'Believing the Myth is What Left Us Without a Son'
June 10th Interview
Walworth, WI - On March 6, Daxton Borchardt, 14-months old, was savagely killed by two pit bulls while under the care of his babysitter. Susan Iwiki, 30-years old, was babysitting Dax at her home on North Lakeshore Drive when her two pit bulls attacked. In his first interview about the deadly attack, Jeff Borchardt, 39-years old, spoke candidly about his son's death. He said that after hearing about a toddler mauled by a pit bull in Caledonia, he could no longer remain silent.
The interview took place at Jeff's former home on June 10th, which now lies empty, filled with painful memories. "We couldn't be here anymore. We had to come home to a house with marks on the walls," Jeff said, pointing to the marks Dax once made. Jeff and his wife decided to leave their Darien home after the attack because the memories of their son were overwhelming. Jeff is speaking out now to warn others about pit bulls, a dog breed he believes is dangerous.
"Believing the myth, 'It's not the breed, it's all how you raise them,' is what left us without a son," Jeff said.
Before his son's death, Jeff said that he used to believe that a dog's behavior was determined by the way it was raised. He no longer believes this myth -- a falsehood widely cited by pit bull advocates and humane groups. The dogs that Susan owned with her boyfriend had no history of aggression. The couple raised the two pit bulls from puppyhood. The dogs were not abused or neglected and both were sterilized. "Something made the dogs snap on that day," Jeff said.
He cannot forget how his son looked after the prolonged attack. "There were unimaginable bruises and bites all over his legs, his arms and his body -- his head," Jeff said. He added, "[The pit bulls] had one goal in mind and that was to murder my baby." Jeff hopes that by sharing Dax's story with as many people as he can, new damaging pit bull maulings and fatalities can be prevented. He said that if his stepping forward today saves just one life then going through this pain is worth it.
Beyond the Interview: Essay of a Fatal Pit Bull Mauling
What began as a moderate follow up post to the June 10th interview turned into an 8,500 word essay documenting the fatal pit bull mauling of Daxton Borchardt. Over the past six weeks, Jeff and Susan shared many details with DogsBite.org through phone conversations and emails about what transpired on March 6th. They also shared their histories about the four months shadowing the young boy's death. Both Jeff and Susan formerly believed, "It's all how you raise them."
Jeff arrived at Mercy-Walworth Medical Center eight minutes before the ambulance. An officer had told him the situation was very grave. "Dog bite" was listed on his son's intake form. How bad could it be? he wondered. Until arriving, Jeff did not know that dogs had injured his son. After doctors stabilized the boy's heart in preparation for the helicopter flight, a doctor emerged and repeated the words "very grave." He asked Jeff if he would like to see him before the flight.
This is the first time Jeff sees his son after the savage attack. In the WISN interview, Jeff said that he would never forget how his son looked afterward. "There were unimaginable bruises and bites all over his legs, his arms and his body," he said. If only that was all that was forever seared into the father's mind. In reality, one side of his son's face was entirely ripped off, his skull crushed and one eye dangled from its socket. His wife was not spared this horrific imagery either.
Dax underwent a sustained, relentless mauling by two pit bulls that lasted up to 15 minutes. Total destruction ensued.
Upon seeing his son, Jeff immediately called his wife and told her to "pull over now." Kim had been en route to Mercy at the time. In gasps, he explained the severity. All family members were told to drive to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, about 40 miles away. The helicopter arrived the fastest. Kim arrived next in a frantic state, asking the trauma intake staff, "What happened? What happened?" When no one answered her, she collapsed to the floor.
A nurse helped Kim recover and showed her into a special waiting room. It was a ten-by-ten foot room lined with chairs. When Jeff and his father, driving together, arrived at Children's, the hospital chaplain was standing outside. He took their car keys, handed them to the valet service and ushered them both into the room. Several of Kim's friends filled chairs now. This is when doctors appeared the first time and told the family that 40 physicians were working to save Dax's life.
When doctors emerged a second time, about 10 minutes later, they asked for consent to take x-rays. Startled by the question, Jeff said: "Yes, take the x-rays! Do whatever it takes!" My God! he thought to himself. Why are they asking us this? By this time the small room was filled with family and friends. After another 10 minutes, doctors appeared a third time. They pulled Jeff and Kim away and said, "He's gone." The doctors explained to them that he did not feel any pain.
"He was unconscious the whole time," the chief doctor said.1
As the couple walked down the corridor to see their son one last time, they saw the faces of the doctors and nurses they passed by. Each held an expression of total defeat. Jeff said these expressions still plague him today. When they reached the trauma room where their son died, Jeff said it was like walking into an accident scene. Blood was everywhere -- all over the floor and bed. His son's lifeless body lay mainly covered up, but still exposing his massive head injuries.
"This is a war we are in," Jeff realized after describing the trauma room where his son died.
Everyone in the small room was breaking down, weeping and sobbing. Slowly, trauma staff members began directing people into a new room, the hospital's chapel. There were pews in the room and a bible. Jeff was striding back and forth in panic and disbelief. The chaplain asked Jeff if he would like to take a walk. He began walking down a hallway with the unknown man, away from his family. This is when the chaplain said to him, "In one week you will be able to function again."2
The Day of the Attack
Walworth County Sheriff's Office did not release details about the March 6th attack until nearly a month later. News articles published then reported that the two pit bulls turned from playful and "nippy" into a violent frenzy. We've since learned more about what occurred before and after the attack. The agreement between Susan and the boy's parents was that Dax was always to be kept away from the two pit bulls and the dogs kenneled. March 6th had started that way.
