PETA calls for stronger animal abuse laws after Caitlyn's case goes viral

      Caitlyn rests after a 2-hour surgery to reconstruct her lip. (Source: Greg Woods/WCIV)

      NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Caitlyn, the abused pit bull mix found in North Charleston a week ago, spent two hours in surgery on Wednesday and veterinarians say they had to take less of her tongue than expected.

      After the surgery, she rested in her kennel, covered by a blanket and getting attention from the staff at Veterinary Specialty Care in Mount Pleasant who have been providing round-the-clock care for the ailing pup.

      Dr. Henri Bianucci at Veterinary Specialty Care in Mount Pleasant said on Tuesday he thought Caitlyn may lose as much as 25 percent of her tongue during Wednesday's surgery to reconstruct her jaw and take out the dead tissue in her lip and tongue.

      "Her tongue was in way better condition that we anticipated. It was initially assessed that we would lose about a third of her tongue, and we sort of revised that estimate to a fourth, but I don't think she lost an eighth of it," Bianucci said shortly after the surgery.

      He attributed that to the use of the hyperbaric oxygen chamber and the cold laser therapy for helping heal her tongue and lip.

      Bianucci said once Caitlyn's wounds have healed she should be able to do all the things -- like eating and drinking -- she needs to do as she would normally. He added the surgery wounds will take about a week to heal, he estimates, and she will be available for foster care in about 10 days.

      Bianucci said that even though the loss of a quarter of Caitlyn's tongue seems like a lot, dogs are able to compensate even when half of their tongues have been removed.

      "Functionally, I think she'll be able to lap up food and water and do really well," Bianucci said a day before the surgery.

      Bianucci says Caitlyn is responding well to treatment. The team at Veterinary Specialty Care is removing dead tissue from her face every day, he said, adding the hyperbaric treatments are bringing down the swelling.

      The man accused of binding Caitlyn's face with electrical tape remained in the Charleston County Detention Center Tuesday afternoon after being issued a $50,000 bond for ill treatment to animals in the morning.

      The bond court judge told William Leonard Dodson, 41, of Quitman Street in North Charleston that he was not allowed to own pets and ordered to surrender another dog in his home to police.

      Dodson was arrested Monday night and charged with ill treatment of an animal involving torture, North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said. Dodson's arrest record shows he was out on bond for drug charges at the time Caitlyn was abused. He also shows three previous arrests for not having a driver's license.

      Aldwin Roman, the Charleston Animal Society's Director of Anti-Cruelty & Outreach, said the bond amount was too low. "I don't think $50,000 makes up for all the pain and suffering," he said.

      Roman said he had hoped to speak during the hearing to discuss the amount of damage that had been done to Caitlyn, but the judge set bond quickly and moved to the next case.

      "Her life is not at all going to be easy even after she recovers," Roman said. "She's going to be permanently disfigured and permanently disabled. The damage is done."

      If convicted of ill treatment of an animal, Dodson could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

      "This is the most malicious case of animal abuse I have seen in my entire career," said Roman. "To leave this dog in pain, unable to eat or drink and to now leave her in the position where her life is at stake because she may lose her tongue is heartbreaking."

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      Attention to animal abuse brings calls for stronger laws

      With the Caitlyn case also came attention to the state's laws on animal cruelty. If convicted, Dodson will face a maximum of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. It's a penalty that many have said is much too light.

      A petition directed at the state Senate calling for stronger penalties had nearly 12,000 signatures Thursday afternoon, about four days after it was created.

      "Provide definitive definitions of animal abuse and all its variations. Hold employers knowledgeable of such acts responsible. Hold legislators and law enforcement agencies accountable for implementing the law," the petition reads.

      And PETA, the international organization for animal rights, called for prosecution and a harsh sentence that included jail time and psychiatric intervention for Dodson, as well as a lifelong ban on owning animals.

      "The photographs of this sweet dog with her muzzle painfully squeezed shut are heartbreaking, and anyone capable of inflicting this much suffering on another living being is dangerous," says PETA Senior Director Martin Mersereau. "For the protection of everyone in the community, PETA is calling for the maximum penalty in this sad caseincluding a lifelong ban on harboring any animals."

      PETA also sent a letter to Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson to prosecute Dodson fully, citing evidence that people who abuse animals go on to harm people.

      "As you likely know, mental-health professionals and top law-enforcement officials consider animal abuse to be a red flag. The American Psychiatric Association identifies cruelty to animals as one of the diagnostic criteria for conduct disorders," Kristin Simon, PETA's Cruelty Casework Associate Manager, said in the letter.{}

      "The link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence is undeniable, and the safety of the community may depend on a vigorous prosecution of this case."

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      Affidavit contradicts what original owners said last week

      An affidavit released during the bond hearing paints a slightly different picture of what happened to Caitlyn, who had previously been named Diamond. According to the affidavit, Dodson bought Caitlyn on May 25 for $20, but returned the following night to the previous owner to say he had taped the dog's mouth shut because she would not stop barking.

      According to the previous owner, Dodson was laughing when he said he had taped up the dog.

