The mom of a six-year-old girl bitten by a Saskatoon police dog says she doesn’t want the animal to be put down.
Leslie Welder’s daughter, Autumn Clifford, was outside their home on Avenue M Saturday afternoon when she came into contact with a police dog, who was scent-tracking two suspects involved in a nearby break-in.
According to police, the dog – wearing a leash and harness – rounded a corner and went out of sight of its handler, who then heard a cry but didn’t see the bite.
“It was the dog’s fault and it wasn’t the dog’s fault,” Welder told 650 CKOM Monday.
“To me, it’s the handler that should have been handling that dog better than he did, and how he did.”
Welder said she first heard what happened when the little girl’s father frantically ran through the house saying she had been bit by a dog.
Welder then saw her daughter’s arm covered in blood, with a puncture mark through her t-shirt.
“I thought, ‘Okay, it was just a little bite,’ you know? But then I lift up her shirt and lo and behold, it was way worse than what I thought.”
The six-year-old required several stitches to close wounds on her abdomen from the bites.
On Monday afternoon, Welder said her daughter was relaxing on the couch after being instructed not to move much for the next two weeks.
“She’s going to miss all her school functions because of this, and her little Kindergarten graduation because of this,” Welder said, adding her daughter has also become more withdrawn since the bite.
“It’s just trying to get over it. Trying to move on and trying to get her to go back to my normal little Autumn.”
Police said the canine involved, a three-year-old Belgian Malinois, had been on duty for 10 months before the incident.
The dog completed a mandatory 16-week training course with its handler before being brought into active service.
Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper said while the dog was being taken off duty, the handler was not being disciplined.
The service is conducting an internal review of the incident and will determine what happens next once that’s complete.
Welder said she understands the dog was doing its job, and that perhaps more training may help, which is why she doesn’t want the dog to be put down.
As for how police should be held accountable, Welder said she isn’t sure exactly what she wants because her focus is helping her daughter move past the traumatic incident.
“It’s all about Autumn. Getting her to feel better and heal and to be back to a normal six-year-old.”
Welder said filing a lawsuit against the police service is far from her mind at this time.
“I don’t know if it would help … like the policeman said, this is the worst bite he’s ever seen in Saskatoon. And it has to happen on a six-year-old little girl.”
Victim Services has reached out to the family. Welder said she may consider counselling for herself and her daughter in the future.
According to police, Saskatoon’s nine canine units are deployed about 5,000 times a year, with dogs being used about 1,000 times with very few biting incidents.
The results of the Saskatoon police review will be detailed in a use of force report presented to the board of police commissioners at a later date.
— With files from 650 CKOM’s Chris Carr.