It must be noted that Susan had babysat Dax at her home on at least 20 occasions previously without incident. The set up was always the same. She and Dax spent time in the front part of the house near her two pet chinchillas. The pit bulls were kept kenneled in the back part of the home near a sliding glass door that exited into the backyard and fenced dog run. Susan provided photographs of the backyard where the attack occurred (taken one year earlier) for this essay.
It was 12:30 pm and time for the dogs to be let outside. Susan dressed Dax in his coat; she had on snow boots and an unzipped parka. There was a routine when the dogs were let out of their kennels. Not only did they have to stay in their kennel until the door was fully open, but were also given an okay to exit. Susan was holding Dax on her hip when she opened the kennel doors. The dogs exited in the routine way then went out the glass door and headed toward the dog run.
Still holding Dax, Susan came strolling up behind. She opened the gate and away the dogs went. When it was time, Susan called her dogs to come inside. The dogs ran back normally then suddenly charged Susan and attacked. One clamped onto her leg and the other latched onto her coat, trying to pull her to the ground. A bite to Susan's arm forced Dax out of her arms and sent them both spiraling into the snow. She scrambled to cover the little boy with her body.
She used the open sides of her parka to insulate the boy as her own dogs tore at her hair, one on either side. The pit bulls then started to dig into the snow around and underneath her to reach Dax. She frantically fought off the dogs, but neither responded to her repeated punches and kicks. She even jammed her thumb hard into her female pit bull's eye with no result. The dogs continued their relentless assault, and in the end, were able to pull Susan away, separating her from Dax.
The gate, already unhinged on one side, was ripped down during the struggle, Susan said.
Every time she tried to stand up, the dogs knocked her back into the snow. She could see Dax lying on the ground and her two pit bulls guarding him. Under the haze of distorted time that afflicts people in life-threatening situations, Susan crawled far enough away to be able to rise to her feet. She knew while rising that this was her last chance to act. Her snow boots were loose and frayed. During the onslaught, her male pit bull had torn through them, ripping out the laces.
At this stage her two pit bulls were circling the boy -- his bright red blood covered the surrounding snow and was soaking through it. Susan knew she had to run between the dogs with steady feet to pick up Dax. She also knew she might not make it out of the dog run alive. She raced between the two dogs as fast as she could, scooped up the boy and fled toward the house. As she was going through the door, the female pit bull ran under her legs nearly knocking her down again.
This is all that Susan can remember today. She may never remember the rest.
Police released the 911 call Susan made about a month after the fatal attack. The WISN video only depicted a small portion. Notably, the dispatcher is shocked as Susan screams into the phone, "Dogs, dogs, dogs!" The dispatcher inquires, "They attacked a baby?" Susan screams, "Yes!" Further into the 911 call, Susan warns the dispatcher that two pit bulls are running loose outside and that officers may encounter them. "They can shoot them, I don't care!" Susan cried.
The arriving deputy initially feared it was a murder scene, according to reports. Bloodstained snow and fabric covered the backyard where the attack took place. The dogs had ripped Susan's parka to shreds and stripped all of the clothing from the boy during the prolonged attack. Susan was still frantically speaking with 911 when the first deputy arrived. The officer found Dax in a room in the home, totally naked, lying on his back in a pool of blood. He initially thought the boy was dead.
A Meeting with the Detective
Three days after the attack, Jeff and his father drove to Elkhorn to meet with a county detective. Until this point, few specifics were known. Jeff only knew the dogs attacked Susan and killed Dax while she was babysitting him. Jeff initially believed the pit bulls had gotten to Dax while he was walking in her home or outside. He said that when he learned Susan had been carrying Dax when her own dogs attacked her in order to reach his son, everything changed for him.
"She suffered injuries, was sent to the hospital ... THEY ATTACKED THE HAND THAT FED THEM!" Jeff wrote to DogsBite.org.
After three days of living in a shell-shocked emotional state, Jeff now had to listen to all of the disturbing details from the detective. From the moments leading up to the attack, to understanding the length of the attack -- up to 15 minutes -- and what followed. The length of the attack was the most devastating. "Did he know what was happening?" Jeff demanded. A question the Walworth County detective could not answer. He told Jeff his son's death was a "perfect storm."3
When Jeff called him three days later, he again told him it was a "perfect storm."4
As the horror settled in, both Jeff and his wife began the next phase of severe emotional trauma, suffocation by the powerful forces of guilt. His wife Kim was the first to blame herself; she had failed him as a mother. "Why wasn't I there to protect him?" she repeated desperately. Jeff soon followed, asking out loud, "Why did I ever leave Dax with those monsters? What was I thinking? My God!" From that point forward, feelings of guilt and the failure as parents enveloped them.
Jeff had long known pit bulls to be dog-aggressive. He cited a late 1990s episode of Cops, where an elderly woman's small dog was killed by a pit bull. As the police drove away from the scene -- fading into a commercial -- Jeff recalled one said: "I respond to a lot of these kinds of calls. It's a really sad part of my job. I would say 99% of the time, it's a pit bull that is the killer." This is why whenever he visited Susan's home with his own two small dogs her pit bulls were kenneled.
"Why did I think it was okay for my son to be anywhere near these kinds of dogs?" Jeff asked.
Another prevailing myth cited by pit bull advocates and humane groups is that pit bulls are "dog-aggressive not human-aggressive," despite the abundance of people the breed disfigures, maims and kills every year. Pit bulls were selectively bred for explosive animal aggression to excel in dogfighting. As far back as 1909, handlers used the term "man eaters" to describe prized fighters.5 Like a hand grenade going off, explosive aggression often lacks specificity.
