[image-1]Before handing down a maximum sentence of five years to the abuser of Caitlyn, the staffie-mix who suffered severe injuries in 2015, Judge Markley Dennis had one thing he wanted to make clear. “I wish I could give you more. I really do,” Dennis told William Dodson, the man who wrapped electrical tape around the animal’s muzzle nine times in an effort to silence her barking. Dodson’s five-year sentence will be served concurrently with the 15-year sentence he received in federal court just the day before for gun charges.

Standing in a courtroom packed with anti-abuse advocates and Caitlyn supporters, Dodson offered no apologies or explanation of his actions. While Caitlyn’s story resonated across the world, a prosecutor took the time during Friday’s sentencing hearing to remind the court of the details that made her a symbol of animal abuse and anti-cruelty efforts.

Dodson briefly took ownership of Caitlyn around May of 2015. It wasn’t long before Dodson would leave the animal chained up at his home in North Charleston with her mouth bound shut. Prosecutors say that during a drive to Atlanta to “re-up his drug supply,” he was overheard on the phone saying, “I had to do it. She wouldn’t shut up.”
With around 30 convictions under his belt for past offenses, prosecutors asked for a maximum sentence, not as a fitting punishment for Dodson, but as a deterrent for anyone else capable of abusing an animal.

Aldwin Roman, the anti-cruelty and outreach director for Charleston Animal Society, was one of the first responders on the scene when Caitlyn was found. Addressing the judge on Friday, he recalled the fear that he saw in Caitlyn’s eyes and the cry that escaped her mouth when the tape was removed after 36 hours of torment. Only a few hours from death, Caitlyn required emergency surgery and weeks of treatment to recover. While Roman said she will forever bear the scars of her abuse, Caitlyn now resides with a foster family able to tend to her medical and emotional needs.

Judge Dennis and Roman both expressed their desire for stricter penalties in South Carolina for crimes of animal abuse Friday. In the Humane Society of the United States’ 2016 annual ranking of animal abuse laws by state, South Carolina ranked near the bottom in 43rd place — two spots higher than when Caitlyn was found by authorities.

Roman, who graduated from the National Animal Cruelty Investigations School, says he is one of only a handful of specially trained animal cruelty investigators in the state. He sees Dodson’s sentence as a starting point for establishing harsher laws for animal abusers, but Roman would also like to see state funding dedicated to training more law enforcement officers in how to investigate and gather evidence in cases of animal cruelty.

“These are victims who can’t talk to police about what has happened to them. But it’s not just about animals,” Roman says. “When you follow animal cruelty crimes, you find other crimes. We know people who abuse animals will likely go on to hurt people.”

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