Original newspaper stories about the dog woman

Text of newspapers stories about Brigitta Janzen, the dog woman of Menomonee Falls, WI—Inspiration for Dog Woman, novel and screenplay written by Gail Grenier:

Body discovered in field identified
(November, 1989,
Menomonee Falls News)

The body of a woman found Nov. 6 in a grassy area south of Fond du Lac Avenue has been identified by state and Waukesha County forensic specialists as Brigitta Janzen.

The partially-decomposed body was found by a workman. Police had speculated that the body was Janzen's because of personal effects found at the scene and because she had been spotted frequently in the area.

Because there could be no positive identification from dental records, a photographic reconstruction of the face was made by forensic photographers using special technology. The photograph of the skull was compared to a photograph of Janzen from an employee identification photo of her taken at Briggs and Stratton, where she formerly worked.

L. Thomas Johnson, a forensic dental examiner, said that based on the photos, the skull found was that of Janzen.

Janzen lived mostly outdoors with a pack of 30 dogs she cared for. Police said she was known to them and had a long history of mental illness.

No foul play was suspected. Pill bottles found with the body and a note suggest Janzen committed suicide, police said.

An early choice, an early death
(by Gail Grenier Sweet
June 7, 1990
Menomonee Falls News)

As a teenager, Brigitta Janzen proclaimed that she loved animals more than people. Last fall, at age 43 and shortly after her pack of 31 dogs was taken from her, she died alone in a Menomonee Falls field.

Janzen was known as "BJ" to her few friends, while others simply called her "the dog woman." She was born in Germany on July 1, 1946 and moved to Minneapolis with her parents in 1953.

"Brigitta had no brothers and sisters, and her mom and dad were immigrants and had to work. She couldn't cope with that. She was extremely lonely," said BJ's mother, Anneliese Janzen, in a telephone interview from her home in Schlangen, West Germany.

Janzen said BJ developed a love for animals that "got out of hand" during her teens. "She had lots of friends in high school, but she dropped them all. She let us know, 'I don't like human beings.'"

Janzen blames her daughter's obsession with animals for the eventual split in the family. "She raised holy terror when we did not allow her to have a third dog," Janzen explained.

Janzen said BJ was an excellent student who ranked in the upper fourth of her high school class. "She made two semesters (in college), then quit. It was a shock to me, but I could not stop her."

"I asked a psychologist to help. He talked to her, but said, 'She doesn't think she has a problem, so there's nothing to do.'"

Soon afterward, Janzen said, BJ moved from the family's Minneapolis home and cut off all communication with her parents. "She became terribly hostile to us. She left us stranded here. It was too much for us."

Janzen sad her husband, Erich, got a job offer in Germany. "He would not have taken it if communication had been intact," she said, explaining that loneliness and hurt helped fuel their decision to return to Germany in 1965 when BJ was 19.

"We kept writing, but she didn't answer. We sent checks, but she didn't cash them," said Janzen.

Janzen's account differs sharply from the story that BJ once told, according to Marie Hott, a Mukwonago woman who became a mother figure to BJ.

Hott said that BJ's version was that her parents had no time for her and let he know they never wanted her. According to Hott, BJ said that when she refused to return to Germany with her parents, they abandoned. She was still in high school.

BJ claimed to have been on her own since then. She made it clear to friends that she didn't care to talk about her parents.

Her fondness for animals led to work with veterinarians and humane societies, and she established a network of contacts among dog lovers in the Midwest. Those contacts eventually brought her to the Falls, where, in 1976, she rented a farmhouse at W12609 Fond du Lac Ave.

The next 11 years passed without much excitement. BJ held a steady second-shift laborer's job at the Briggs and Stratton manufacturing plant in Milwaukee, earning enough to pay rent and breed her beloved Siberian Husky dogs and Husky-wolf hybrids.

Co-workers describe BJ as hard-working and smart. They say she kept mostly to herself and was slow to trust people. However, the few friendships she did make were deep and long-lasting.

BJ never married and had no children. Her dogs were her family; she often proudly showed photos of them at work.

Once in a while she'd sell a dog or two, always keeping close tabs on the animals by calling their new owners. Occasionally she'd work at dog shows.

BJ enjoyed the idyllic setting around her home, which sat about a quarter-mile back from the road, isolated amid fields and forest. The Menomonee River meandered through the property. Mother Nature was her companion.

