Father honors late son with canine-education group
EAST TROY--Jeff and Kim Borchardt could no longer live in their Darien home after their son's death.
Memories in the house, where 14-month-old Daxton James Borchardt playfully scrawled on the wall, were too painful.
Today, a year after two pit bulls fatally attacked their toddler, the grieving parents live in East Troy.
“I break into tears all the time,” Jeff said. “But the meltdowns are becoming less.”
On March 6, 2013, babysitter Susan Iwiki held young Daxton at her town of Walworth home, when the dogs she and her boyfriend raised from puppies began to attack.
The assault left the boy with horrific and fatal wounds.
Jeff recalls contacting Kim to tell her their son was on a Flight For Life to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa.
“No husband should ever have to make that kind of call to his wife,” he said.
Later, the couple huddled close to Daxton's lifeless body at the hospital.
“I sat there screaming,'” Jeff remembers.
In the months that followed, images of Daxton's bloody face and body after the mauling haunted him.
In June, he heard about a family pit bull attacking a 15-month-old boy in the village of Caledonia in Racine County.
“I decided I couldn't be quiet anymore,” Jeff said.
He founded a nonprofit group to help further pet safety called Daxton's Friends for Canine Education & Awareness.
“I cannot bring my son back,” Jeff said. “But by creating this organization, his life will not be in vain.”
His purpose is to prevent more tragedies.
Jeff connected with six others, including Iwiki, from across the United States. Many have experienced dog attacks in their families. The founding members call themselves canine enthusiasts who want to educate the public about the importance of understanding dog breeds. Their goal is to reduce the number of dog-related incidents with proper education and pet care.
“We will strive to provide honest and unbiased information,” Jeff said.
Daxton's Friends also will offer emotional support and counseling resources to victims of canine-related incidents.
In addition, the group's website provides information on breeds, where to find dogs and good questions to ask while searching for a dog.
On Thursday, the volunteer group is hosting an inaugural fund-raising event in Oak Brook, Ill., to mark the anniversary of Daxton's death.
The child was the sixth of 32 fatalities by dogs in 2013, the website DogBite.org reports. Eighteen of the victims were age 7 and younger.
The site identifies itself as a victims' group dedicated to reducing serious dog attacks. It reports that 30 to 35 fatal dog attacks have occurred annually in the United States in recent years.
Daxton's Friends does not recommend breeds.
“Each family has to make its own decision about what dog to own,” Jeff said. “Daxton's Friends just wants to educate the public so the proper information is available to be used in the decision-making process.”
He believes every time a dog fatally attacks a person it should be national news.
The Friends group will help fill a gap in tracking data related to dogs and public welfare, said Sam Madan, who is vice president of the group's board of directors.
“The gap makes it difficult to make educated decisions about the right pet for families,” he explained. “There's a great deal of personal and anecdotal advice but real data needs to be tracked regarding the factors that play into dog deaths and injuries.”
Kristen Perry, director of the Lakeland Animal Shelter in Delavan, commends Daxton's family and others for “trying to make something positive out of such a horrible, horrible thing.”
“They are trying to build a charity for responsible pet ownership,” she said.
A wedding disc jockey, Jeff said the only time he feels normal is when he is being a DJ.
“It has been a long road,” he said. “I've learned a lot about myself and life.”
He does not hesitate to reach out to other families who are suffering like himself after fatal dog attacks.
“I tell them to call me,” Jeff said. “I know what it is like.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.