Dr. Lucas' Little Shop of Horrors

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

"Look at it this way. I was in Watauga in 1993. I grossed $225,000. My practice was split half of the time in Watauga and half in Irving. So if I'm such a lousy, horrible, terrible veterinarian, why am I not having problems in Watauga?"

But there were problems in Watauga, plenty of problems, say Lucas' former employees. Everything people had complained of at the Irving clinic was taking place at the ramshackle little bungalow that housed Protect 'Ur Pet in the quiet Fort Worth suburb.

"It was filthy there. There was a refrigerator there, but it belonged to the owner of the building, and we weren't allowed to store vaccines in there," recounts Renee Morrison, a plump 40-year-old woman who sells Avon part-time and worked as a business manager for Lucas for 10 months in 1994 and 1995. The vaccines, Morrison recalls, were stored in a plastic ice chest and floated in a pool of melted ice.

Morrison came to work for Lucas quite by accident in the fall of 1994. An animal lover, she had gathered up a sorry-looking stray cat off the street one evening and took it home to nurse it back to health. "But when my husband saw that nasty cat, he told me I couldn't bring it inside until a vet had looked at it," she recalls. "He was afraid it would give something to our other cat."

Morrison remembered passing a veterinary clinic on her way to her Watauga home that night. Although it was late, there were lights on inside. She told her husband she was taking the cat to the clinic.

It took hours for Morrison to get back the cat--which had tapeworms and ear mites--but she waited patiently at the clinic while Lucas worked. When Lucas brought the cat out, she asked Morrison if she would be interested in working at the two clinics. "She said she could tell I was an animal lover and that she could use someone like that at her clinics." Morrison started the next day.

At first, Morrison was only allowed to work the front desk, collecting patient histories and fees. Gradually, as Lucas began to trust Morrison, she was allowed more access to the back rooms in each of the clinics. Morrison learned how to give shots, and even claimed under oath that she regularly castrated cats when Lucas could not be found. The state Veterinary Practice Act does not allow unlicensed individuals to perform surgeries on animals. Nor does it permit them to give rabies shots without a licensed vet on the premises.

Over the next several months Morrison brought in Tammy Reams, a niece by marriage, to work as an assistant. She also hired her nephew Shane Ellis to help out. Both Reams and Ellis, as well as three other employees, would later testify to infractions they regularly witnessed while working for Lucas. Ellis testified that at Lucas' direction he routinely concocted a counterfeit vaccine against the tick-borne Lyme disease out of Vitamin B-12 and saline solution. The mixture mimicked the bright pink color of the authentic vaccine, and was sold to unsuspecting clients as the real thing.

Employees testified they witnessed Lucas draw blood from animals--ostensibly to be sent to a lab for testing--but that many of the samples never made it out of the building. Clients were often told that blood tests revealed a negative reading on heartworm--a common and potentially fatal disease--when in fact their pets' blood had never been tested.

It seems only logical to wonder why these employees stayed on with Lucas, and why--after witnessing such abhorrent behavior--did they wait so long to report it?

Morrison, sitting on a black futon in Tammy Reams' tiny house in Keller while The Days of our Lives drones on from a giant-screen TV across the room, shrugs her shoulders sheepishly and says, "I really thought she might change. I thought we could help her. But she just got worse."

When Morrison finally blew the whistle on her boss, she did so with a vengeance. She helped round up other employees to assist state investigators in their review of Lucas' practice. She wrote letters. She helped provide what patient records she could--though Lucas' record-keeping was practically nonexistent.

When Lucas learned that Morrison was the chief informant in the case against her, she came out armed for a brutal battle. At the 1996 hearing, Lucas' Dallas attorney, Mitchell Madden, made much of the fact that Morrison was a victim of incest and a diagnosed manic-depressive who took lithium to level out her moods. (Morrison openly confirms as much. She says she stopped taking lithium in February 1995 with the support of her physician and her minister. "I am a Christian," she says, numerous times, "and the Lord will not desert me.")

Still, Lucas brought out Morrison's difficult past in her legal proceedings. Referring to Morrison as a "mad woman" when not taking her medication, Lucas said she had reprimanded Morrison frequently for her moodiness with clients. And, Lucas claimed, Morrison also was motivated by pure revenge. Earlier, Lucas had turned Morrison's brother--a convicted drug dealer--into authorities on a possible parole violation.

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