Dr. Lucas' Little Shop of Horrors

What drove veterinarian LISSALUCAS to allegedly starve dozens of animals and repeatedly butcher routine surgeries?

There, Dr. Kathleen Foster found the cat had a high fever and a 2-centimeter hole at the incision site. Tissue was protruding from the wound. Foster cut away the dead tissue and redid the stitches.

On June 3, 1994, Kimberly Kendrick, an emergency medical technician living in Euless, took her mother's Doberman pinscher to Lucas' Watauga clinic for surgery to repair a hernia. At 4 p.m., a clinic employee told Kendrick that the dog, Misty Blue, had come through the surgery well. But when Kendrick stopped at the clinic that night to pick up the dog, she was told Misty had not awakened. Five frantic days passed before Kendrick could find Lucas and retrieve her dog.

When Lucas at last released the dog, it seemed confused and walked stiffly. Kendrick noticed blood running down the inner side of Misty's right rear leg. Kendrick, who did not return calls from the Observer, later testified that a clinic employee told her the bleeding was normal and no cause for concern.

But two days later, as the bleeding continued, Kendrick rushed the dog to the Story Road Animal Clinic in Irving, where she was examined by veterinarian Joseph Cukjati. The 61-year-old Cukjati--by far the most outspoken peer in his outrage over Lucas' practices--stanched the bleeding and administered intravenous fluids to the badly dehydrated dog.

"She was running a fever, and she had a heavy, bloody, purulent discharge coming from an incision approximately 6 to 8 inches long on her abdomen," Cukjati testified at the 1996 hearing. "The incision was closed with 'pig staples' (extra large staples that allow quick closure of a wound, but are frowned upon by most vets)." Cukjati said he found Lucas' work to be "an incompetent surgery done internally and externally."

Beyond the botched operation, Cukjati said, he found a 12-inch hair, which he surmised came from a human, caught in one of the 46 staples he removed from Misty's abdomen. He documented the incision and discovery of the hair with photos. Cukjati charged Kimberly Kendrick $401 to clean up what Lucas had started--a surgery that was intended to cost $75.

A fourth complaint, stemming from Lucas' surgery on a 5-month-old male boxer on July 29, 1994, was found to have insufficient evidence to use against the vet. On that morning, Charlene Jones of Haltom City took Buster to Lucas' Watauga clinic to have the dog's ears cropped--a common procedure for the breed. As had become the norm at Lucas' clinics, Jones was forced to wait far longer than she anticipated to take her dog home--in this case, seven extra hours. Jones took Buster home with his ears cropped and the incisions stapled closed.

Two days later, when one of the ears began bleeding, Jones returned the dog to the clinic. Lucas, Jones later testified, gave Buster an injection. He gasped for breath several times and died on the table.

A few days later, Lucas told Chuck and Charlene Jones their dog had died of complications from erlichia--a tick-borne illness that keeps the blood from adequately clotting. When Chuck Jones requested a copy of a blood test as evidence, Lucas told him she would mail it to him. The Joneses never received a copy of the test, and state investigators' reports say that Lucas never performed a blood test in the first place.

At her hearing, Lucas steadfastly denied every complaint filed against her, offering elaborate explanations for her actions in each case.

Trouble the cat, for example, caused her own problems by constantly licking the wound and probably tearing about Davidson's house in her high-strung way, Lucas said. (Bradford, the vet who followed up with Trouble, testified that all cats will lick a wound. But routine, instinctive licking could not have caused the intensity of the infection Bradford treated.)

Same story for Sunshine, the calico kitten. The licking caused the problem. That's it.

As for Misty Blue, well, Lucas said, "I did keep the dog slightly tranquilized because Misty is a biter. She is typically a one-person dog." As for Cukjati's charge that her surgery was substandard, and that a human hair was discovered in the surgical site, Lucas denies it.

"As far as a hair being in there," she testified, "I don't believe it. I think he's lying on that. I think he threw that in because when he removed the staples and threw them on the floor, when he cleaned up the staples, in that pack, you'll see eyelashes, you'll see Bronmid or Vetafil suture, you'll see hair and you'll see staples. And that stuff was cleaned up from the floor. That's not from my surgery."

Every complaint against her, in Lucas' opinion, was cooked up by thieving, competing veterinarians and emotional pet owners in a grand conspiracy to run her out of business.

Here is how Lissa Lucas sees it:
"I think that Dr. Cukjati saw a case that came from my clinic, got a hold of it, grandstanded, did everything he could to make it look as bad as possible, then charged out the gazoo when I charged $75. He got these people upset, then recommended that they turn me into the board. It's a familiar story; that's what happened in all of these.

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