Veterinarian and her husband arrested for Felony Animal Cruelty in Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla - A licensed veterinarian and her husband were arrested on Tuesday for felony animal cruelty and animal neglect.

Dr. Gail Anne Nichols, 66, and Paul Craig Smith, 74, were charged with three counts felony animal cruelty, one count misdemeanor animal cruelty, and five counts confinement of animals without sufficient food, water, or shelter, after conducting an investigation and seizing 28 miniature horses, 2 full-sized horses, and 8 dogs from their home that were neglected.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office received a tip about animals not being properly cared for at the couples home. During the investigation, Dr. Nichols told deputies that she practices veterinary medicine part-time at Gulfport Veterinary Clinic, in Gulfport, and Animal Emergency of Pasco, in Port Richey. The animals found at her home are personally owned by her, and not affiliated with a veterinary practice.

"The fact that a practicing, licensed veterinarian caused so much suffering to her own animals is extremely concerning," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. "We hope from this point forward she is not allowed to own, or treat, any more animals."

The investigation revealed that Dr. Nichols and her husband intentionally confined 28 miniature horses, 2 full sized horses, 8 dogs and 2 birds, and failed to supply the animals with necessary medical and basic standard of care. Deputies say that the animals suffered as a result.   

Five of the eight dogs were living in cages in the house without access to water. 

"The residence emitted a very strong odor of ammonia, was infested with rats and had clutter piled to the ceiling with small pathways for walking. The home was without air conditioning and uninhabitable for humans. Nichols and Smith were each residing in separate travel trailers on the property. One emaciated dog was loose and could access the house and back yard and two others were inside Smith's travel trailer," the press release stated. 

Three of the horses had hooves that were severely overgrown to the point they were spiraled upwards causing the horses lameness. One of the three horses had one overgrown hoof facing backward and one overgrown hoof facing forward. Another was found to be only able to walk on three legs after suffering an untreated injury. The remaining horse appeared emaciated, malnourished and in poor health.

The animals were seized and removed to PCSO Animal Control and evaluated by a PCSO Veterinarian who determined that three of the miniature horses would require euthanasia based on the X-rays of their hooves and the Veterinarian's prognosis. A second veterinarian also evaluated the three miniature horses and she too recommended euthanasia based upon her findings.  

Dr. Nichols and her husband were both booked into the Polk County Jail and were released after posting bond - the three felony charges had $1,000 bond each, and the six misdemeanor charges had $500 bond each.

The animals are being housed at PCSO facilities, pending custody hearings. Dr. Nichols and her husband are petitioning the court to retain ownership of the animals.

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