Gucci, the three month old Chow-husky mix was hanged from a tree by his neck, repeatedly hit in the face and kicked, and finally doused with lighter fluid and set on fire the night of Thursday, May 19, 1994. The puppy managed to escape from his teenaged assailants and, still ablaze, ran under a porch. He was rescued, with the help of a neighbor of the girl who owned him, by Dr. Doug James, an adjunct communication arts professor at Spring Hill College.T
he next morning Dr. James was on the phone to friends and associates in an effort to best determine how to arrange veterinary care for Gucci. A veterinary pharmaceutical sales rep recommended that Dr. Ann Branch perform the initial evaluation. She took one look at the puppy with second and third degree burns covering his face, head, and neck and agreed to treat him at no charge, on the condition that he never be returned to the cruel environment from which he had been rescued.
Meanwhile, Dr. James had made attorney George Hardesty, a dog lover and defender of animal welfare, aware of the assault on Gucci. Hardesty was not encouraging, given the dearth of animal protection laws in the State of Alabama at that time, but promised to lend as much support as he could.
James had also contacted a friend at the Mobile Press-Register about doing a story in an effort to raise funds for Gucci?s veterinary needs. George Werneth interviewed James that morning and took pictures at Dr. Branch?s clinic. The story and a picture of the maimed puppy were front page news on Saturday, May 21, 1994.
James? telephone rang nonstop that morning, as did the phones at Dr. Branch?s office and the Press-Register. Included in the calls were inquiries from Mobile police officers who were just finding out about the case. By the first of the next week, four males had been identified as being associated with the attack on Gucci. Less than two weeks later, a nineteen year old and two sixteen year olds had been arrested, taken into custody, and charged with animal cruelty.
In the midst of the media and law enforcement attention surrounding him, Gucci remained in Dr. Branch?s care, continuing to heal from his injuries. He patiently and quietly tolerated any procedure necessary in the treatment of his wounds. Eventually contractures from the burns on his face pulled his eyelids upward so that he could no longer blink or close his eyes. The decision was made to take him to Auburn University?s School of Veterinary Medicine for evaluation for surgical intervention. There Gucci underwent a series of surgeries to ease the tension on the skin of his eyelids. By the end of 1994, he had healed sufficiently to appear in a segment on ?Inside Edition? which aired August 30th. He and Dr. James were also invited to appear in a special program on survivor dogs for the ?Maury Povich Show?.
Gucci?s media exposure caused a deluge of letters, cards, and telephone calls from all over the Unites States, as well as from Canada and countries as far flung as Australia. He received gifts of money and treats from both private and corporate donors. He also benefited from frequent appearances at fundraisers held by humane societies across Alabama and in Florida.
In November, 1994, Gucci underwent surgery once more for bilateral hip dysplasia via Auburn?s veterinary orthopedic surgery department. In March, 1995, he received a final operation on his left eyelid. By June of that year, after also being neutered, he was released by his Auburn caretakers, who declared him healed and in need of no further surgeries.
Through the efforts of George Hardesty and Judge James Strickland, in July, 1994, Gucci?s two juvenile attackers were each given 200 hours of community service, preferably in settings where they would have to participate in animal care, and ordered to pay fines of $250 plus court costs. After multiple delays, the 19 year old assailant?s case finally came to jury trial on February 3, 1995. He pleaded guilty as a felon, and two days later was sentenced to three months in jail (of which he served six weeks), two years? probation, and was ordered to pay restitution for Gucci?s surgical bills.
Over the years Gucci has been the recipient of awards, citations, and other forms of recognition too numerous to mention here. He was named ?Alabama?s Official State Spokesdog Against Animal Cruelty? by Governor Fob James in February, 1998. In May, 2000, exactly six years following his abuse, the Alabama State Legislature passed a bill making intentional cruelty to domesticated animals a Class C felony, punishable with a prison term of up to 10 years. The bill was signed into law by Governor Don Siegleman, with Gucci looking on, on May 20, 2000.
Little did Doug James realize when he accepted responsibility for Gucci?s care that spring night how this unlikeliest of canine spokesmen would change his life, those of all who have seen him or heard his story, and most importantly, the safety of animals living in Alabama and other states where similar animal protection laws have been enacted in recent years