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Girl mauled to death by friends' dogs

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A seven-year-old girl from St. Andrews died Sunday after she was mauled by two Alaskan malamute dogs while visiting family friends near Oakbank.

Gracie Herntier-Clark, a Grade 2 student at St. Andrews School, was playing outside Sunday afternoon when the dogs attacked, said the RCMP.

The girl was rushed to hospital but did not survive.

The two dogs were seized and are being held by the R.M. of Springfield’s animal control branch while the RCMP investigation continues.

"It’s a terrible tragedy. Our hearts go out to everyone involved," said RCMP spokeswoman Tara Seel.

The exact cause of death is not being released, Seel said. It’s not clear what prompted the attack, she added.

The girl was being supervised by an adult but it doesn’t appear anyone witnessed the mauling, Seel said.

"This is just a tragedy all around and you never like to hear about this type of thing. You feel for everyone involved."

Charges are not being ruled out.

"We’re still in the thick of the investigation," Seel said.

Dogs roamed free: neighbour

Kristin Nicholson lives next to the home where the attack occurred and said the dogs weren’t fenced in and could roam free.

She said the dogs, named Bear and Shadow, were around her kids all the time and she never worried for their safety.

"It hits way too close to home. Their dogs were over here all the time," said Nicholson, who has two daughters, aged four and seven.

Dan Fryer, an animal control and animal protection officer with the R.M. of Springfield’s animal control services, said he had no problems seizing the dogs and bringing them back to the facility.

"I have the dogs — the RCMP requested I pick them up. The community doesn’t have to fear these dogs," Fryer said.

"Their future depends on the RCMP investigation."

Fryer said the dogs were seized at a home in a rural area and "they were known to the little girl."

"I would like to make it clear this is a terrible, terrible tragedy. It is quite obviously incredibly serious. I’ve never seen anything to this extent before."

School offers support

Scott Kwasnitza, superintendent of the Lord Selkirk School Division, confirmed Gracie Herntier-Clark was a student within the division.

"We are devastated at the loss of such a young member of the Lord Selkirk School Division community," he said. "Our heartfelt thoughts and sympathies are with the young girl’s family as they deal with this sudden and devastating tragedy."

The divisional crisis team and counsellors were at the school at 8:30 a.m. this morning, and will remain there all day today.

"They will be on call at St. Andrews School for the rest of the week to assist any students and staff who need support in dealing with this tragedy," Kwasnitza said.

Breed generally considered friendly

Bill McDonald, CEO of the Winnipeg Humane Society, said malamutes are traditionally sled dogs that can weigh anywhere between 36 and 45 kilograms.

They are generally known as a friendly breed, but he said there have been cases where malamutes have fatally attacked children before.

The challenge for police will be to figure out what set the dogs off in this case, McDonald suggested.

"Any large dog — be it a collie or a golden retriever — and young people, they have to be monitored," he said. "When you’ve got a seven-year-old and probably in the range of 150 to 200 pounds of dog that’s mad, these are the tragic results."

With files from The Canadian Press


Updated on Monday, March 17, 2014 at 11:48 AM CDT: Additional details from RCMP.

12:53 PM: Adds information from school division.

1:20 PM: adds photo

1:49 PM: Adds comment from RCMP, humane society.

2:37 PM: adds info and quote from neighbour

3:04 PM: adds info and quotes from animal control officer

4:03 PM: adds photo of Gracie Herntier-Clark

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