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SC doctor charged with ill treatment of animals after 9 dogs die in hot SUV

Dr. Charles Bickerstaff
Dr. Charles Bickerstaff

A Mt. Pleasant doctor has been charged with nine counts of ill treatment of animals after leaving his dogs inside a hot vehicle for more than three hours. WYFF4 reported the story August 13.

According to an incident report, police were called to Mount Pleasant Emergency Vet on Monday after an unknown man brought six dogs that he believed were unconscious to the vet for treatment.

The vet soon determined the dogs had been dead for some time, as rigor mortis had already set in five of the dogs. Those dead are

Money, a 5-month-old Blenheim; Lucinda, an 11-month-old black and tan; Drayton, a 2-year-old Blenheim; Madeline, a 4-year-old ruby; Shelby, a 4-year-old ruby; Katie, a 5-year-old ruby; Butler, an 8- or 9-year-old tricolor; Freddie, an 8- or 9-year-old Blenheim; and Willis, the 8- or 9-year-old Blenheim.

Police were called after the vet staff directed the man to a local crematory, as they believed the man was responsible for their deaths.

The suspect was tracked down by Mt. Pleasant police and later identified through employment records at East Cooper Hospital. Charles A. Bickerstaff admitted to detectives he had taken his senior King Charles Cavalier "Butler," along with either other dogs of the same breed, with him to work on Monday.

The nine dogs, which included two puppies, were placed in five animal carriers in the rear of his Ford Explorer, where they were left without food, water or air conditioning in the hospital parking lot for three hours while he was at work in the hospital.

Temperatures ranged between 73.4 degrees to a heat index of more than 90 degrees.

All of the dogs perished, and Bickerstaff was charged with nine counts of ill treatment of animals. He was jailed in lieu of $90,000 Wednesday morning, with the judge setting $10,000 per dog.

Bickerstaff was charged because "They all had experienced "excessive and unnecessary pain and suffering" before they died, which accounted for the felony charges."

Bill Thrower, attorney for Bickerstaff told The Post and Courier

"The weather changed, and the gastroenterologist got consumed with an emergency at East Cooper Medical Center."

This is Bickerstaff's first arrest in South Carolina, where the doctor has spent his entire medical career. Since the charge isn't hospital related, East Cooper spokeswoman Kari Davis says no action will be taken against him at this time.

If convicted, each felony count is punishable by up to five years in prison and carries a minimum sentence of 180 days.

While this is a tragedy, I have to wonder why this man was charged with nine counts of ill treatment of animals, while Julianne Westberry was only charged with one count for the death of 57 cats at her Belton home.

Are the charges a matter of location, or is a dogs life considered more valuable than a cat?

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