stations and Channel 4 did a story on the missing dog. Also, the couple started to receive phone calls with leads; all of them proved to be false.
"This became the pattern for the next two weeks," she says. "We chased every lead, we flyered every day."
Friends with a conversion van loaded up the O'Malleys, other friends and their dogs to canvass neighborhoods throughout the city.
"If it was daylight, I was out flyering. At night, I was doing the online campaign portion. Whatever we could do."
The community and the social media support was phenomenal. More radio stations picked up the story. Mexican restaurant La Perla tweeted about it, inspiring many more restaurants to retweet about the missing dog. Actress Rose McGowan even tweeted the flyer.
On the flip side to all of the support, because the O'Malleys' phone number was on the flyer, they received many awful calls from people claiming they had their dog or had killed their dog. Some just called to find out how much the reward was and others actually went so far as to set up fake meeting times and places, saying that they had their dog. Other callers made straight-up aggressive sexual threats.
"It was rough, but we just had to roll with it. We didn't know which phone call might be legit," says Tricia.
During this time, the O'Malleys hired a pet psychic for $175. She said the psychic gave them good descriptions of what the people who took him looked like, and targeted a specific Harambee neighborhood, but could not be specific enough to really help them find Briggs.
"He renewed our hope, though, and helped us keep going," says Tricia.
Other pet psychics called her, offering information for free. One claimed Briggs was in Shorewood, "crying for his mom" and another said she saw him terrified and lying on a slab of concrete next to a chain-link fence.
"It was frustrating and emotional. How do you know if there's any truth to what they're saying or not?" asks Tricia.
Briggs is a special dog, according to Tricia. "He is an absolute sweetheart with a huge sense of humor," she says. "He's brought light and joyfulness into our lives and our marriage."
The second week of Briggs absence resulted in even more support. Hal's Harley-Davidson helped spread the word, as did Marilyn Mee from WKLH. Plus, a woman they had never met before, Meghan Sattler, showed up at the O'Malleys' door every day and flyered. (Sattler, who has three Bostons of her own, has continued to visit and text every day since Briggs was returned home.)
A young woman living at Pathfinders, a runaway shelter in Riverwest, thought she saw the dog and worked with police to help them figure out if it was Briggs. Turns out, it wasn't, but the girl's efforts moved Tricia and Josh.
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There are so many scam artists involved in this story, none bigger than the dog psychic they paid. I'm glad they got the dog back, but what is the chance that Blue was stolen from some other yard and sold to them?
Good stuff Molly. I became intrigued the day those flyers started popping up on the East Side. The hard work by these dedicated dog owners certainly paid off.
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