By Dan Krosse
Photography: Jonathan Boncek
On August 8, 2016 the defendant accused of nearly killing Caitlyn by taping her muzzle shut more than a year earlier, pleaded guilty to a felony count of animal cruelty. William Leonard Dodson now faces six months to five years in prison. (He had not been sentenced as of press time.) Caitlyn’s fight to survive brought worldwide attention to animal cruelty, and the Lowcountry’s demand for justice set an example for communities around the globe. Here’s how Caitlyn’s A-Team made it happen.
The Animal Cruelty Investigator
Aldwin Roman, Charleston Animal Society
“On day one, we didn’t even think she was going to make it. We took off that tape. We gave her all the pain medications and antibiotics we could give her and we were like, ‘Let’s hope she makes it through the night.’ And the second night, it was like ‘Wow, she might actually make it through this.’ So seeing her now, almost completely healed, except the scars, and acting like a normal dog is kind of surreal.
“With the help of the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s office, this case really set a precedent for taking these crimes very seriously and treating them like a violent crime. There was no attitude like, ‘It’s just an animal.’
“As for her future, we are going to keep Caitlyn in our foster system so we can make sure that we can provide her with any assistance she may need whether it is medical or anything else. This way we can protect her legacy. She is a very famous dog, probably one of the most famous dogs in the world and we want to make sure she gets to live out a normal life.
Thomas Bilancione, NCPD
“We had a hard time getting witnesses who were willing to step forward and talk. The suspect had a lot of control over people in the community. So we had to build a case with and without the witnesses, where we would still have a good chance of getting a conviction.
“It is unique to deal with an animal because you don’t have a lot of interaction with the victim, who can help lead you in a better direction. We had to use our techniques we typically use with humans—on a dog—so it was an interesting dynamic.
“It couldn’t have gone better. We got a plea deal out of it. [Dodson] plead guilty to the charge and we didn’t have to take it to trial. I’m grateful for everyone who came together for the investigation and I’m glad everything worked out well. Caitlyn is doing fantastic. She is beautiful and is full of personality.”
“That we all worked together as a community to find the guilty person and bring him to justice and rehabilitate Caitlyn and get her to where she is today is really exciting.
“It is truly wonderful to be a part of that and I think it really shows what an awesome place Charleston is.”
The Surgeon & Miracle Worker
Dr. Henri Biannuci, Veterinary Specialty Care
“Caitlyn’s abuse was so egregious because it erased her. Taping her muzzle took away her voice, her ability to defend herself—her ability to take in any food and water! It nearly destroyed her tongue.
“This case was just a very blatant example of the best and worst in people. On one hand, the complete disregard for animals. On the other hand, you had this worldwide revulsion of someone doing this to an animal and the outpouring of support to make it right.
“She had severely crushed tissue and spent three hours a day in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber to get rid of swelling and help her tissue normalize. Where the upper lip joined her lower lip was obliterated. In reconstruction, we gave her back a smile by putting those lips back together.
“The case made an impact on the community and the world, but it also made an impact on our clinic. It really made the people at our clinic very proud to be part of her recovery. People come in every day and still ask about her.”
Caitlyn’s PR Maven
“The main reason we needed to tell this story was to catch her abuser. Then it just morphed into an amazing outpouring for her that has spread throughout the world.
“A lot of people connected to her story on different levels. One person wanted me to send her a close-up of Caitlyn’s scars so she could have them tattooed on her arm. This woman was a survivor of domestic abuse and she related to the fact that Caitlyn escaped her abuser and she wanted to have those scars as a symbol to remind her that she, too, was a survivor.
“Social media played a huge role. The messaging and imagery helped to catch her abuser and it sent a message throughout the world that we’re not going to tolerate this kind of abuse.”
The Rest of Her A-Team
9th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Ted Corvey was not able to comment on this story because Dodson’s sentencing is still in the future. But as Roman said, Corvey’s commitment to Caitlyn’s case was extraordinary.
And then there is you. If you’re reading this story, you are very likely one of the thousands who made their voices heard on social media, sent a letter of support, or gave donations toward Caitlyn’s recovery. Together, we are the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. So today, while we celebrate justice for Caitlyn, we know she’d want us to continue to carry our voices on for all animals subjected to abuse.
See behind the scenes of Caitlyn’s photo shoot at: www.CarolinaTails.org.