Bond set at $90,000 for doctor accused of leaving dogs in hot car

Bickerstaff (provided)

MT. PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) -- A Charleston doctor has been charged with animal cruelty after police said he was found with nine dead dogs.{}

His bond was set at $90,000, but Bickerstaff bonded out sometime Wednesday evening.

According to a Mt. Pleasant police report, officers were called to the Mt. Pleasant Emergency Hospital for a report of animal cruelty.

Staff members told police that a man had come in with six dead Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, crated in the back of his Ford Explorer. Staff members told police the man said he thought the dogs had passed out.

"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."

According to the report, staff members saw that the dogs were deceased and rigor mortis had set in. They also told officers that the dogs showed signs of disseminated intravascular coogulosathy (DIC).

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, DIC is a "condition in which blood clots form throughout the body's small blood vessels" that can block blood flow to organs.

Police were given a description of the man and were told that he claimed to be a doctor at East Cooper Hospital. Investigators identified the suspect as 64-year-old Charles Allen Bickerstaff.

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

According to an affidavit, investigators met with him on Monday and he confessed to putting his 8- or 9-year-old spaniel, Butler, along with eight other dogs into five crates in the back of his SUV.

Court documents identified the other dogs as Money, Lucinda, Drayton, Madeline, Shelby, Katie, Freddie, and Willis. Their ages ranged from 5 months to 9 years, documents show.

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.

The 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.

Bickerstaff was charged Wednesday with nine counts of ill treatment to animals.

According to the U.S. News and World Report, Dr. Charles Bickerstaff is a gastroenterologist and is affiliated with several hospitals including Bon Secours St. Francis Xavier Hospital and East Cooper Medical Center.

The Charleston Animal Society released a statement Wednesday afternoon, 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.

"It doesn't take very long, minutes, for their internal temperature to rise enough that they don't just begin to pant but, their body will start having organ failure and their brain reaches such a high temperature that they will have a heat stroke," said Dr. Boyd.

Dr. Boyd says the lesson in this tragedy is simple: if you decide to allow your pet to travel with you, they must be with you at all times.

"Even if you think you can just run in and run out, it happens and it could be you and it could be your dog," Boyd said.