Jeff also recalled on at least two occasions bringing Dax over to his friend Danny White's home, the two went to grade school together and kept in touch.6 Danny had two large pit bulls that were not well disciplined, unlike Susan's dogs. Hauntingly, Jeff reflected, "I let them lick his face once when he was still so small and he was in his car seat." He added, "Another time, I had him sitting on my lap and let them lick him. It could have been then," Jeff said. "What was I thinking?"
A few weeks into writing this essay, Jeff asked in an email, "Why couldn't someone have warned me how bad it was with this breed before he was taken from us? Would I have listened to them?" He wrote that he did not know the answer to his questions. Up until his son's brutal death, pit bulls exhibiting dog aggression had been his life experience, along with being backed by the "not people-aggressive" myth. Similar questions continue to rage in Jeff's head today.
The Owners of the Dogs
Susan believes the attack lasted between 10 to 15 minutes. This time frame coincides with her two calls to 911 made at 12:44 and 12:46 pm. Her cell phone was out of reach during the violent attack. When she was finally able to reach it, trying to open the Android phone then clicking through the many prompts with stiff, freezing fingers from the snow -- "Are you sure you want to call 911? Are you really, really sure?" -- made making the life-saving 911 call that much harder.
Susan is also haunted by the fact that no one responded to her cries for help. "The backyard area was an echo chamber," she said. Throughout the entire attack, she screamed as loudly as she could, "911 HELP! 911 HELP!" Her dogs were "going crazy," she said, and growling loudly. "How did no one hear this?" she asked. At least one man did, according to police reports obtained by the media, but took no action after hearing a woman scream for up to 15 minutes.
A man working at a resort next door told deputies he'd heard Iwicki's screams but did not go check out the situation because he thought it was children having a snowball fight at a nearby playground.
The man also told deputies he'd been watching "too many horror movies lately," and suggested that was why he did not investigate the screams, according to reports. (GazetteXtra.com)
Susan said the "nearby playground" the man referred to is nearly a mile away in the opposite direction of her home, whereas the attack took place on a property adjacent to the resort. At this point, there was a long pause in our conversation, both of us painfully aware that any intervention on his part, including just calling 911 might have made a difference. He wasn't alone either. Sandi McGough, the longtime innkeeper at the resort, who knew Susan and her dogs, heard as well.
"The housekeeper and maintenance man said they heard some yelling," Sandi McGough told Fox 6 Now on March 6th. "We couldn't exactly figure out where it was coming from," she said. Susan had worked at the resort two years earlier. All of the housekeepers knew who she was. "Who else would be screaming next door?" Susan asked. Especially given that it was off-season and only a handful of people stayed year round? Susan has not visited the resort since the attack.
The excuses by the resort staff are a heartbreaking reflection on humankind. How did they feel after they learned what happened?7
Because of the location of her building, mostly hidden behind another home, Susan knew she would have to direct the officer onto the property. After she rushed inside carrying Dax, she laid him down in a room. She grabbed a child gate and shoved it into the doorway -- one pit bull was also in the home. Susan ran to the other side of the house, seized the dog and dragged her into the kitchen. She barricaded the open doorway by stacking up chairs to keep the dog inside.
Dax was secured when she ran outside to direct the officer, she said. As she stood in the snow in her shredded parka, she continued to talk to 911. The first deputy arrived quickly. She saw the deputy get out of his vehicle and walk toward the backyard. The male pit bull, still loose outside, ran up to the man and sniffed him. The officer did not believe the dog posed a threat at that time. As soon as he turned the corner and saw the horrific scene, she heard the officer shriek.
"Hearing the officer scream, this is when I knew I was not in a dream," Susan said.
She remained standing in the driveway shaking in the cold. When the ambulance arrived, she called her boyfriend Steve. "You and Jeff need to get here now!" she said. At the time, Steve and Jeff were together at a job site installing carpeting. Deputies, however, did not want Susan using her phone. They took her phone away and told the men to go to the hospital. Steve was told about a "dog bite" during the call, but had no idea of the gravity. He rushed Jeff to the hospital.8
Susan's clothes were drenched in Dax's blood. Some of that blood was also her own, injuries incurred while fighting off her own dogs. The second ambulance that arrived was for her. When it reached the hospital, doctors were still working to stabilize Dax's heart for the helicopter flight. Coincidentally, one of the nurses at Mercy working on Dax was a woman that Susan had known from childhood. After her shift and returning home, she learned that Susan was the babysitter.
Susan struggles with the many personal connections involved in the "worst day of my life," she said.
Since the March 6th attack, Susan said that no one has walked into the fenced dog run in the backyard. Not even the landlord has used it, whose dog Judy used to spend long summer days in the run playing with Susan's two pit bulls. Before deputies left on March 6th, Susan said they shoveled over the bloody snow in the extensive attack area, hiding most of it.9 Not long after the attack, a warm spell arrived. As the snow melted, she said, "There was burnt snow everywhere."
Susan wanted to clarify an aspect that is stated earlier in this piece, "the two pit bulls turned from playful and 'nippy' that day into a violent frenzy." The "nippy" terminology was taken from police reports released to the media on April 1st. She doesn't believe she ever said the term "nippy" while being interviewed by police in her hospital room. The word implies bad ownership. Her two dogs were "never nippy," she said. Further, "batting dogs away is not playful," she said.
She also wanted to address how her and Steve got the two pit bulls. Susan grew up with a German shepherd, but had friends that owned the breed. Steve had previously owned a pit bull along with other dog breeds. The two had discussed getting a dog for a while. When one of their friends said her pit bull was about to have a litter, the couple acted. They took two puppies from the litter. Getting the dogs was about timing and opportunity, she said, not a "political statement."
