Mother of girl bitten by Saskatoon police dog blames handler, not animal

SASKATOON — The mother 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 home outside on Saturday when a police dog tracking suspects in a home invasion came around a corner.

The police handler had the dog in a harness and on a leash, but the canine was ahead of the officer and latched onto the girl.

A witness said the dog wouldn’t let go despite several commands from the handler to do so.

Welder told CKOM Radio that the dog isn’t entirely to blame.

She said she understands the dog was doing its job, and that perhaps more training could help, which is why she doesn’t want the animal to be destroyed.

“To me, it’s the handler that should have been handling that dog better than he did, and how he did.”

Police have said the handler was about three metres behind the dog and heard a cry, but didn’t see the girl get bitten.

The girl required several stitches to close wounds on her abdomen.

Welder said her daughter has been 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this, and her little kindergarten graduation because of this,” said Welder, who added her daughter has also become more withdrawn since the bite.

“(We’re) trying to move on and trying to get her to go back to my normal little Autumn.”

Police said Monday that the dog, a three-year-old Belgian Malinois, had been on duty for 10 months and 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.

Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper said the dog has been taken off duty, but the handler is not being disciplined.

The service is doing an internal review and will determine what happens next once that’s complete.

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 recover.

“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 the moment.

Victim services has reached out to the family. Welder said she may consider counselling for herself and her daughter.

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