By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The work, Lucas testified, convinced her of a dire need for low-cost services for people who could not otherwise afford routine veterinary care for their pets.
"I worked in a number of clinics where many, many times an animal's health, well-being, their ability to survive was based upon the client's financial status," she said. "The prices were so inflated that the owners would opt to perform euthanasia on the animal even though it would be otherwise medically healthy."
Lisa Tucker, a 29-year-old Arlington city employee, first met Lucas during the vet's internship with Dye 14 years ago. "There was nothing strange about her then that really got my attention," Tucker says. In fact, far from the image Lucas now projects, she was a caring, hard-working, and neatly kept vet, Tucker recalls.
"I had a cat with feline leukemia that I had taken to Dr. Dye. Another person had left a cat behind that also had leukemia, and Dr. Lucas asked me if I would take the cat and keep it at my home because mine had already been exposed to the virus. She promised she would come to my home regularly to check on the cat and provide all the medicine and special food that it needed."
Lucas kept her word and stopped by frequently to check on the cat, until it was living fairly well with the chronic and incurable disease. Tucker eventually married and moved away. She returned to Arlington five years ago but had lost track of Lucas. By 1994, Tucker had acquired a shar-pei and a shepherd/sheltie mix. She heard that Lucas had started her own practice, "Protect 'Ur Pet," with one clinic in Irving and another in Watauga. Among other services, she offered low-cost vaccinations. So Tucker took her dogs to the Irving clinic for their shots.
"When I first saw Dr. Lucas again in 1994, I couldn't believe how she had changed," Tucker says. "She was very heavy. She was scraggly-looking. Her hair was dirty, and she just looked...bad. She told me she had had personal problems. She had just had a baby, but she wasn't married. She said the father of the baby had been killed in a plane crash."
(Former clinic employees tell the same story. Several of them reported seeing the child, a boy, many times. But attempts to confirm the plane crash story were unsuccessful.)
In early 1994, formal complaints against Lucas first surfaced. Besides the two small clinics she had opened (she rotated between the sites--two days a week at each), Lucas conducted weekend vaccination clinics out of her van at spots around the Dallas and Fort Worth area.
"It was a strictly mobile practice," Lucas would later testify. "I started with nothing. I mean nothing except two trunks and initially an ice chest for vaccines at the two locations."
People were turning out en masse for her low-cost services. Her vaccinations and sterilizations generally cost half of standard vet fees. Rabies shots were $5, spaying about $25. Dr. Joseph Cukjati, a longtime Irving veterinarian who would later testify against Lucas, recalls driving past her clinic one afternoon, where at least 40 people had lined up with their pets to see the vet. "I remember thinking, 'My God, what am I doing in my traditional little practice? That woman must be making real money.'"
If Lucas was making money, she apparently was not funneling it back into the business. Former employees have testified of filthy conditions at the clinic, lack of proper diagnostic equipment, and not even the barest of boarding facilities for animals kept overnight.
"What passed for kennels was just a row of pet taxis, and those were filthy," recalls Tammy Reams, a mother of two from Keller who worked as a receptionist and assistant to Lucas for three months in 1994. The ex-employees tell of Lucas coming into work well after 5 p.m. each day. Faced with a full surgery schedule for animals that had been at the clinic since early morning, the vet would work through the night--often in 12- to 14-hour shifts to complete as many as two dozen spays and neuters. (A local vet with more than 30 years' experience says that while neutering a male animal is a relatively quick and simple procedure, spaying a female is another story. "That is abdominal surgery," the vet says. "On a normal day you might be able to do three, maybe four spays at the most.")
The long shifts seldom passed without Lucas taking several beer breaks, according to former employees' testimony. Often in the middle of surgery, Lucas would send her assistant out to buy beer for her.
"I went and bought her beer several times," testified Stephanie Lavy, who worked only 10 weeks for Lucas before quitting in June 1994. "She would give me the money and tell me to go down to the 7-Eleven on the corner and buy a 12-pack."
Lucas was partial to Miller Genuine Draft Light. In bottles.
In her testimony, Lucas denied ever drinking on the job. She claimed that a former partner in her clinic had a drinking problem, but not her. Sometimes, Lucas said, she and the other vet would drink a beer together after work, perhaps while going over paperwork or discussing the practice. But otherwise, she said, the stories of boozing on the job were fabrications--the product of petty employees who had ganged up on Lucas in hopes of seeing her fail.