Dr. Lucas' Little Shop of Horrors

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

Ever since, Lucas testified, Morrison was out to get her.
Administrative Law Judge Cathleen Parsley would have none of it. On December 19, 1996, she issued a 51-page "Proposal for Decision" and a proposed "Final Order" to the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. With a few exceptions, Parsley supported the findings of the board's investigation of Lucas' practices. She agreed that the vet, in her deceitful relationships with clients and haphazard surgical methods, had violated numerous sections of the Veterinary Practice Act and the Rules of Professional Conduct. The judge proposed a five-year suspension of Lucas' license, with all but 90 days of the suspension probated.

The decision allowed for Lucas to continue her practice while she pursued appeals.

But that was before the discoveries were made in Lucas' Arlington home and Irving clinic. Just days after police filed charges of animal cruelty against Lucas, the board amended the conditions of the suspension, and revoked Lucas' license. Ron Allen, the board's executive director, says the board is within its rights to take such action in cases where a vet who continues to practice poses a danger to animals or the public.

"I would say this is clearly one of those cases," Allen said shortly after the board's amended decision last February.

No one involved in the cases against Lissa Lucas has seen the woman lately. When contacted last week, police detectives in Arlington and Irving were unaware of the status of the Lucas cases. Lucas' criminal defense attorney, Melvyn Bruder, has been granted three continuances in the Arlington case since June. He asked Tarrant County Criminal Court Judge Phil Sorrells for more time to prepare.

"I'm anticipating going to trial, but I don't know when," Bruder says. He says he'll fight the animal cruelty charges based on their "vague and ambiguous" nature.

Madden, Lucas' civil attorney who has represented her before the veterinary board and at other administrative hearings, says the status of his client's license remains on hold until the criminal proceedings come to an end--either by trial or plea bargain. Madden has argued throughout the seemingly endless procedures against Lucas that the board has violated several of her rights--such as holding illegal private discussions about her case.

All of Lucas' business phones have been disconnected. The prefab building that once served as her Towne Lake Veterinary Clinic is now a janitorial supply business. Last week the lights were blazing inside the house at 3201 Littlestone Court in Arlington. There were mops and brooms propped against the brick house near the double garage doors--encouraging signs of life and certainly better hygiene.

Theories still flow about what might have driven Lucas to commit such extreme acts of cruelty as alleged. No one knows for sure, for instance, whether she brought the animals to the Arlington house dead or alive. Her former employees claim they knew Lucas was storing animal carcasses in trash bags in the Irving clinic--although they don't know why.

"I know of two occasions that dead cats were left in the Irving clinic," Morrison testified. "One cat died and was wrapped in plastic and left for a long time in the breezeway. Another cat was wrapped and left in her office. When the smell became so strong it could be smelled throughout the office, then [another employee] disposed of it through animal control."

Yet Gary Reynolds, Irving's animal control supervisor, has no record of ever going to Lucas' clinic to pick up dead animals. The city, he says, has offered free pickup of dead animals from veterinary clinics for years. "It's well publicized in the veterinary community. All they have to do is call us. We pick them up weekly," Reynolds says. "But in her three years here, we never got a call."

Arlington police detective Paul Skendrovic still puzzles on what would compel a person to do what Lucas is charged with. "I can't even guess why this happened," he says. "My feeling after talking to her and other people is she just got in over her head. She tried to take on too many animals, and she just couldn't deal with it."

That might explain the statement Lucas gave to Skendrovic the day of the gruesome discovery at her vacant home. "Lucas advised that she had brought approximately 15 clinic animals to the residence in August 1996," Skendrovic wrote in his February 2 incident report. She then explained that she often took animals home with her to recuperate from surgery. She preferred to monitor their recoveries herself rather than leave them unattended overnight at the clinic.

"Dr. Lucas advised that approximately 11 clinic animals died in a two-day period due to a 'flea infestation,' and she was able to take four animals back to her clinic," Skendrovic wrote. Yet the detective is more than a bit skeptical of that explanation. "I walked around that yard. There were no fleas," he says.

At least one local vet who is familiar with the Lucas case has no interest in psychoanalyzing her behavior. Beyond the alleged crimes of mistreating animals, Lucas, he says, has brought shame on a noble profession. He finds that intolerable.

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