With one small gesture, Tya Lucas had her life forever altered. Her job prospects, financial stability and emotional well-being now hang in the balance.
On May 16, Lucas, 40, was viciously attacked by a dog. Medical professionals told her she’s lucky to be alive. And though she lived, she’ll have both physical and mental scars to remind her of the near-death experience.
Sitting in her hospital bed after enduring several surgeries, Lucas wondered what her life will look like now.
“I have no idea how I’m going to act when a dog barks,” Lucas said. “I had Ridiculousness on after I was here maybe a week and a half. There must have been a dog barking on [the show], and my whole body started trembling.”
Leading up to the attack, Lucas and her then-boyfriend lived in an apartment in Lewisville. About eight months ago, her daughter, Tana Dollar, 20, and son-in-law, Harley Dollar, 21, moved in with their pit bull, Hercules.
A 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine found efforts to link specific breeds to a tendency to bite are problematic as “all dogs can and do bite, and the environment or other personality traits appear to be better predictors of biting than breed.”
In most cases it is the interaction between human behavior and dog traits that creates risk, such as improper or inadequate socialization of harassment, the study states.
Admittedly, the Dollars don’t know much about their dog’s past. But they can surmise it wasn’t ideal. They found Hercules on the side of the road about two years ago, covered in cigarette burns.
“Even if he was abused, we still had to give him a chance,” Lucas said.
Hercules would quickly become family to them. Estimated to weigh well over 100 pounds, Hercules was considered a gentle giant. They said he never growled or barked or showed signs of aggression toward Lucas.
“He was always happy-go-lucky,” Harley Dollar said. “He never showed any signs of aggression.”
Tana Dollar said he was the most gentle dog before.
The day of the attack, Lucas and her then-boyfriend were in the living room with their puppy. Her daughter and son-in-law had walked to a nearby store a few minutes away.
When the puppy jumped up on the couch, Lucas’ boyfriend scolded the puppy and gestured to shoo it from the couch.
There was no warning. Suddenly, Hercules jumped up and latched onto the back of her boyfriend’s neck.
Despite her shock, Lucas reasoned she wouldn’t be able to get the large dog off her boyfriend. She ran out in search of her daughter and son-in-law to help.
Seeing they hadn’t returned, she felt she had to do something. She went back into the apartment. Lucas was able to divert the dog’s attention long enough for her boyfriend to run into the bathroom.
But the attack didn’t stop there. Within seconds, Hercules had clamped down on her right arm.
“I didn’t expect that to happen … I don’t know,” she recalled. “I’m screaming, watching him tear the flesh off my arm, and I’m in shock.”
She remembers yelling, “Hercules, it’s me!” but he still had his teeth sunk into her arm, thrashing his head and shredding her skin and muscles.
Panicking and trying to get away, she left blood splatter everywhere she went. She tried desperately to get into the bathroom where her boyfriend had fled. But she said the door wouldn’t budge, even though there was no lock, as if her boyfriend was braced against it.
Tana and Harley Dollar arrived home to find the carpets, walls and bathroom door all painted red with blood. They could make out a forensic trail of Lucas’ and the dog’s movements.
“There was flesh in the floor,” Tana Dollar said of the house after the attack. “There were her fingerprints on the TV. Then there were random thumbprints on stuff where she’d tried to pick it up.”
Lucas was slipping out of consciousness as Harley Dollar was able to remove the dog. She remembers telling her family she loved them and then passed out.
Tana Dollar ran out the door and saw police officers nearby. She said she tried to wave them over, but she admitted — now able to laugh about the situation — she looks a little young for her age and believes they might have thought she was a child just waving hello.
Harley Dollar carried Lucas out to the front porch to get her away from the dog before he ran over to the officers for help.
Officer Jeffrey Pittman of the Lewisville Police Department said it was happenstance they were already on the scene. He and two other officers had just made an arrest at the apartment complex and were about to leave.
Pittman said they weren’t quite sure what to expect when Harley Dollar approached them.
“We see her daughter’s husband covered in blood running toward us, waving his arms frantically and saying, ‘My mom was just eaten by the dog,’” Pittman recalled. “When people are in a state of crisis and adrenaline is pumping, we tend to find — I won’t use the word embellishment — but everything is heightened. When he said that, I was not expecting to see what I saw.”
Pittman was prepared for a dog bite. He has seen them many times before. But no, he said, Lucas’ arm was “more or less eaten off” by the dog.
Officers approached the situation cautiously, as there were other dogs running around the complex, and they weren’t yet sure where Lucas and Hercules were.
“Any time you’re dealing with a heightened situation, you can talk to humans and deescalate …,” he said. “But you’re kind of at the mercy of the dog in this situation.”
When police found Lucas motionless on the porch, they worked quickly to treat her wounds as well as call an ambulance and animal control to the scene.