"Doing research before getting the puppies never crossed her mind," Susan said. She thought all dogs were the same.
Like the father, Susan believed the myth, "It's all how you raise them." Believing this myth, perpetuated by pit bull owners, humane groups and veterinarians, resulted in the death of Dax. Jeff and Susan wanted to be part of this essay so that others who intentionally or unintentionally believe this myth can realize the truth. On March 6th, Susan's well-raised pit bulls acted out their genetic heritage by inflicting an unpredictable destructive attack that took a young boy's life.
The Deceitful, Harmful Controversy
In the several hours leading up to his son's death, Jeff posted updates to his Facebook status about his son's critical condition. Family members and friends were posting messages as well. News of the attack spread rapidly through the community via local media reports. Jeff Borchardt is a popular deejay in his area and has over 1,800 Facebook friends. On March 6th, his Facebook timeline began overflowing with messages from family members, friends and fans.
Within hours of Jeff posting, "He didn't make it," that landscape changed.
Jeff was stricken after the attack, robbed of his son's life, left only with the images of the destructive injuries inflicted by the dogs. In a shaken mental state, he posted some of his thoughts about pit bulls to his status. Instantly, he was thrown into the sphere of fanatical pit bull owners, some of which were his friends. Breed advocates bombarded his timeline with propaganda, "All dogs bite!" and "Don't blame the breed!" Some posted photos of pit bulls cuddling with babies.
"THIS IS ABOUT A BABY!" a friend wrote on Jeff's timeline. "Stop posting picts of pits and babies!
The next day, the media began copying parts of his postings and placing them into news articles, "Father of boy killed by pit bull attack shares grief." This caused the "invasion" by breed advocates to intensify further. Close friends and family members posted more messages telling them to "BACK OFF!" At this stage, family members were using Jeff's timeline to get information out to people about where to send flowers and cards, which was the Monroe Funeral Home.
While bombardment tactics are common in "mauling threads" -- comment sections following a pit bull attack news story -- harassing the father of a deceased child on his own Facebook timeline is not. At one point on March 7th, Hannah Hoyt begins arguing with Jeff's wife, telling her, "I am very sorry for your loss, BUT ... it's not the dog's fault, it's the owner." Hoyt continues to taunt and antagonize Kim even after Kim states multiple times to stop and "leave us alone."
Readers of this website already know about the multiple studies regarding owners of vicious dogs, which characterize these owners as antisocial and deviant. In the case of Jeff, many of these breed advocates lacked all social boundaries, even when confronted directly by one of the boy's parents. Armed with narcissism and an "impoverished conscience," pit bull advocates continued swarming and flogging Jeff's Facebook page in the aftermath of his son's horrific death.
Susan did not escape similar harassment. Pit bull advocates immediately lined up to prove she was a "bad owner" who "abused her dogs" in order to justify the unprovoked, prolonged attack that left an innocent baby dead. On June 14th, over three months after the attack, Jeff commented on a Brew City Bully Club post (a meme glorifying pit bulls). He quickly learned that Michelle Serocki, who runs the group, secretly private messaged his friend who was commenting beside him.
Serocki wrote to Jeff's friend stating, "The dogs that did this were not well cared for though. I saw them and they were neglected - in my professional opionion almost criminally. You and I can have different opinions on how to care for dogs - but by social and veterinary standards these dogs were neglected." Zealous breed advocates lie and use "perceived expert" tactics all the time. Serocki's deceitful method, however, sheds new light on the "organized" pro-pit bull effort.
Via a private message, Serocki flat out lied under the auspices of "quasi-credentials" to blame Susan and change the mind of Jeff's friend.
When Jeff learned about the message from Serocki, he called her out in a new comment: "Detective Michelle Serocki on the case ... pay attention cause this is not what the real detective told me ... maybe we should reopen the case?" Jeff added: "there was a reason no charges were brought ... there was no history of abuse or neglect." He then suggested that Susan join the discussion, the dogs' owner and the "only witness to my son's murder ... Let's do that, shall we?"
Serocki never responded to Jeff's invitation. See private message conversation in full.
While Susan was sitting in the ambulance -- still in the driveway of her home -- she signed the surrender forms allowing authorities to take her dogs. She wanted nothing more to do with the pit bulls she had raised from babies. The two dogs were taken to a private veterinarian and put down in a matter of hours. Susan was still in the emergency room at Mercy when she was told by a police officer that the dogs had been euthanized. Serocki never laid eyes on those pit bulls.10
Last year in Milwaukee, a pit bull jumped from a second story balcony to attack another pit bull being walked by its owners (See: Aerial-attacking pit bull). The 55-year old male owner intervened to save his dog and became the next victim. The man was hospitalized with serious injuries. "Detective" Michelle Serocki became a "safety" expert in this article essentially saying the man should have just taken "some deep breaths" and "not screamed" during this frenzied attack.
"In this case, onlookers had to literally ram a moving car into the dog in order to break the victim free." (Blogs.citypages.com)
This was a shocking attack to this community. Fox 6 Now turned to alleged "pit bull expert," Michelle Serocki, who is nothing more than a self-proclaimed pit bull rescuer, to frame this attack to the whole community, specifically from a safety perspective? Earth to Fox 6 Now: There is no safety protocol for an aerial-attacking pit bull. Their portrayal of Serocki as a pit bull and safety expert is embarrassing and unbelievably deflected the reality of this obscene attack.
Both Jeff and Susan expect more harassment, but it won't stop either of them from warning people about the myth that forever destroyed parts of their lives. As Jeff stated in the WISN interview, "This could easily be your son or daughter too." He does not want any parent to experience a similar tragedy first hand and only then realize the myth is sheer propaganda, designed solely to protect a dog breed with an unmatched 30-year track record of mauling, maiming and killing.
