Pixie, The Story of a Mill Auction Dog

One of the stories behind Wisconsin Act 90
By Frank Schemberger, April 2012, Updated February 2015

Pixie sharing a crate with other auction dogs (left), and after her first grooming session.

A New Morning
For dog number 0695885-001, the morning of March 11, 2009, is different than any she’s known before. Her life until now consisted of a small cage, food, water, a breeding mate and a litter of pups twice a year. Oh yes, and her universe was the cold, dark barn where she and her fellow inmates were kept. They weren’t sure what lay beyond the barn. Glimpses of sunlight, new smells and the occasional open door didn’t provide much of a clue as to what the outside world was really like.

On this morning the miller comes through “the door” with an empty cage and sets it next to hers.  The four-year-old female Poodle had seen others placed in cages and go out that door. She becomes nervous at the thought. She also remembers her previous litters leaving forever in a cage, too soon for her to finish her important behavioral teachings. This time she thinks, “Is it my turn to go? I don’t have pups to surrender today, so it must be for me!” 

Her question is soon answered. The miller grabs her, puts her into the wire poultry cage and heads for the door. She doesn’t like this situation and looks back at the only home and dogs she’s known.

A cold blast of air is her first taste of the outside world, even colder than her barn. She starts shaking. She has trouble keeping her eyes open due to the sun she has seldom seen, and a sub-zero wind chill causes the squinting to continue. She has just a glimpse of the “outside world” before she is loaded in the van with other cages and dogs. She clenches the wire floor as the van starts the trip that will take her to the dog auction. 0695885-001’s journey is underway.


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The Rescuers, Protestors and Dogs
Even by Wisconsin standards the morning of March 11 is frigid. That doesn’t deter the hopes and emotions of rescuers and protestors who start their trips from all over Wisconsin. Their destination is the dog auction at Horst Stables*, south of Thorp. For Milwaukee-area travelers, that means getting on the road before 5 am. For others, it will be a much shorter trip. For the dogs, it will be something new. The day will produce a bevy of emotions: anger, shock, sadness, hope. However, fear will define their day.

Dogs are now arriving via van, truck and buggy—including 0695885-001, still shaking, curled in cage, unsure of what this is all about. She is brought into the auction barn and quickly processed. Dogs are checked in, given an auction number, a USDA Inspector does a visual inspection and cages are stacked in line awaiting “show time.” She is now #80. Dogs auctioned here have three possibilities facing them: 1) Being purchased by a rescue group who will foster them until adoptable; 2) Being purchased by an individual looking for a pet; 3) The worst scenario, purchased by another breeder sentencing the dog to a return to hell.

Outside the Horst Auction in 2007.

Now comes #80’s turn. She is carried to the auction table and held up like some inanimate object at a household auction. Most dogs are not allowed to stand because their legs, shaky from months or years of confinement in small cages, won’t bring as high a price. Of course, others cannot stand. The bidding starts and after a short period, the auctioneer points to someone in the crowd and yells, “$400 SOLD.” #80’s fate is now sealed.

She is lucky. She has won the lottery. She has escaped hell. Even though she is a Toy Poodle, she has been purchased by a nice lady from Racine, who specializes in Maltese rescue. #80 is going to have a real home, with kind hands and her own name. #80, formerly 0695885-001, formerly a puppy mill captive, is now Pixie! She is given the chance to be what her maker meant her to be, a companion for life.

The Trip To A Real Home
The first leg of Pixie’s journey to a new life began as soon as the auction was over. Again, she was lucky to be headed south, away from Clark County, “the Puppy Mill Capital of Wisconsin.” Her luck was not totally grasped because all this kindness, petting and soft words were very foreign to her. Still, she started looking around with a little less fear and nervousness, and did enjoy the comfort of a clean and soft blanket.

The trip was long and allowed her to finally fall asleep next to some treats that she was unsure of. Her first night of freedom was spent in Mukwonago, and the next day she was taken to Racine. Pixie’s next new experience was a complete grooming, a bath to wash away the stink from her former life, a haircut to make her look like the Poodle she was meant to be. On March 16, 2009, she was given complete veterinary care. She received a dental cleaning and all of her shots and was spayed. She left the hospital on March 18 to go to her foster home in New Berlin, Wisc. This was a big adjustment for Pixie. A change from nearly four years in a cold barn to being pampered and loved is not an easy undertaking for such a small being.

Pixie’s Final Journey
Pixie’s new life and surroundings were very puzzling to her and when the chance presented itself she darted from her foster home and was reported lost on Thursday evening, March 18, 2009. Fliers with Pixie’s picture were immediately printed and distributed throughout the area. Automatic “area blanket” calls were placed to 500 homes. Volunteers and neighbors continued the search for four days and nights. The Elmbrook Wisconsin Humane Society provided a cage trap, which was set near an earlier Pixie sighting.

At dusk on the evening of Sunday, March 22, Pixie’s body was found a few feet from a busy New Berlin walking path, only a block or two from her foster home. Her eyes were still open although her body was still. I happened to be in the area, when I saw one of the fellow searchers walking towards the road with Pixie wrapped in her jacket. My immediate reaction was joy and celebration. But I could tell by the look in the rescuer’s face that the news was bad; my stomach sank like it never had before and the tears couldn’t be held back. Pixie was rushed to an emergency facility but the effort was in vain.

Pixie, #80, #0695885-001, who had won the lottery by not having to return to a puppy mill, left us for a journey to her final resting place.

The emotional imprinting the life in a puppy mill gave Pixie cost her life. Pixie died only an arm’s length from a busy walking path, used by many local dog walkers. All Pixie needed to do was say hi and she would have immediately been ushered to safety. Instead, Pixie’s lack of understanding about friendly hands, soft voices and love, prevented her from being rescued.

Mary Palmer, Pixie’s auction rescuer put it best: “She will never be forgotten, although only with us for a very short period of time, she was loved. Those blackberry eyes will remain forever embedded in our hearts.” 

Amen to that.

A Lesson From Pixie
The message left for us in Pixie’s story is that of the emotional damage puppy mills imprint on their captives. It’s a triple jeopardy scenario for the puppy mill populations. 1) Dogs that stay there never get socialized and for that reason are difficult to “save.” 2) The pups that are born there leave their mothers at too young an age and miss their moms’ finishing school lessons and in turn become behavior problems for their adopters. And, of course, 3) puppy mill dogs are treated inhumanely. Again, further testimony as to why Wisconsin needed a law in place to monitor and control this cancerous industry. Wisconsin Act 90 is doing that, and is now being used as a benchmark piece of legislation in neighboring states’ dog advocates who are striving to free their “prisoners of greed.”

Frank Schemberger has been involved with the advocacy for stricter State and Federal puppy mill laws and inspections, and also participated in getting WI Act 90 (commercial dog breeders law) adopted in Wisconsin. He attended the protests at the now-defunct Horst Stable dog auctions in Thorp, infiltrated puppy mills across the state, saw the suffering, smelled the stench, found the dead, gained a better perspective of the cruel puppy mill industry and wrote the following story about one of its victims. This story also appeared in Fetch Magazine in Wisconsin.