Physician Faces Cruelty Charges for Leaving 9 Dogs in His Car While He Worked

cavalier king charles spanielsThe heat index rose to 90 degrees outside Charles A. Bickerstaff’s SUV Monday. Inside the vehicle were the South Carolina physician’s nine Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, who’d been left without food, water — or even a window cracked slightly open — while Bickerstaff went to work at a hospital.

When Bickerstaff returned to his car three hours later and found the dogs unresponsive, he took them to Mt. Pleasant Animal Hospital to be examined.

The dogs weren’t just unresponsive — they were dead, and rigor mortis had set in. They showed symptoms of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a condition that causes clots to form and block the flow of blood to vital organs.

When Bickerstaff — who didn’t tell anyone his name — left the hospital, the staff notified police. It was apparent the dogs “succumbed to their injuries as a result of ill treatment,” according to an affidavit.

“This is a medical doctor. This is not acceptable,” said the woman who called 911, reports WCIV. “He had asked, ‘So, leaving the windows open is not adequate?’ No. Not when they’re in kennels and they have full coats, and you have them two by two in each kennel.”

Police were able to track down Bickerstaff, who admitted he had left his nine dogs, whose ages ranged from 5 months to 9 years, inside his vehicle in the hospital’s parking lot.

In even mildly warm weather, the interior of a car can become like an oven — whether or not the windows are left slightly open.

“The temperature inside of a car during spring and summer, and early fall, in South Carolina will rise so much that, for a dog, seconds can cost them their life,” Dr. Sarah Boyd, of the Charleston Animal Society, told WCIV.

For example, when it’s 75 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can rise to 100 degrees in only 10 minutes.

Bickerstaff’s attorney, Bill Thrower, told The Post and Courier that the gastroenterologist got sidetracked with an emergency at the hospital, and couldn’t attend to his dogs, who he thought would be safe in the car.

“This was a tragedy that he feels as bad as anybody about,” Thrower said.

Bickerstaff has been charged with nine counts of cruelty, and his bond has been set at $90,000. Each count could result in up to five years in prison, with a minimum sentence of 180 days.

Joe Elmore, CEO of the Charleston Animal Society, told The Post and Courier that if Bickerstaff is found guilty, “we believe the maximum penalty should be applied by the judge in this case.”

Photo credit: Hugh Macdonald