Zero Margin of Error Rule
On Father's Day, another tirade unfolded on Jeff's timeline. In this case, the "So sorry for your loss ... BUT" post related to the perfect dog owner concept or what DogsBite.org calls the "zero margin of error" rule for pit bull owners. If only Susan had "exactly" followed the rules set forth by the boy's parents, Dax would still be alive. Susan was imperfect on March 6th and broke the "zero margin of error" rule for pit bull owners by carrying Dax outside while letting the dogs into the run.
If there had been two poodles in the run that day instead of pit bulls, would the result have been the same?
Many pit bull owners -- particularly those duped by the myth, "It's all how you raise them" -- are unaware of this rule until it is too late. The margin of error between humans and normal dog breeds is a vast meadow. Humans and dogs can make small, medium and large errors within this area without significant repercussions. Pit bull owners, however, have "zero margin of error" -- one simple error or oversight can result in a catastrophic or fatal pit bull mauling.
Perfect dog owners are similar to perfect parents -- both are nonexistent. There are strengths and weaknesses in each role, even average and great, but never perfection. Susan did not leave this child unattended on that day, which was the other option, to leave Dax in a room in the house alone while the dogs took a bathroom break. Zealous pit bull advocates would have the public believe that perfect dog owners and the "zero margin of error" rule are reasonable.
Only pit bull experts, a selection of zealous pit bull owners and dogfighters -- real knowers of the breed -- understand the "zero margin of error" rule. The broader category of pit bull owners, such as what Susan falls within, is either in denial of the rule or has no idea of its existence. Duped by the pervasive myth, "It's all how you raise them," along with similar myths, "It's the owner" and "All dogs are the same," how would the average pit bull owner even know about this rule?
Failure to Refute Pervasive Myths
Myth pushers: Best Friends (no-kill), ASPCA (animal welfare) and Cesar Milan (demigod).
The fact is, everything is in place to support the denial of this dog breed's deadly traits, from local and national humane and veterinarian groups, up to the Centers for Disease and Control, which deserted the dangerous breed issue in 1998.11 Pit bulls have since killed over 220 Americans. None of these institutions refute the myths spread by zealous advocates that saturate the Internet and people's lives. As Jeff recently stated in an email: "I honestly believed, it's all how you raise them."
Anywhere the average person turns, false myths about pit bulls prevail. For instance, within the top five funded humane groups, Best Friends Animal Society claims that pit bulls are "just like any other dogs, but they’ve been given a bad rap." The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) admits the dog-aggression heritage of the breed, but holds to the false claim that pit bulls were "nursemaid" dogs, a myth that kills innocent children every year.
The largest humane group, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is bitterly fighting the Tracey v. Solesky ruling, which declared pit bulls "inherently dangerous," and attached strict liability when the breed attacks (See: HSUS related fact sheet and the deconstruction of it). The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is just as deceitful: "the owner's behavior as the underlying causal factor," states the group about severe and fatal attacks on its website.12
If a vet or member of the HSUS tells you, "Responsible ownership is all it takes," why would the average person disbelieve them?
The idea that "the owner made the dog violent, not the breed" has been sucked into the American psyche by all of these forces. Mega star Cesar Milan and television pump out the same rhetoric. Tune into Animal Planet to watch Pit Boss, fighting "pit bull stereotypes," and Pit Bulls and Parolees, whose host Tia Torres is driven to save the "most maligned type of dog" and who fell in love with a man jailed for attempting to murder two Orange County sheriff's deputies.13
What about the print medium? See a recent July Time magazine feature article: "The Great Pit Bull Makeover" with gagging imagery of so-called gentle pit bulls.14 Remember Susan's two biddable pit bulls? Also see the Humane Society of Chittenden County's new ad campaign to "soften pit bulls' dangerous image" that depicts Miss Vermont USA Sarah Westbrook kissing a pit bull. (Note: A proper role model for a beauty pageant winner is seen with Miss Universe Canada.)
Who can forget the Sweet Jasmine cover of Sports Illustrated post Michael Vick? The number of "positive pit bull" articles generated or publicized by local and national news organizations is staggering. Even worse, while faced with the truth that Miami-Dade County has not suffered any pit bull fatalities since the 1989 ban was enacted, unlike many other counties in Florida, the Miami Herald told readers to repeal the ban. Fortunately, the majority of county voters disagreed.
Frankly, prior to embarking on this essay, even DogsBite was unaware that people like Jeff and Susan who were duped by these myths could be so widely prevalent. However, when one looks at the situation in this light -- which groups are spreading the false myths, which groups fail to refute these myths and how many entertainment and news organizations broadcast these myths -- one must also ask: Where can a person go to receive reliable information about this dog breed?
Usually, a person only finds DogsBite.org when it's too late, after devastating injuries have been inflicted.
From a psychological standpoint, the simplest form of the myth, "It's the owner," answers all of the questions to an average person about the dangerous breed issue. Challenging this belief disrupts and threatens the beholder's world. Tony Solesky, the father of the young boy in the seminal court decision declaring pit bulls "inherently dangerous" recently summed up this phenomenon pointedly: "This type of belief system is fine until it threatens my family," Solesky said.
Why do Jeff and Susan feel it is so important to speak out about this issue?
Because it was under the condition of dedicated, responsible owners when two pet pit bulls turned "dead game" on March 6th attacking their owner and killing a child.
