SASKATOON – A Saskatoon police dog that was removed from duty after it bit a six-year-old girl while it was tracking suspects is back on the job.
The Saskatoon Police Service says its investigation, which was aided by an outside agency, found the dog and its handler met all provincial standards.
But the review also suggested some modifications in how police dogs are deployed when on assignment.
Autumn Clifford was in her yard last June when a police dog going after suspects in a home invasion came around a corner ahead of its handler and latched onto her.
Deputy Chief Mitch Yuzdepski says the police service has made some changes which have become part of standardized training for all officers in the canine unit.
He says handlers are being told they need to consider a number of things when their dogs are tracking in a real situation or in a training environment: the time of day, the environment the team is working in and the need to keep an eye on a police dog at all times.
“That may mean, if necessary, when navigating tight spaces or blind corners, shortening the length of the leash,” Yuzdepski said Tuesday.
He said the police service specifically asked the outside agency to examine not only what happened but also to recommend “what we could incorporate in order to eliminate or reduce the risk of this ever happening again.”
Police would not say what outside agency was involved.
Autumn required several stitches to close wounds on her abdomen.
A witness said the dog wouldn’t let go despite several commands from the handler to do so.
The girl’s mother, Leslie Welder, said at the time that she understood the dog was doing its job and she didn’t want the animal destroyed. She also suggested perhaps more training for handlers could help.
Police said the handler was about three metres behind the dog and heard a cry, but didn’t see the girl get bitten.
The dog, a three-year-old Belgian Malinois, had been on duty for 10 months. Police said there were no issues during that time or while it was in training.
The dog completed a mandatory 16-week course with its handler before being brought into active service.
The handler was not disciplined. The dog was taken off duty, but Yuzdepski said it returned to work Tuesday.
— By Sylvia Strojek in Edmonton