A police dog that bit a six-year-old girl over the weekend has been pulled off active duty while its history and behaviour is examined in an internal review.
Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper told reporters Monday the dog had been scent-tracking suspects in a home invasion on Avenue L when it rounded a corner and went out of sight of its handler.
“The officer could hear the child cry,” he said. “He didn’t see the actual contact.”
The girl, Autumn Clifford, required several stitches to close wounds on her abdomen from the bites.
Cooper said the Saskatoon Police Service is taking the situation very seriously.
“I don’t want to downplay this … a terrifying event for a little girl, and a horrible thing to go through as a family,” he said.
Cooper said he’s reached out to the family, and victim services is being made available to them.
The canine involved, a three-year-old Belgian Malinois, had been on duty for 10 months before the incident. The dog completed the mandatory 16-week training course with its handler before being brought into active service.
Cooper said while the dog was being taken off duty, the handler was not being disciplined.
Supt. Mitch Yuzdepski, a former canine officer, said police dogs are only trained to bite when commanded, or when they or the handler are threatened.
“This was a terrible accident, but this isn’t something that happens commonly,” he said.
He added Saskatoon’s nine canine units are deployed about 5,000 times a year, with the dogs being released about 1,000 times with very few biting incidents.
Yuzdepski noted when a canine unit is scent-tracking a suspect, the dog is typically on a lead leash about 20 feet ahead of the handler — but the distance is shortened at corners.
Cooper said police will know in the coming days how long their internal investigation will take, and the findings will be presented in a use of force report to the board of police commissioners.
He said it’s too early to say what may happen to the dog, or if it could return to active service.
“We want to find out exactly what occurred, do a review of the situation, do a review of the dog’s training, the handler’s actions,” he said.
“And then we’ll have a better picture of whether that could ever occur or not.”