“Officer Potter was the one who put the tourniquet on and who really took all the lifesaving measures,” Pittman said. “He was a rock star that day and handled it well, all things considered. I think we all did.”
Come July, Pittman will have been with the Lewisville Police Department seven years. He said he hopes that was the first and last time he has to see a wound like that.
“Of all the things I’ve seen, this is probably the most horrific as far as body mutilation,” Pittman said. “I’ve seen lots of gunshot wounds, stabbings, assaults. But as far as how horrific her arm looked, I’m very pleased she lived and very grateful she got to keep her arm.”
After she was transported to Medical City Denton, Lucas underwent six surgeries in the first 10 days of her hospital stay. Surgeons grafted muscle from her thigh and back to replace what was lost on her arm.
There were times the grafted material would die off and surgeons would have to graft more. And Lucas said there were a few hundred staples placed in her.
Tana and Harley Dollar made the hospital their new home, staying with Lucas every day. A crew came to clean up some of the apartment. But more or less, when Harley Dollar made a brief trip back, he said it looked about the same as it had the day of the attack.
“They’ve been staying here because they’re terrified to go to the house,” Lucas said.
With Lucas’ life surely saved, her family is now mourning the loss of Hercules. Lewisville animal control seized both dogs, and only the puppy was released. Hercules was euthanized shortly after the attack.
“When we had nobody and no place to go, we had him,” Harley Dollar said.
Now, Lucas and the Dollars are left reeling with questions: How could their dog, who only ever showed them love and affection, do this?
“Dogs, when they bite — and obviously, this was more than biting — they’ll stalk before or get more anxious or excited,” Tana Dollar said. “If there was aggression, [Lucas and her boyfriend] didn’t notice. He slept out in their room, and then this happened. I went back watching videos of him and wondering, ‘Did I miss something?’”
The family also wondered if the dog was sick. But getting a necropsy is unlikely.
“We called them and asked, ‘Are you guys going to test him for a brain tumor, Lyme disease, things like that?’ and they said maybe, if you pay for it,” Lucas said.
After about three weeks in the hospital, six surgeries and time spent on a ventilator, Lucas was released to an unfamiliar life on June 3.
Lucas and her boyfriend, who was treated at the same hospital for superficial wounds, broke up while she was at the hospital. She said he refused to visit her. Lucas was hurt by her boyfriend’s refusal after they both agreed she had saved his life.
Her eyes welling with tears at one point, Lucas recalled her struggle trying to get into the bathroom and her boyfriend possibly holding the door shut as she begged to be let in.
“I ran outside. I was safe, and I could have shut that door and said figure it out, I’ll call 911,” she said. “But I didn’t. I came back in, and I saved his a--. I don’t understand how someone I was with for so long could just leave me to die.”
Lucas speculated whether her tumultuous relationship and fights with her boyfriend could have triggered the dog.
Despite surviving the incident, she’s not sure how she’ll make a living. Lucas has regained some movement. But the extent to which she’ll regain use of her dominant arm and hand is not certain.
Lucas worked in the service industry before the attack. She’s not sure how she’ll go back to work when she can’t carry anything as a server or write and type if she returned to a managerial position.
“You know, I made bank at my job; I worked there for 25 years, and I was good at it,” Lucas said. “To have that all torn away trying to save him. … I said to him, ‘In me choosing my life over yours, I chose yours. You also chose yours.’”
Lucas, who does not have medical insurance, said after four days in the hospital, staff said her medical bills were about $180,000. She spent a total of 19 days at the hospital and is not sure of the final bill. In addition, Lucas will have numerous physical therapy sessions — possibly three a week — to account for.
Also, her car — being used by her daughter and son-in-law — broke down while she was in the hospital.
Tana Dollar made a GoFundMe campaign for her mom, which had raised just over $3,000 by Thursday evening, pocket change compared to her full medical bill.
Despite the crowdfunding campaign being in Tana Dollar’s name, Lucas said she was told she probably wouldn’t qualify for disability payments because of the donations.
She made a TikTok video sharing her plight, hoping people might be moved to donate, and it got about 800,000 views before her account was shut down because of graphic content. Some of the feedback she got was malicious, they said.
“There was one comment saying, ‘Well, I bet your mom wishes she got an abortion now,’” Tana Dollar said. “She shared her Cash App, and people were requesting money from her calling her a dog abuser.”
Even though she received backlash for sharing her attack, some people were supportive. Lucas made a new TikTok account in hopes of reaching a kinder audience with the story of her attack and recovery.
“I’ve heard it all from thousands of comments from people,” Lucas said. “But there were 62 different people who donated to me, and a lot of them are people I don’t know.”
While the future is unsure as she enters the next phase after her life-altering attack, Lucas at least has a sense of humor about it.
“You get nine lives, and each life and each death hurts a little bit more,” Lucas said. “The next one’s gotta be the real thing because this hurt real bad.”