The chow-husky mix’s harrowing story helped change animal cruelty laws in Alabama

By Linda Marx
Updated March 26, 2010 08:00 PM

Even though Doug James had dreaded the day he would have to euthanize Gucci, 16, his beloved chow-husky mix, the college professor in Mobile, Ala., feels better than he had expected the day after it happened.

“I am doing well,” James, a professor of public speaking and theater appreciation at Spring Hill College, tells “I had been putting it off but Gucci hasn’t been able to walk for three weeks and his kidneys were going. He had 15 1/2 good years, and I was blessed with that. I did the right thing for Gucci.”

Gucci, who James calls “a perfect dog,” began his long life with tragedy. When he was just three months old, a group of four male neighbor kids in Mobile beat him, hanged him by his neck from a tree, then set him on fire by dousing him with lighter fluid.

The bullies performed this heinous act because one of the guys was rejected by the teenaged girl who owned Gucci at the time.

“This was 1994 and Gucci was ablaze from head to tail until someone sprayed him with water to put out the fire,” James recalls. “His young owner lived near me and did not have the means to take him to the vet.”

So James brought Gucci home and sprayed him all night with burn relief medication until morning when they went to the vet who treated the dog for free until he was strong enough to undergo some needed surgery at Auburn University’s animal clinic. After a few months, the wonder dog was as good as new.

Meanwhile, three of the abusers were punished for animal cruelty with one adult serving time in prison. The others did hundreds of hours of community service, but none showed an ounce of remorse.

James was so livid over what happened to Gucci that he began to lobby for tougher animal abuse laws.

“There were many other people outraged over this, too, so for five years Gucci and I traveled all over for our cause,” James tells “I even hired a real lobbyist to be sure we got something accomplished.”

Alabama lawmakers passed the Pet Protection Act (aka the Gucci Law) on May 19, 2000, the sixth anniversary of the terrorizing. The law makes cruelty to animals a Class C felony punishable with up to 10 years in prison.

“This is Gucci’s legacy,” says James, “and I am so proud.”

Mild-mannered Gucci, who had no emotional scars from the brutal incident, became a star. After appearing on many national TV shows, like Inside Edition and Maury Povich, Gucci acted in an Alabama production of the Broadway hit, Annie, playing Sandy the dog.

“Gucci was a ham and loved to go in front of the cameras or before people,” James laughs. “He always thought he knew more than everyone else.”

Over the years, Gucci enjoyed sitting on the floor of his owner’s home to watch the colorful sights on the street, especially various trucks that had business in the area. He ignored the other rescue pets James owns: Buddy, 10, a chow-Lab mix, Daisy, 5, a poodle-terrier mix, Buster Brown, 2, a chocolate Lab, and two cats, Sparky, 15, and Stearman, 3.

“Gucci was a perfect gentleman who had a mind of his own and knew what he wanted,” James says of his best friend who slept with him each night and cuddled atop him during thunderstorms. “He had nothing to do with my other pets.”

Just days after Gucci passed away, a street leading to the Mobile Animal Shelter has been changed to Gucci Lane to honor the beloved dog. And he will be the main resident of the new Gucci Memorial Park being created now on Gucci Lane. He will be cremated there.

“Gucci has blessed my life,” James tells “Through his gentle ways, I learned to love and be patient with others. If Gucci were a human being, he would be President.”