Let Caitlyn’s sad story inspire greater good

Dr. Henri Bianucci of Veterinary Specialty Care with Caitlyn, the dog that was found with her mouth taped shut. (Kay Hyman/Charleston Animal Society)

By now, if you have any interest in animal-related stories, you have probably heard about Caitlyn.

She’s the Staffordshire terrier mix whose muzzle was so tightly bound with electrical tape that her tongue was entrapped and strangulated between the front teeth. The tape was so tight that it deprived the underlying skin of a blood supply, resulting in an extensive circular loss of skin.

The injury was so severe that the upper and lower lips were separated by a large gap that was once the left cheek. The future for her tongue was uncertain, and it was clear that extensive facial reconstructive surgery would be necessary. As is typically the case with large, fresh wounds, the first step is to keep the wounds clean and give them time to declare what their ultimate extent will be.

This is particularly true in cases like Caitlyn’s. When the constricting tape was finally released, the blood rushes back into these areas and delivers oxygen. This sudden infusion of oxygen fuels inflammation and damage, which actually accelerates tissue loss.

It was a strange sequence that led to my introduction to her case. I was actually in the parking lot of our hospital helping to load Louis into his foster parents car.

Remember Louis? He was the dog from Wadmalaw who had accidentally become impaled on a tree limb and was found after hanging upside down for two days.

As Louis’ foster family prepared to depart, Kay Hyman of The Charleston Animal Society showed me Caitlyn’s picture. “She will be coming to you tomorrow, so get ready,” she said.

To be sure, the images of Caitlyn with her muzzle tightly bound in electrical tape were shocking. The grossly distorted nose was like a gruesome cartoon image. Her fear, and pain, were clearly evident in her eyes.

But the response to her plight was beyond anything I can recall. We were contacted by concerned animal lovers from France, Australia, Afghanistan and England, to name a few.

Local news coverage was continuous and it appeared on national broadcasts. We are still receiving toys and blankets for Caitlyn. The massive outpouring of concern and collective outrage affirmed our faith that these acts represent only a few among us.

In our profession, beloved pets are regularly presented to us with severe injuries and illnesses. Broken and crushed limbs, advanced-stage cancer, and a host of others that are far worse than what Caitlyn endured.

For many, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, as there is for Caitlyn. Of course, these are sad and emotionally difficult situations, but we can accept them as natural processes or unintentional accidents.

Abuse cases evoke a completely different set of emotions, in addition to the ones mentioned, and trigger a heightened response. Animals cannot dictate their own circumstances. They are completely dependent upon their caregivers. Neglect often precedes or accompanies abuse, but both are a betrayal of trust and responsibility, and can have devastating results.

We have seen so many terrible abuse cases over the years. We see shootings, poisonings and even dogs dragged behind cars. Unfortunately, Caitlyn’s story is not unique. We have discussed and been asked why Caitlyn’s story has captured worldwide attention, while so many cases, some far worse, have gone relatively unnoticed.

I believe that the first element was the release of the image as Caitlyn first appeared, before any treatment. We often hear about abuse cases and usually see toned down images of the aftermath, often well into the recovery stage. But in this case, we were shown a raw image of Caitlyn while the abuse was still in progress. The tape was still there and we could see her terrified, painful and distorted face.

To see her with the tape in place fully illustrates the scope of her abuser’s action.

Caitlyn is a wonderful dog, a true character who has captured the hearts of our clinic, and beyond. Ultimately, her story will be a happy one, highlighting the best of our community, like the Charleston Animal Society and all who have shown their concern.

But remember that there are wonderful dogs just like Caitlyn who may not have been abused, but through human irresponsibility and neglect, find themselves facing much darker futures than Caitlyn. Let’s channel all of the interest and emotion for Caitlyn into a force of good for all of the other dogs and cats who are just like she is.

Please support the shelter of your choice generously, adopt your next family member and always spay and neuter your pet.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to petdocs@postandcourier.com.