BJ had an eye for beauty. When she wasn't caring for her dogs, she often wandered the land and took photographs, one of which became the model for a painting by her friend, Pam Swanson. It was featured prominently in the August 1986 issue of American Artist magazine.

BJ didn't care about money. Her clothing was plain and practical, and she seldom owned a car. She let her brown hair grow long, pinning it back in a bun or letting it hang straight down. Her life, on the whole, was simple. She took pains to keep it that way.

But the simple life was not to last. On Nov. 18, 1986, Strong/Corneliuson Capital Management Inc. (SCCM) bought 250 acres in the Falls, including the land on which BJ's home stood. The purchase set into motion a chain of events which would lead to BJ's death and that of most of her 31 dogs.

Last November, BJ's remains were found in a grassy area where she and her dogs had lived. Near her body were two empty bottles for prescription tranquilizers and antidepressants, along with a suicide note which had been protected from the elements by a plastic bag.

The county coroner's office was not able to determine the cause of death. Falls police have ruled out foul plan and say BJ could have died from the pills or from natural causes.

Although people who knew her well insist that BJ would never commit suicide, letters she wrote during 1989 and the note found near her body indicate that at the end, she chose death.

If that is true, how did BJ get to the point where death seemed preferable to life?

The answer apparently lies in her preference for dogs over people. Although she kept mostly to herself, BJ was the kind of person who always had a lot of help from friends and acquaintances. That pattern held true until her death, yet BJ sometimes felt rage and fear toward the very people who gave her chance after chance to get her dogs off the land.

Swanson, the artist from Elgin, Ill., introduced BJ to wolf-Siberian hybrids. She and BJ met in about 1977, when Swanson could no longer keep "Buck," her half-wolf, half-Siberian dog. BJ agreed to give the animal a good home.

Swanson drove to BJ's home, where BJ appeared to be living with a boyfriend. At the time, BJ had about three dogs, a deodorized skunk and several cats, Swanson recalled.

In the years that followed, BJ often phoned or wrote Swanson and reported on Buck and his many offspring. Swanson said BJ's boyfriend eventually left her and married someone else. "BJ was very hurt. It affected her quite deeply," said Swanson, adding, "If somebody hurt her or if she interpreted it as being hurtful, she became very defensive and withdrew."

Swanson said that after BJ's boyfriend left her, BJ gained weight and became more withdrawn. Eventually, dogs seemed to be her whole life. Her "pack" grew to about 30 dogs, and BJ knew each dog's pedigree in exhausting detail.

Sometime in 1987, BJ befriended co-worker Mary Wood of Mukwonago. Wood introduced BJ to her mother, Marie Hott, and other relatives. They became family to BJ, who called Hott "Mother."

"She had the first Christmas [1987] at our house that she could remember," Hott claimed. "You would've had to see her to believe the look on her face. She cried when she got presents. She carried the gift to work to show people."

According to Hott, BJ said she had no holiday celebrations growing up. But by Christmas of 1987, BJ had found a sense of belonging with the Hott family.

But SCCM, the Menomonee Falls investment firm which had bought the land on which BJ lived, built a large office building and did extensive landscaping nearby at the corner of Good Hope Road and Appleton Avenue.

The company had a November 1988 deadline for razing BJ's house in order to comply with federal energy standards for rental properties, according to SCCM attorney Sally Haigh. The company could have been subject to penalty if it didn't meet the deadline.

On May 27, 1988, SCCM gave BJ a 90-day notice that she and her dogs had to be off the property by Sept. 1. With help from Hott and Wood, BJ struggled to find a place that would take 31 dogs. They had no luck, and the eviction date drew ever more near.

Although she hadn't found a place for her animals, BJ moved out of the farmhouse after SCCM's maintenance manager, Kelly Dykema, helped her build new kennels which could stand apart from the house. SCCM met its deadline for bulldozing the old farmhouse.

On Oct. 25, 1988, BJ signed an agreement with SCCM stating that she would remove the dogs if they created a problem or nuisance to the company or community, if they weren't properly maintained, or if the company needed the property for other reasons.

When BJ realized it might take months to find a place that would allow 31 dogs, she enlisted the services of attorney John Bernardi of Milwaukee, who represents the Timberwolf Preservation Society. Bernardi agreed to help BJ at no charge.

