Vet who first saw doctor's 9 dead dogs: 'A horrible mistake'

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) - The doctor accused of leaving his dogs in a hot car for several hours bonded out of jail several hours after his court hearing.

However, the events of that day still haunt the veterinarian where the dogs were first taken. He said he hasn't slept well since the incident.

The day the owner of nine Cavalier King Charles Spaniels found them all dead of heat stroke in the back of his SUV, Dr. Henri Bianucci was working at the emergency vet center.

"He came to the front desk. He said he had a dog in his car that was unconscious," Bianucci said. "Our tech ran to his car, swung the door open, and was shocked to see it wasn't just one dog - it was cage after cage."

Five cages held nine dogs ranging in age from 5 months to 9 years. All of Charles Allen Bickerstaff's dogs were dead.

"At that point, the doctor was on scene and she was evaluating him. They assured him this was heat stroke. They were already dead, in rigor mortis," he said. "They were justifiably shocked."

According to Bianucci, Bickerstaff decided to leave with the dogs still in the car. That's when the vet staff called 911.

"This is a medical doctor. This is not acceptable," said the woman who called 911 from Mount Pleasant Emergency Vet. "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."

The 911 caller at Mount Pleasant Emergency Vet said Bickerstaff told her he had to stop by the hospital to check on a patient.

Bickerstaff told police he left the dogs in the vehicle while he performed his duties at East Cooper Hospital. The affidavit notes that temperatures that day ranged from 73.4 degrees to 82.4 degrees with a heat index of 90.9 degrees.

An affidavit also states the air conditioner was not on and the windows of the Explorer were not open. Another release from police notes that the dogs did not have food or water and that they were caged for over three hours.

Office records show Bickerstaff spent thousands of dollars taking care of his dogs' health, Bianucci said, making what happened that much more difficult to understand.

"They took care of their dogs. I think they loved them," he said. "I think it was a horrible mistake. I think it was a horrible lack of judgment. And I think it was probably coupled with distraction with a horrible outcome."

Bianucci said it was a sad reminder that this can happen to anyone, and a lesson to never leave pets in cars.

Bickerstaff, who is a doctor at East Cooper Medical Center, was charged with cruelty to animals and his bond was set at $90,000.

The Charleston Animal Society released a statement this week, highlighting the dangers of leaving pets in cars for any amount of time.

"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," said Dr. Sarah Boyd, director of shelter health and wellness at the Charleston Animal Society.

Boyd says it's a deadly misconception that dogs can handle heat. In fact, some are more sensitive than others.