By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Paul Skendrovic cannot forget that smell--the thick stench of death and rot that met him as he entered the eerily quiet house. The Arlington police detective had been dispatched around 10 a.m. on February 2 shortly after a neighbor called to complain of a "bad odor." What he saw as he peered into a broken window of the vacant ranch house at 3403 Littlestone Court sent a shudder through him: a floor covered with 4 inches of animal excrement and what he figured to be two badly decomposing animal carcasses.
While more Arlington police officers, health department and animal control investigators--even a team of firefighters wearing biohazard suits--gathered at the home, Skendrovic began trying to locate its owner. The house belonged to Lissa Patrice Lucas, a local veterinarian who had practiced in Dallas and Tarrant counties since 1979. Neighbors who congregated in the yard told police that although they had seen Lucas make periodic brief visits to the house, often in the middle of the night, she had not lived there for years. Checking city utility records, Skendrovic learned that power and water to the house had been shut off for non-payment in 1991. Lucas listed her permanent address as that of her parents, a few miles across town.
Skendrovic called her parents' home several times. When Lissa Lucas did not return his calls, he says, he drove to the home in southwest Arlington. No one answered the door. Hours later, Lucas appeared at the house on Littlestone, saying she suspected that it had been burglarized, but police had not acted on her complaint. She opened the door and let Skendrovic inside.
The scene was so squalid, Skendrovic still cannot find adequate words to describe it.
"The interior of the house, it was...I...well, every inch of the floor was covered with animal feces. The next thing I saw was a dead dog lying on a card table with a needle still stuck in it. There were cats, mostly cats, and dogs everywhere. They were all dead. Some were so decomposed we couldn't tell the color, the breed, nothing. There was a little dry dog food scattered around but not enough to matter. They had no water. One of the vets we worked with on the case said there was evidence of the dogs eating each other. Some of the bones were picked clean."
Before the day was over, the remains of 25 cats and dogs--and one ferret that was found in a freezer--were removed from the house. One of the dogs, a Doberman, had mummified.
Arlington police prepared an arrest warrant for Lucas on suspicion of animal cruelty. Accompanied by her attorney, she turned herself in to police the next night and was released on $10,000 bail. The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office charged her with animal cruelty, a Class A misdemeanor that carries a punishment of up to a year in jail, a $4,000 fine, or both.
But Lucas' troubles were only beginning. Just three days after the discovery in Arlington, police in Irving were called to investigate a complaint of a bad odor and possible animal mistreatment at the Towne Lake Animal Clinic in south Irving. The business owner was registered as Lissa Lucas, DVM. It was the second of two clinics she had operated in the city.
Again, police tried to track down Lucas to get inside the building. According to Irving police reports, officers reached Lucas by phone around 7:30 p.m.; she told them she would drive to the clinic from Arlington immediately. After another call hours later, she said she would arrive by 10:15. When Lucas did not arrive by 10:35, police unbolted the southwest windows and climbed inside.
Inside the small, prefabricated metal building, bloodied syringes littered the floor. In one small room, a row of pet carriers--the type used to transport animals on planes--lined the wall. The floors of the small cages were covered with feces. As police moved about the clinic, they found dead dogs and cats wrapped in plastic trash bags and stashed inside a refrigerator. Inside the freezer compartment, cat carcasses shared space with an open container of ice cream.
As the night slipped into early morning, investigators removed from the clinic three live animals: two malnourished dogs and a worm-infested cat. Nine animals were dead.
Animal control officer Russell Perry inventoried the animals, then questioned Lucas about specific carcasses. "The first being the animal in the far northwest corner that had died apparently on the floor of unknown causes and had been there several days," Perry wrote in that dispassionate voice reserved for official reports. Lucas, he wrote, claimed that she had seen that very dog walking around "at approximately 11:30 that same day."
When Perry pointed out the clear imprint of the dog's body on the floor, Lucas offered this explanation: "That was probably made by their [her staff's] cleaning method when they open the door and clean out all the waste into the parking lot."
Just as she did in Arlington days earlier, Lucas denied any knowledge of how the animals met their end. She did not know how they wound up in the refrigerator. She was arrested and charged, again, with misdemeanor animal cruelty in the cases of the three surviving animals. Both the Arlington and Irving cases are pending; no court dates have been set.