The Currents of Grief
Jeff doesn't know how to measure his life now. He just knows when it is a good day or a bad day. A bad day results in a meltdown, as he calls them. Tears and grief overwhelm him along with feelings of guilt and anger. Loss thunders through him -- not only for his son, but for an understanding of life. Where did his former understanding go? A questioning of his beliefs follows with fears of the unknown. What if we have another child and something this devastating happens again?
"Would I still have faith? Would I be able to carry on?" Jeff asked.
The back and forth currents of grief pull him from feeling emboldened to lost and from being "fight ready" to unable to move. Jeff explained that he likes to stay busy to keep from being alone with his thoughts. Stillness brings collisions in the currents -- powerful emotions crashing into each other causing a meltdown. Unrestrained weeping follows, sometimes for long periods. "Meltdowns strike suddenly too," Jeff said. One minute I am standing, the next I am falling down.
For three weeks after the attack, Jeff said that someone had to stand behind him when he performed his shows. This was in case a sudden meltdown struck. They occurred anyway, as the body's response to severe emotional trauma isn't easily controlled. Jeff is well-known across the Midwest and often travels to Milwaukie, Chicago and Indiana to perform. When a meltdown hits, "Instantly, I am crying my eyes out in front of a 100 or more people," Jeff said. Then I crash down.
What readers must remember is that not only is the loss of his son's life shattering, but his horrible death was preventable. This significantly raises the severity of the emotional trauma of losing a child. Many parents never recover from this loss without this component present. Jeff said the images of his son's body, which "looked like he was blown up by a bomb," flash through his head like a strobe light, uncontrollably at times. Maybe this double component is why.
"I stood in that room screaming, while my wife held his small hand. His body was destroyed, lying there in that neck brace," Jeff said.
Fourth months after the loss of his son, Jeff's central place of employment for the past 10-years, The Reddroom, shut down. He said that half of his family's total income is now gone. "What else could be worse than what we went through, right?" he asked. The sudden and dramatic financial stress on top of everything else was mind blowing. Jeff said he wonders how he is even able to get of out bed at this point. The subject line of his email was, "When it rains, it pours."
About a week later, Jeff went to an urgent care center after a 5-day long migraine. During the exam he learned that his blood pressure was extremely high. He had an immediate meltdown and explained to the physician assistant who he was. They both cried together in the patient room and she hugged him. She knew who he was from watching TV. She referred Jeff to a mental health professional. He set up an appointment to meet with the person the next day.
Susan began seeing a mental health worker shortly after the attack. She was assigned a caseworker right away, who still comes to her home once a week for 1 to 3 hour sessions. Part of her flashbacks and dreams involve reliving scenes of the brutal attack with Dax or another young child from her life and often in front of a crowd. No one offers any help in the dreams. Susan is currently taking four different medications to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"I think about Sue and what she had to witness that day," Jeff wrote in an email to DogsBite.org.
When Susan was able to return to her restaurant job after the attack, they held a special meeting after hours. She wanted to tell her story once to everyone so that she would not have to keep reciting it (reliving it). She said the meeting was scary, but she got through it. In her waiter's pad she keeps a photo of Dax in his red coat visible, a photo she took while babysitting Dax on a separate occasion. She said the photo helps keep the bad injury images of Dax out of her head.
After a fatal dog mauling, the public rarely learns what happened to the lives of family members and witnesses to the attack. Follow-ups by the media usually only occur when substantial criminal charges are filed and a trial ensues months or years later. As stated on many occasions in the past, fatal dog attacks are not only multi-generational tragedies for family members and witnesses, but also for the whole community. Recovery is slow, weighted with remorse and deep loss.
Finding Faith as Guidance
After their son's death, Jeff and his wife turned to faith for guidance. They began attending the church where Dax's funeral service was held. The last time either had been in a church was for their wedding 9-years earlier. Jeff believes that Dax saved the lives of both of them not once, but twice. Upon his birth, both parents were transformed into new people who had never known this type of love before. He saved them again when he died -- neither would be in church otherwise.
When they moved away from Darien, they found a closer church to attend. Jeff said the pastor at Brooklife Church is inspiring and he feels a sense of renewal after each service. The couple has also connected to people through the church who have lost their children. He said that no matter how the child was lost, the daunting, paralyzing pain is the same. There is a difference though, he said. Dax died in a controversy that continues to rage today, unlike a disease or car accident.
The controversy adds a whole new dimension of pain -- "It's horrible," Jeff said.
Fierce disagreements with people he once considered friends have caused more heartache too. Today, Jeff is still learning who his real friends are. As revealed on his Facebook timeline and through private messaging, some of his longtime friends, notably Danny White, made unforgivable statements to him in the wake of his son's violent death. Serious offenders like Danny are forever banned from Jeff's life. Others, who might be redeemable, are placed on his "probation list."
What is important to Jeff now are those who support his mission: Sharing what happened to Dax to save innocent lives.
His wife Kim is the staple that holds his many pieces together, Jeff explained. Through Kim and his new church, Jeff believes his faith in humanity and life might one day be restored. Calmness will begin to replace the madness and a deeper level of understanding will be born. Unlike Jeff, Kim stays away from the hostile pit bull storm. Instead, she loses herself in spiritual books, like: Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.
The two have found at least one place where part of the pain is muted. It is being out on the water in their new boat. Here, the back and forth currents are beneath them. They float for hours on the surface without interruptions from the world -- no Facebook timelines or messages and often without many words between them. They look out across the water and up into the sky, where Dax lives now. They compare notes about the many Sixth Sense experiences since his death.
For Jeff, the coincidences occur with dates and numbers. Jeff said it took them weeks to find a new place to live. They wanted a 3-bedroom, one bedroom specifically reserved for their future child. One month to the date of Dax's death, they found the place they will use as a healing ground to start their new family. Kim sees coincidences in the sky, usually in cloud formations. She takes photographs and shows them to Jeff, pointing out the angel, a message from the Divine.
