SASKATOON — A police dog that bit a six-year-old girl while the dog was tracking suspects in a home invasion has been taken off the streets until a review can be completed.
Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper says the review will cover the dog's history and the handler's actions as well as include a use-of-force report.
"Our canine officers and their animals are an important part of our organization," Cooper said Monday. "The dogs are selected for police work and they all receive extensive training to a provincial standard and that is reviewed annually by supervisors in the unit."
Cooper said there were no issues with the dog in question during training or while in service with the canine unit.
"This is a working dog," he said. "It's trained to track. It's trained to protect the handler. It's trained to do the things it was doing.
"It acted outside of that training and that's what we're investigating."
The animal was in a harness and on a leash when it rounded a corner and latched onto the girl on Saturday. Cooper said she was bitten on the side of her body between her armpit and her hip.
Police said in a news release Sunday that the dog instantly released the girl, who wasn't connected to the investigation, when commanded to do so by the handler.
But witness Amanda Pritchard said that the handler shouted repeatedly to let go, but the dog still held the girl tight in its jaws.
Cooper said he couldn't say whether the dog — a three-year-old Belgian Malinois that has been in service for 10 months — instantly let go or not. He said that aspect will be a part of the review.
It's too early to say what will ultimately happen to the dog, he said, adding that the animal hasn't disobeyed before.
"Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence but, having said that, I don't want to downplay the seriousness of what would have been a terrifying event for a little girl and her family."
Leslie Welder said her daughter, Autumn Clifford, required many stitches to her abdomen to close wounds from deep bites. Tissue was sticking out of some of them, she said.
"My other daughter — she's seven — stated that all Autumn did was look over and say, 'Oh, look! Puppy!' And next thing you know he was on her, pulling her down to the ground and attacking her," Welder said on Sunday.
Cooper said he's attempted to speak to the family, who will be offered victim services.
The dog's handler remains on duty and is not being disciplined.
Supt. Mitch Yuzdepski, a former canine handler with the police service, said he's spoken to the officer, who said he feels horrible about what happened.
"The member is probably going over in his mind what could I have done different," Yuzdepski said.
Saskatoon police receive 5,000 canine calls a year and the dogs are deployed about 1,000 times, he said.
Eight dog teams remain in service. The animals are trained locally to Saskatchewan Police Commission standards over a 16-week period. They are taught in several categories, including obedience, retrieval, agility, searching and criminal apprehension.
He said he's not aware of another such event in Saskatoon.
Regina police reviewed two cases last year in which their canines mistakenly bit people.