RCMP spokeswoman Tara Seel said officers responded to a call Sunday in the Rural Municipality of Springfield. Media reports have identified the girl as Gracie Herntier-Clark. She was rushed to a Winnipeg hospital where she was pronounced dead.
The child, who was from the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews just north of Winnipeg, was visiting family friends at the time of the attack, Seel said.
"Two Alaskan malemute dogs were seized and are being held by RM of Springfield animal control while the investigation continues," she said Monday. "It should be noted that the dogs were known to the deceased. This was not a random attack."
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."
Kristin Nicholson, who lives next door, said she's never seen the dogs behave violently.
“We have two little girls that are four and seven and the neighbours’ dogs were over here all the time," she told radio station CJOB. "We weren’t scared of them … they were big but playful and I’m just in shock that that’s what went on.”
Charges are not being ruled out.
"We're still in the thick of the investigation," Seel said.
Scott Kwasnitza, superintendent of the Lord Selkirk School Division, said teachers and students were struggling to come to terms with the Grade 2 student's death.
"They're devastated. It's not something that happens in a school setting very often," he said. "She was a bright inquisitive girl who was full of life. It just makes this more tragic because of that."
Grief counsellors were on hand and will be throughout the week as the 450 students at St. Andrews School absorb what happened, Kwasnitza said.
Dick Vlaming, fire chief for the RM of Springfield, said the fire service didn't get called in on Sunday, but one of his volunteers was driving home when he noticed a commotion on the rural property.
He stopped to see if he could help, but by then it was too late, Vlaming said. The girl had already been transported to hospital and the RCMP were on the scene.
The community is shaken, Vlaming said.
"It's terrible. It's something you don't wish on anybody. It's terrible for the family and for the people that responded," he said. "We just feel for the family. That's something nobody wants to go through or should go through."
On its Facebook page, Rural Animal Management Services said it wouldn't release any information.
"There will be no press release or casual discussion from us surrounding today's tragic events," stated a post from Sunday evening. "Our thoughts go out to all those impacted by this terrible incident."
Bill McDonald, CEO of the Winnipeg Humane Society, said malemutes 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 malemutes 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."
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