"She couldn't deal with confrontation," Bernardi recalled. "I talked with the attorney for her landlord to get an extension of time for her. I tried to work out a solution, but there wasn't much to do legally.

"I thought she should have fought eviction. But she voluntarily moved out of the house and signed the agreement to keep the dogs there until there were any kind of complaints," Bernardi said.

Bernardi said BJ misunderstood the agreement. "She thought the agreement was to keep the dogs there until she could move them.

"I put in hours and hours trying to help her. BJ always took more time than she thought she would. Eventually she lost her credibility [with SCCM]."

Besides helping her construct new kennels, SCCM gave BJ a series of time extensions for her dogs. She kept returning to feed and water the dogs. Dykema, at SCCM's direction, also cared for the animals.

But BJ didn't think SCCM or Dykema were giving her any breaks, according to Wood and Hott. And she believed Dykema was mistreating her animals. Wood said BJ feared that Dykema would hurt her, but was even more worried about her dogs.

Asked about BJ, Dykema said, "We have nothing to hide." SCCM spokesperson Jody Rupple said that Dykema was very busy with job demands, didn't know BJ well and didn't feel comfortable talking about her.

Wood said BJ lived with her in Mukwonago after she left the Falls. Wood said BJ's van didn't work, so she drove BJ to the property to spend hours with her dogs each day before work. Another co-worker drove BJ from there to Briggs.

BJ continued her unsuccessful search for a new home for herself and her dogs. Winter brought below-freezing weather and the beginning of the end for BJ. There were times she had to chip water out of the frozen river for her animals. Although she knew some of the dogs needed to be washed to kill parasites, there was no shelter. BJ couldn't give them baths outside in the cold.

On Dec 7. 1988, a neighbor complained to police about a large number of dogs barking continuously during the evening. Two officers visited the property and found BJ there. According to their report, BJ was vague about her current residence, saying she slept at a co-worker's house in Germantown.

A week later, which was three months after BJ had supposedly vacated the property, Dykema notified police that BJ was apparently living there in a four-by-eight-food plywood box in the middle of a kennel.

Dykema called Waukesha County Humane Officer Anne Winkel about the situation. On Dec. 14, Winkel and two Falls police offices visited the site. Although Wood insists that BJ was living with her at the time, Winkel and the police discovered a strange scene that day.

Police reports state that there, in the middle of the kennel, was BJ's large plywood box with a towel and some frozen shampoo on top of it. The ground was covered with dog droppings. Blankets were hung on a clothesline by the river.

Winkel and the officers found the dogs' food and water dishes empty and plastic containers full of beef roasts and chicken frozen by the cold.

Winkel called out in the direction of the box several times. Finally BJ emerged, wearing slippers and a sweatsuit, a full 30 minutes after Winkel's arrival.

"She crawled out of the box," said Winkel. "She was alarmed and belligerent. I told her she was in violation of county laws and she had to have herself and the dogs off the property before Christmas.

"I never issued any charges or gave her a ticket, although I could have. She didn't have a kennel license and she needed 31 dog licenses. I just wanted her to get the dogs off the property."

BJ was given an ultimatum - have the dogs out by Dec. 27 or they'd be impounded. According to Winkel, SCCM executives felt as she did: BJ had run out of excuses.

Christmas Eve 1988 was not a happy one for BJ. She knew she'd be considered a trespasser on the SCCM property, and she was afraid of Dykema. She requested a police escort so she could check on her dogs. When she arrived, she found the kennel locks changed.

"She could just reach in. She couldn't pet the dogs. They were whining and crying. She was crying," said Wood, who accompanied BJ that day.

Wood added that the escorting police officer screamed in BJ's face, calling her a liar. "She told him she was doing the best she could [to find housing]." BJ later wrote a letter to the police department complaining about her treatment by the officer.

Wood said Dykema also had been rough with BJ, but BJ was too afraid of him to complain.

Wood and Hott said BJ grew more and more certain that Dykema, the Falls police and Winkel were conspiring against her. BJ feared that Winkel wanted to steal her dogs, or that they'd be used as laboratory animals.

The same day that BJ found the kennel locks changed, her attorney notified Winkel that BJ had nowhere to move the dogs, no way to move them, and nowhere to live herself.

