By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Jeannie Davidson called the stray cat she took in "Trouble," a name that seemed perfect for a long-haired gray tabby that was always on the move. On the morning of February 16, 1994, Davidson dropped off Trouble to be spayed at Lucas' Protect 'Ur Pet clinic in south Irving. Davidson, who has taken in many stray cats over the years, had heard about Lucas' discounted costs. "I was hoping to save a little money, and I didn't have any reason to think there would be a problem," Davidson says, more than three years later.
The employee working the desk told Davidson to call the clinic at 7 o'clock that night to learn whether Trouble would be ready to go home. Davidson did, but was told the cat had not yet recovered from surgery. The employee told Davidson the clinic would call when Trouble came out of the anesthesia.
By 10 p.m., Davidson still had not heard from Lucas. "I was getting worried, so I decided to just drive over and wait," says Davidson, who lives only a few blocks from the clinic. She remembers thinking it odd that the entire staff would be working so late at a clinic that was not set up as a 24-hour business.
"It was even stranger when I got there," she recalls. "The waiting room was filled with people, all of them in the same situation as mine. We were all waiting for our animals to come out of surgery."
She sat for hours, growing more agitated with each tick of the clock. "I started noticing the place was dirty. It smelled of urine," Davidson says. "I had been in such a rush to get to work that morning, I just didn't notice those things at the time."
Finally, after repeated inquiries about the cat's welfare, a groggy Trouble was released to Davidson--at 2:45 a.m.
Beyond being enraged over her marathon wait at the clinic, Davidson soon noticed that all was not well with Trouble. Over the next few days, the incision on the cat's abdomen grew swollen and red. The wound began weeping pus. The cat grew listless.
One week after the surgery, Davidson took Trouble to the Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital in Irving. There, Dr. Julie Bradford examined the cat. Trouble was running a temperature two degrees higher than normal. The incision--which Lucas had closed with large metal staples rather than the more widely accepted filament sutures--was now an angry wound. Bradford, who would later testify to her findings at the hearing over Lucas' license, found that the skin had been severely over-gathered and inverted, which did not allow for direct edge-to-edge healing. Some of the staples had lacerated the surrounding skin.
Bradford repaired Lucas' surgery by cutting away the dead skin, cleaning the site, and resuturing the incision. She prescribed antibiotics. Three years later, Trouble is alive and well, but nervous around strangers, Davidson says.
Davidson, as well as three other complainants against Lucas, declined to be photographed for this story. Each cited a fear that Lucas might retaliate in some way. Davidson, for instance, claims that shortly after the state launched its investigation of Lucas, Davidson came home one night to find three of the stray cats she regularly fed dead on her front porch. "There were no signs of trauma, and someone had left an open can of tuna there that had been partially eaten," Davidson says. "I can't prove anything, but I have my theories."
Four months after Davidson's experience with Trouble's surgery, Christina Cernosek took her calico kitten Sunshine to Protect 'Ur Pet to be vaccinated for rabies and spayed. Cernosek says she heard of Lucas through a friend whose dog had been spayed and turned out fine.
"And to be absolutely honest, we were trying to save money," Cernosek says from her home in Tampa, Florida, where she and her husband, Michael, relocated nearly two years ago. "Sunshine was a cat we took in off the street. We didn't know whether she was even healthy, and we were a little concerned about spending a lot of money on her."
Cernosek thought it more than a little odd that she couldn't pick up her cat until 1 a.m.--12 hours after dropping the animal off at the clinic. "I never saw the vet," she says. "I wanted to meet her, but her assistants would just tell me she was in surgery, or she was too busy to see me."
Sunshine went home with Cernosek that morning, and the incision healed well. Eight days later, as instructed, Cernosek returned to the clinic with the cat to have the staples removed.
"This time I went back to a room, and the business manager came in to take the staples out," Cernosek recalls. "The table was filthy. I said to the woman 'Aren't you going to clean off that table?' She pulled out a spray bottle that looked like nothing more than water and cleaned it off."
Removing the staples from Sunshine's belly turned into an ordeal. "She was screaming and yowling and it took two women and myself to hold her down," Cernosek says. "When I finally got her home, she was oozing blood. She tried licking it, but she just couldn't keep up with it." Cernosek decided to take the cat to the 183 Animal Clinic, a 24-hour facility in Irving.