Veterinarian arrested for animal cruelty in Polk County

Photo courtesy Polk County Sheriff's Office.

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — A veterinarian and her husband are facing felony animal cruelty charges in Polk County.

Detectives with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested 66-year-old Dr. Gail Anne Nichols and her husband, 74-year-old Paul Craig Smith, on Tuesday.

After getting a tip about animals not being properly cared for at their Lakeland home, investigators found 28 miniature horses, two full-sized horses, eight dogs and two birds that were being neglected.

During the investigation, Dr. Nichols told deputies she practices veterinary medicine part-time at Gulfport Veterinary Clinic in Gulfport and Animal Emergency of Pasco in Port Richey. The animals that were found neglected at her home are her own personal animals, and not affiliated with a veterinary practice, according to the sheriff’s office.

Detectives who searched the property found 18 of the miniature horses confined to a dirt pasture with access to hay. The other ten miniature horses were found in a dirt pasture with no hay or grass. Two full-sized horses were also in a dirt pasture with no access to grass or hay. All of the horses had access to water.

According to the arrest affidavit, three of the miniature horses had hooves that were so overgrown they spiraled upwards and caused lameness. Veterinarians later determined three of the miniature horses would have to be euthanized.

Nichols and Smith were each living in separate travel trailers on the property. The affidavit says five of the eight dogs were living in cages inside the main home without access to water. One emaciated dog was loose and two others were inside Smith’s travel trailer.

Paperwork from the sheriff’s office states one of the dogs was found extremely emaciated and suffering from a flea infestation. Another had a severe flea infestation and tested positive for parasites. A third dog had a flea infestation and was suffering from three untreated mammary tumors.

Two McCaw type parrots were found living in filthy dirty cages with feathers missing on their chests, according to deputies.

Investigators say the home had a strong odor of ammonia, was infested with rats and had clutter piled to the ceiling. The house also did not have air conditioning and was not habitable for humans, according to the affidavit.

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

Both Dr. Nichols and her husband were charged with three counts of felony animal cruelty, one count of misdemeanor animal cruelty and five counts of confinement of animals without sufficient food, water or shelter.

The animals are now being housed at Polk County Sheriff’s Office facilities pending custody hearings. Deputies say the suspects are petitioning the court to keep ownership of the animals.

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