On Dec. 26, it snowed more than five inches. Dykema called Winkel to say that when he arrived to feed the dogs, he found them out of their cages.

Apparently because of fighting within the pack, some animals were bloodied. One was dying. Dykema told Winkel that he was bitten by an adult dog when he removed two pups that were in danger.

"[Falls Police] Captain Olson had extreme fear that one of the wolves.would perhaps head for the downtown Menomonee Falls area if it got loose," Winkel later wrote in her report.

On Dec. 28, 30 dogs were removed by Winkel and helpers from the Elmbrook and Waukesha Humane Societies and Storm Cloud Kennels, experts in wolves and Huskies.

"[The dogs] were not socialized whatsoever. They had every internal parasite known to animals. They had lice, and some had maggots on sores," said Winkel.

Wood and attorney Bernardi said that after BJ's dogs were impounded, she became extremely depressed. Although she had been a steady Briggs employee for more than a decade, BJ never returned to work after January 1989.

After the dogs were taken, BJ "had terrible headaches where she didn't hear anything or know anything," said Hott. "She had headaches before, but nothing to compare with that."

BJ finally found a farmhouse in Big Bend, perfect for the dogs. Friends from Briggs helped her build new kennels that January. She had a home, but there was no way BJ could raise the money to cover the boarding fees of about $150 a day charged by the humane societies and kennel.

BJ had always paid cash for things. She had no credit history, no driver's license and no job. She was denied a loan from the credit union at Briggs.

BJ was given until Jn. 23, almost a month after the dogs were taken, to pay the boarding fees. She tried to buy time, as she had before, by presenting a series of excuses.

She was known to be an uncannily smart woman. Wood recalled that BJ never had to write down a phone number or address. She could do a crossword puzzle in a snap. And she was a wiz at computers.

Despite her intelligence, however, BJ seemed to have a problem grasping the seriousness of her financial debt. Finally, on Jan. 23, with the boarding fees unpaid, the fate of the dogs was left to the humane societies. Most of the animals, judged unadoptable, were euthanized. Elmbrook Humane Society found a home for one of the pups and a few of the adult dogs.

BJ became upset when she learned that some of her dogs were at Elmbrook. She thought they had all been euthanized and she wanted control over any adoptions.

Bernardi and Wood said BJ sought counseling for her depression. "In February or March, BJ went into the hospital. She was strong mentally till they destroyed her dogs," Wood said.

In March and April, Winkel found homes for four pups, which she had cared for at her own home at her own expense. The new owners of the pups paid no fees, but agreed to have them neutered.

Winkel and the humane societies are still out a total of $4,726 for boarding and veterinary costs.

Between January and the end of July 1989, BJ wrote a number of letters to friends, the police, Bernardi and Winkel. The letters made it clear that BJ was considering suicide. Bernardi called Falls police about his fear for BJ, but even if they could have helped her, BJ didn't have a phone and was almost impossible to reach.

In June, BJ had a veterinarian euthanize the five old cats that lived with her in Big Bend.

In a letter Winkel received on July 26, 1989, BJ wrote, "After being hospitalized twice, I no longer felt able to care for myself, let alone the cats."

The letter chastised Winkel for not giving her dogs more of a chance. BJ wrote, "When you leave a person nothing, the ability to survive, and desire to survive, is lost."

She concluded with, "Seven months now and memory of them is just as painful as ever. To touch just one might have made all the difference. I hope someday you will realize that the animal you should be humane to is a human one."

Winkel said she gets many suicide threats from people whose animals she must impound. She notified the police and others when she received BJ's letter.

The end was approaching, but it's a mystery how BJ returned to Menomonee Falls. She didn't have a car, she lived in Big Bend, and she was in and out of the hospital. Neither Hott nor Wood gave BJ that final ride back to the land where she once wandered through the forest with her dogs. But somehow she found her way back there.

In July 1989, Wood and Hott found BJ's home empty. They filed a missing person report with the police. They never saw her alive again.

On Nov. 7, 1989, BJ's body was found by two SCCM maintenance workers. A forensic handwriting expert has verified that the note found near the body was indeed written by her.

BJ's note read: "To anyone - if I had to choose the means of my end, I would chose to be under God's clear blue sky in the midst of his wilderness! How Lucky I am! To be able to choose the only thing left to me."