HESPERIA (AP) — A 4-year-old Southern California boy who was bitten by his father’s police dog had to have his leg amputated below the knee, and the canine probably will be euthanized, police said Thursday.
Hunter Mastaler remained hospitalized four days after the Belgian shepherd dog clamped onto his left leg in the backyard of the family’s Hesperia home.
Neighbors knocked over a fence and pried the dog’s jaws open to free the boy.
Hunter will remain hospitalized for another week, Rialto police Capt. Randy De Anda said. With a prosthetic he could be able to run again within six months, he said.
The 7-year-old dog, Jango, was assigned to the Rialto police force, and Hunter’s father, Michael Mastaler, had been his handler for about two years, De Anda said.
On Sunday afternoon, Mastaler returned from a two-day trip to Big Bear where he had run a boot camp for at-risk youth, De Anda said.
Jango had been left in a large backyard kennel during the trip and Mastaler let him out into the backyard before going into the house, where his son was playing video games.
Mastaler’s wife had gone shopping with their 18-month-old son and Mastaler went upstairs to change “for about two minutes” when Hunter opened a sliding glass door and screen and went into the yard, De Anda said.
For an unknown reason, Jango went into “bite mode” and clamped onto the boy as he was trained to do in some criminal situations, De Anda said.
The boy’s screams alerted neighbors who called 911 and rushed to help.
Jeff Houlemard smashed into a gate, knocking down the fence, to rescue the boy.
“I kicked the dog, but it still didn’t let him go, so I whipped him around and pulled the mouth open,” Houlemard said.
His son and another teenager pulled the boy to safety.
De Anda said Houlemard then picked up the dog, slammed it to the ground and pinned it “in a bear-hug” until Hunter’s father came outside and put the dog in the kennel.
“The attack was probably going on for at least two minutes before he was pulled out,” Houlemard said.
Houlemard’s wife, Shannon, tried to keep the boy calm by singing his ABCs and 123s with him.
“I was just trying to keep his mind off what just had happened,” she said.
The dog was placed in quarantine for 10 days and it is likely that, following an investigation, he will be euthanized, De Anda said.
Jango had no history of aggression, received regular training and his record as a patrol, SWAT and narcotics dog was “impeccable,” De Anda said.
“We don’t know what prompted the bite,” he said.
The department’s four police dogs are always supposed to be under direct supervision of their handlers, and the department is investigating to make sure there were no policy violations, De Anda said.
The boy’s father has been at the hospital since Sunday, De Anda said. “He is devastated,” the captain said.
Hunter, however, appeared to be in good spirts, he added.