Some thoughts on the recent dog attack and fatality in Brooklyn Center

Stevie Mathre

April 15, 2023

Sometimes it seems like things are getting worse and worse. Late storms and spring flooding. Inflation. Political maneuvering and legal consequences. Mass shootings. This week, a young man died from injuries received in a multiple dog attack in Minnesota.  

Some things have been reported.

There were four dogs involved. They were American pit bull terriers. 

The victim was not the owner. He was caring for the dogs at the time. 

The incident happened in the back yard of the victim’s home, which was not the dogs’ home.

But today is not a day for statistics about breeds, or tired slogans about training vs genetics. My intention isn’t to deflect attention from the tragedy in Brooklyn Center and for the people involved. It isn’t to point out the relatively small percentage of dog bites that result in serious injury or death, compared to the number of dogs in the US. And I’m not even blaming a 24-hour news cycle that relies on ratings for profit and therefore tends to sensationalize each headline. (At least not in this piece – I do believe there’s a significant connection between media sensationalism, social polarization, and higher stress levels… and therefore more violent reactivity. That’s for another day.) 

Basically, we’re all living in a constant state of high stress. So many incidents, so much worry, too much information, not enough answers… all lead to disordered reactions to events which may or may not directly involve us. We are affected. Our brains no longer have the opportunity to return to homeostasis. We’re in a constant state of emergency, even when we don’t feel it. 

Dezmond Trawick’s death IS tragic. And we’re programmed to demand information about what happened. We’re wired to want to act. 

But we simply don’t know. Don’t know what happened, what triggered those dogs. Or what Dezmond did. 

And we CAN’T know. That’s tough to accept. Even if somehow there was information about every word, every motion, every fact leading up to the dogs’ attack and beyond, we STILL WOULDN’T KNOW. Behavior is complex, intertwining with one’s history, physical condition, relationships with others (inter- and intra-specific), what one felt about their breakfast or who won the last game of fetch, and a million other things… 

There’s really no question that there will be specific consequences for those four dogs, for Dezmond’s family and friends, for the owners of the dogs. Let the systems already in place do their work.

For those of us on the outside of that circle, it can be uncomfortable to sit with uncertainty. Sick of thoughts and prayers, we’re used to yelling at the television “Just _____ DO SOMETHING!” It’s not the time, when emotions are churned up, to demand intemperate actions or sweeping edicts. We don’t know the true circumstances and can’t know why. 

It is uncomfortable to embrace uncertainty. But in uncertainty is the mystery of us, of relationships, of communication succinct and garbled, of complex emotions, and of pain and of joy. 

The mystery of a relationship with another species takes flight despite tragedies. And perhaps it is because of the uncertainty which sometimes seems so unbearable, that mystery makes it so much more bearable. In the uncertainty is also joy, the comfort of soft fur, a wet tongue, a heartbeat next to ours. 

So if our system built and grown over the years needs fixing, by all means work to accomplish that… with a level head and acceptance of those things we can’t fully comprehend. 

Yes, sometimes dogs bite. Sometimes they attack. There’s a lot to learn, to improve, to serve both people and pets in mutual safety and welfare. A lot we’ll never know. And yet we still choose to live with them. And they still chose to wag their tails.