Jeff said that he notices orbs in photographs now. When he looks back on past pictures of Dax, he sometimes sees them there too, indicating that the spirit had been present the whole time. Jeff knows that you cannot change the past. Even when you try, such as the protagonist in The Time Machine did, it leads to worse results. In the film, instead of being able to save his fiancée's life by going back in time, "the protagonist merely gets to watch her die a different way," Jeff said.
Both Jeff and his wife are anxious to have a new child. It would be gift from God and a way to try to begin again. Kim is 38-years old now. In early July, they received negative test results. A positive test would have placed the child's birth in the same time period as Dax's death. This new life would always bring them joy in early March, instead of the unbearable memory of his loss. Jeff said they tried for three years to conceive Dax. One close try resulted in a miscarriage.
Jeff said he could not imagine trying for three years this time.
In Memory of Daxton Borchardt
The cost of their son's death wasn't just emotional. Jeff said the cost of the Flight For Life alone was over $37,000 (nearly $1,000 per mile). When you start to add everything up, Jeff said, including the trauma medical procedures at Mercy and Children's, the cost is getting into the $80,000 range. Calvary Community Church donated the funeral services for Dax, the same church that Jeff and his wife first began attending. The service was held six days after his death in Williams Bay.
The service was open to the whole community. Doctors and nurses from Mercy and Children's attended the service. Dax's delivery doctor did as well. The undersheriff and police officers on the scene that day also attended along with the paramedics. Throughout the service, two big screens running side-by-side displayed photos of his family. They released balloons outside with handwritten messages saying, "I love you" and "I miss you." Dax loved helium balloons.
Jeff said that balloons made Dax want to walk more. When the helium began seeping out, he would beat it up, saying, "Yah, yah, yah!" A visit to Walmart's balloon section was a must when in the store. Dax liked all things that hung from the ceiling, like balloons and fans. Just before his death, he learned the "eff" sound. He loved to say "fan" and "fish." He also learned how to turn ceiling lights off and on. He was "very curious and a walker by 10-months old," Jeff said.
Most of all Dax loved to dance, Jeff reflected. "I would put music on and he would just dance, dance, dance," Jeff said. Dax also liked blow-up balls and anything with wheels. He would spin the wheels of his cars and trucks and make engine-revving sounds, Jeff said. He loved to cruise through the house in his toy coupe. Jeff thought he might grow up to be a racecar driver. When his parents needed a break, Puss in Boots videos were a savior, the character mesmerized Dax.
One of Jeff's best memories, which still causes him to breakdown when he thinks about it, is the popsicle wrappers. Dax loved Squeeze Freezer Pops. When he would finish eating one, he would start waving the wrapper all over, "acting like a crazy man," Jeff said. Once Jeff started copying him, acting crazy and making fun of him. The look on Dax's face was initially perplexed. Then suddenly there were two crazy people in the home waving empty wrappers up and all around.
People always asked about Dax's hair, Jeff said. "Why does it only grow on the top?" We would always tell them, "No we did not give our 10-month old a Mohawk." Dax turned his head back and forth a lot while he slept, Jeff explained. We think this is why he had so little hair on the sides of his head. Jeff said that they keep a locket of his hair next to his urn. He and his wife saved their son's ashes, "So that he is always with us," Jeff said. "We have Dax with us everywhere we go."
Love for Dax Benefit
In May, a fundraising benefit was held to celebrate the life of Dax and to help his parents. Falling Up: A Tribute to Dax Borchardt was held at the Richfield Chalet in Hubertus. Many people attended the benefit headlined with four prominent deejays, including Mix Master Bogart, Jeff Borchardt. The Facebook event website has many photos and videos of the benefit, including laser light show images, deejays spinning and more, all components of Jeff's everyday world.
Tomorrow, on July 27th, an even larger benefit, Love for Dax, is being held at Phil & Amy's Corners Inn in Delavan. There will be live music, food and raffles at the benefit. Jeff anticipates up to 1,000 attendees. DogsBite planned the publishing of this essay to be the day before the July benefit. Jeff has been looking forward to this date. He is tired of explaining his position to people. He would rather just write, "Here's the full story -- please read every word," and provide this link.
DogsBite.org and many of our readers will be present at the Love for Dax benefit in spirit.
Daxton Borchardt Fund
A memorial fund has been set up at Associated Bank. Donations can be made at any Associated Bank branch to the "Daxton Borchardt Fund."
2Jeff said he was right. He and his wife were completely nonfunctional for about the next seven days, even to the point of being able to stand up on their own.
3This detective might have performed web searches leading up to the meeting. Dr. Randall Lockwood, a senior vice-president of the ASPCA used the "perfect storm" comparison in a 2006 article by Malcom Gladwell to "explain away" fatal pit bull maulings that continue to plague this country. After Lockwood debuted the analogy, other scientific and academic "ethics sell-outs" and humane groups began using the term as well. Lockwood is the gravest of all scientist ethical sell-outs because it was his own published research about the "unique" behaviors of fighting dogs (pit bulls) while working at the HSUS that was used to uphold the Denver pit bull ban. When he moved to the ASPCA in 2005, Lockwood's tune on pit bulls changed. Please note that 100% of Lockwood's presumptions in his 2006 statement are categorically false concerning the death of Daxton Borchardt.