      When ABC News 4 spoke to the former owners last week, they said they did not know who had bought Caitlyn. However, the affidavit shows they had known Dodson for a least a year and said he is "like a brother."

      The people who once cared for Caitlyn told ABC News 4 they contacted Animal Control and gave them information on the man who bought their dog after she was found injured and abused.

      According to the couple, the 15-month-old chocolate Staffordshire terrier mix was a rambunctious puppy who caused damage in their home. The owners said they were afraid they might be evicted and decided they could not give Caitlyn the attention and training she needed.

      The couple says they were in such dire straits that they said they sold her for $10 on Memorial Day after a man offered to buy her. They say it's one of the biggest mistakes they ever made.

      On Wednesday morning, before he left for work, the former owner said he went outside and found the dog had returned to his home. He asked his neighbor to call 911. The resident called the Charleston County 911 dispatch center and painted a picture of a struggling and distressed puppy that had her muzzle taped shut. The dog's tongue was caught between her teeth.

      "I have a dog that's here at my house that I found and the dog's mouth is taped shut with electrical tape, tongue hanging out its mouth, bleeding, and his tongue is completely black," the 911 caller said. "I just don't know what to do."

      Officials said they think the dog was stuck in that painful condition for as many as 48 hours before she was handed off to officials at Charleston Animal Society for care.

      The former owner said he never thought this could happen.

      "No, not ever in my life," he said. "I wouldn't want to see her like that. I mean it kinda upsets me to see her like that."

      The couple says it gave Animal Control the description of the man when contacted by them this week because Caitlyn left the couple's home on Monday in good health and on Wednesday she was found bleeding and with her mouth taped shut.

      "Don't let me find you," the former owner said of the person who hurt the dog. "That's all I can say, don't let me find you because that's part of my family you just did some foul things to."

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      Caitlyn's wounds attract international attention, Toby's Fund benefits

      The dog, named Caitlyn by the Charleston Animal Society, has attracted worldwide attention since she was discovered bleeding with her tongue sticking out last week.

      "This was intentional," said Dr. Kelli Klein of the harm done to Caitlyn. "Someone was trying to hurt her and they did it. They did what they went out to do. Just thankfully someone intervened so she didn't die."

      Officials on Monday said Caitlyn has graduated from intravenous fluids to normal foods and oral medications. One of the most recent photo shows a much happier dog holding a piece of rawhide in her mouth.

      The dog underwent a small surgery on her lip on Sunday but doctors say they are pleased with her progress and delayed plans for tongue surgery to see how well she heals on her own.

      "We have the greatest of hopes for this beautiful girl! Many thanks to the dedicated staff at Veterinary Specialty Care in Mount Pleasant, including Dr. Kelli Klein and Dr. Henri Bianucci," the Animal Society update said.

      Caitlyn, the puppy who has been to focus of hashtags, works of art, thousands of dollars in rewards, and calls for more stringent penalties for animal abusers, has had a whirlwind few days that apparently started Monday when she was sold for $10.

      Late last week Caitlyn started hyperbaric chamber treatments at Mount Pleasant Veterinary Care Specialists in the hopes that she would be able to keep her tongue.

      Bianucci said the hyperbaric chambers are helping animals heal faster and easing the pain so much that they usually come out of the chamber and sleep.

      "It alleviates pain so much that a lot of these dogs go in there with horrible tissue wounds and they just go to sleep," he said.

      The national attention has led to a reward of up to $6,000 for information leading to the identification and arrest of the people responsible. The Humane Society of the United States is contributing $5,000 of that amount.

      "Caitlyn is a friendly dog who may have suffered for days and is now fighting for her life. Anyone capable of such a heartless act of cruelty should be held accountable, and we hope this reward will encourage anyone with information to come forward," said Kimberly Kelly, the South Carolina state director for The HSUS.

      The Charleston Animal Society already announced a $1,000 reward.

      New Jersey artist Janet O'Neil shared with the Animal Society and ABC News 4 her watercolor portrait of Caitlyn. O'Neil says she wanted to help bring awareness to Caitlyn's abuse and help with Toby's Fund, the nonprofit's medical services for stray and abused animals.

      On Sunday, Cleveland Browns Quarterback Conner Shaw took to Twitter to show his support.

      "I will personally add to the reward on finding the person responsible for this cruelty," the former Gamecock QB said. "She deserves a loving home!"

      Since Caitlyn's story spread across the country, Toby's Fund has seen an uptick in the number of donations, officials said, which is important because the Animal Society uses that money for medical treatments of abandoned and abused animals that come into its care.

      ABC News 4 is teaming up with the Charleston Animal Society for the month of June to help them send 200 adult dogs to permanent homes across the country. The campaign is called #IAmCaitlyn.

      And the cast of Southern Charm, the reality show based in Charleston, planned a benefit to raise money for Toby's Fund. The cast will have a party at Republic Reign in downtown Charleston. The $10 cover charge will to go Toby's Fund.

      To help the Animal Society save Caitlyn and others like her, please give to Toby's Fund for medical care at