D.J. Rodrian and his dog Titus, run along the Menomonee River in Wauwatosa in 2010. Rodrian recently slept in a tent for days near the site of the dog’s last sighting.
Rodrian slept many of those nights in a tent in his former neighborhood in the hope his beloved pet would return to the familiar spot.
Hundreds of people responded to ubiquitous fliers and to Rodrian's website devoted to the search. Total strangers walked or drove the Menomonee Parkway, the Oak Leaf Trail, Currie Park, the Mount Mary College neighborhood and other areas, hoping to find the 8-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback.
The happy outcome everyone hoped and prayed for was not to be. On Tuesday, Titus was found dead near the railroad tracks behind the Best Buy store on Mayfair Road.
The grieving is communal. Rodrian has received emails of condolence from all over the United States and beyond. He posted hundreds of them Thursday on the website, godsinsomniac.com.
This one is typical: "I do not know you or Titus, but your story broke my heart. I cried like a baby when I heard the news that Titus is no longer with us. Please know you did everything you could to find him."
Rodrian, a 43-year-old insurance agent, is trying to focus on the positive. "Here is the good that I see," he posted on the site. "The world is full of nice people who care about others, including a stranger and his lost dog. Our community is kind and helpful and generous. Milwaukee is a wonderful and beautiful place to live."
Titus was a puppy when Rodrian got him. They spent many hours running on the wooded trails along the parkway. The dog was an athletic breed known for its survival skills.
On April 1, while Rodrian was vacationing in Arizona, Titus broke through a window and escaped from a dog sitter's house near 51st and Hampton.
Before dawn the next morning, some people living in Rodrian's old neighborhood at 94th and Burleigh reported hearing the dog barking and howling outside. That's where Titus spent most of his life; Rodrian and Titus moved to the Town of Lisbon last year.
OK, Rodrian thought to himself. If this is where the dog is drawn, then he would camp out in the front yard of one of his former neighbors. In the beginning, he spent every night out there.
His neighbor ran an electric cord to the ice fishing tent so Rodrian could listen to the Brewers. The nights were cold and sometimes rainy.
"How excellent it would be for him to find me, his owner, sleeping there. Or even if I wasn't there, he would find my scent there and the sleeping bag and the pillows, and he would be attracted to that location. That was the whole purpose of Camp Titus," Rodrian told me.
He draped some of his clothing over patio chairs and tossed it on the lawn. This would be scent central, and his "secret weapon" would be dirty socks.
For weeks, Rodrian lived mostly on gas station hot dogs and $1 double cheeseburgers from McDonald's. He showered at the gym, and lived out of his car and the tent. He worked when he could, but would drop what he was doing when it was time to chase down a lead about Titus.
Some of the burgers went into two live traps that Rodrian rented from the Humane Society. "What we caught was three raccoons, a possum and a cat," he said.
Sightings poured in, some more solid than others, and Rodrian plotted them on a Google map on his website. Friends, family and strangers kept their eyes open for any sign of Titus.
Cathy Peck, who lives on the city's northwest side, is typical. She often takes her dog, Bacchus, to Currie Park. She never met Rodrian, but she was touched by his plight. She understands that a dog is like a family member.
"Everybody would take some time every day and look. It was really nice to see how the community came together," said Peck, who programmed Rodrian's cell number into her phone so she could immediately call in a sighting. People reported that they took dog treats and leashes along on the searches, too.
Titus would run from strangers, Rodrian said. He thinks the dog survived those 26 days on its own with little or no direct human contact.
On Tuesday, he got a voice mail from a man who discovered the lifeless dog. Rodrian hurried out there and found that indeed it was Titus. He wept and called family members who rushed to his side.
The dog still had its collar with Rodrian's contact information on it. He noticed that the animal did not have any obvious injuries and didn't look unusually thin, though he guessed that Titus could have eaten something toxic. It appeared the dog had been dead for a few days.
"I don't think he suffered. It looks like he just was tired and laid down and was done with his journey," he said.
Rodrian singled out a few people to thank. They include animal control officer Donn Jacobson, Milwaukee firefighter Shane Corcoran who spent some entire off-days helping on the search, and tireless helpers Jennifer Kraussel, Steve Frantz and Renee Conner.
"I will miss my buddy. He was the best dog ever. . . . All he ever wanted to do was be with me," he shared on the website.
Rodrian has lost a much-loved dog, but gained a new appreciation for the comfort of strangers.
Call Jim Stingl at (414) 224-2017 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org