"A fatal dog attack is not just a dog bite by a big or aggressive dog," Lockwood went on. "It is usually a perfect storm of bad human-canine interactions—the wrong dog, the wrong background, the wrong history in the hands of the wrong person in the wrong environmental situation. I've been involved in many legal cases involving fatal dog attacks, and, certainly, it's my impression that these are generally cases where everyone is to blame. You've got the unsupervised three-year-old child wandering in the neighborhood killed by a starved, abused dog owned by the dogfighting boyfriend of some woman who doesn't know where her child is. It's not old Shep sleeping by the fire who suddenly goes bonkers. Usually there are all kinds of other warning signs." - Randall Lockwood, 2006.
4Just days before publishing this essay, more light was shed on the detective's repeated use of "perfect storm" to describe the circumstances of Dax's death. Bear in mind that an actual "perfect storm" occurs approximately once per century. During the 8-year period of 2005 through 2012, pit bulls killed an American on average every 19 days. During the first three months of 2013, this was reduced to every 13 days. Just days before the death of Dax, in the neighboring state of Illinois, the fatal pit bull mauling death of 7-year old Ryan Maxwell occurred.
In a July 22nd phone conversation with DogsBite.org, Susan said the detective called her about an hour before Jeff and his father arrived that day. She said he cited the explanation of a "perfect storm" about a half dozen times during the call. He also told Susan something along the lines of, "It's not always the breed or the owner. An animal is an animal."
After learning this information from Susan, it became clear to DogsBite.org that the detective had indeed found the term by performing web searches. A term first used by Lockwood whose presumptions in no way correspond to the facts of this case and only repeated by fellow science "ethical sell-outs" and pit bull advocates. The detective more than likely discovered DogsBite.org in his searches as well. Yet, a "perfect storm" and an "animal is an animal" were his stock answers to the 358th American viciously killed by a pit bull, Daxton Borchardt.
Not a Perfect Storm
- If employees at the resort had called 911 quickly, emergency responders "might" have been able to save Dax's life. Though he still would have been subjected to a violent mauling by two pit bulls for at least several minutes, resulting in years of reconstructive surgeries and possibly maimed and disfigured for the rest of his life.
- If it had been a summer month -- no snow on the ground -- Susan still would have been an unarmed female with no capability of stopping one pit bull much less two focused and engaged in a relentless attack.
- There were no dog ownership, abuse or neglect issues is this case, the chief components of Lockwood's "perfect storm" scenario: "You've got the unsupervised three-year-old child wandering in the neighborhood killed by a starved, abused dog owned by the dogfighting boyfriend of some woman who doesn't know where her child is."
The fatal dog mauling of Daxton Borchardt was a sudden assault by two pet pit bulls on their owner who was holding a toddler -- the intended target of the dogs. This bears no relevance to a so-called "perfect storm." Recognizing that traumatized victims like Jeff and Susan might be better off initially with a substandard stock answer to better grapple with what happened on March 6th, the detective still did a disservice to both victims. He also failed to acknowledge the proper usage of the term: "The only perfect storm in this incident is the documented, lethal genetic history of the pit bull breed." - DogsBite.org, January 2010.
5George C. Armitage, "Thirty Years with Fighting Dogs," Originally Published in 1935, Pg 20 (The Battle Between Parren's Pat and Caire's Rowdy)
6Danny White was one of Jeff's friends that taunted him after his son's death, posting pro-pit bull propaganda on his timeline. In the past several weeks, Jeff learned through a mutual friend that Danny was playing with his two pit bulls when one of them latched down on his hand and wouldn't let go, sending him to the hospital. On July 26th, after publishing this essay, we learned that Danny's biter is now dead. During this summer's baking heat, Danny left that pit bull in his car with the windows rolled up. "The dog was cooked to death," according to our source.
7No, it wasn't a rape and bludgeoning death of a woman who lived nearby (Would this have been acceptable?). It was the obscene pit bull mauling death of an innocent child.
8Over the course of March 6th, Jeff does not have his car. Early that morning, when he went to Susan's home and dropped off Dax, he left his car there. Steve drove both of them to the job site.
9Steve and his cousin had to finish the job. Also, there was not time to determine if these actions were a health violation not, covering over the bloody snow, versus removing it from the property.
10On July 27th, one day after the publication of this essay, Michelle Serocki of Brew City Bully Club changed her personal Facebook profile image to represent an individual other than herself. Specifically, Serocki changed her profile image to represent Alexis Gull, the Events Director of Brew City Bully Club. Just one more underhanded deceitful tactic by Serocki. We wonder if Alexis Gull knows the real underpinnings of Serocki's action?
11Though the modern annual rate of dog bite fatalities is 31, the CDC website still lists 16, a figure derived from the 1980s and 1990s.
12Recall the AVMA's mission statement: "to improve animal and human health and advance the veterinary medical profession." Its stated objective: "to advance the science and art of veterinary medicine, including its relationship to public health, biological science, and agriculture." Dog mauling injuries and fatalities, primarily inflicted by pit bulls, are a serious public health issue. Allowing the "blame the owner" myth to prevail, instead of honestly addressing the breed's dangerous genetic traits, is an "F" failure grade in advancing human health and public health.
13What a remarkable role model for her young pit bull owning audience?
14This photo gallery is part of the July 22nd article, "The Softer Side of Pit Bulls," by Paul Tullis. Time magazine did not contact DogsBite.org to be interviewed for this article.
07/26/14: News Release - Beyond the Interview: Essay of a Fatal Pit Bull Mauling
07/24/13: Beyond the Interview Photo Album: Essay of a Fatal Pit Bull Mauling
07/18/13: Video: Father of Boy Killed by Pit Bulls Warns About Dangerous Myth
04/02/13: 2013 Dog Bite Fatality: 14-Month Old Wisconsin Boy Killed by Babysitter's Pit Bulls