Florida Veterinarian Arrested On Three Felony Charges Of Animal Cruelty

A veterinarian in Central Florida is facing multiple charges for animal cruelty and neglect. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office investigated the home of Dr. Gail Anne Nichols, 66, and her husband Paul Craig Smith, 74, in Lakeland, Florida after receiving a tip about various animals on the property suffering from abuse.

“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,” reported the Sheriff’s Office.

Upon arriving at the scene, the deputies found two birds, eight dogs, two full-sized horses, and 28 miniature horses. All animals showed horrible signs of neglect.

Five of the eight dogs had been confined to cages in the house without water. And while 86% of Florida homes have air conditioning, the sweltering and uninhabitable space housing the animals had none. According to ABC Action News, the animals’ confinement was intentional.

Fleas, which Americans spend up to $9 billion a year controlling, covered most of the dogs. Other dogs suffered from inflammation and were infected with parasites.

The two full-sized horses were kept in a dirt pasture along with 10 of the miniature horses. The pasture contained no grass or hay. The other miniature horses were kept in another dirt pasture but had access to hay. Many of the horses had difficulty walking due to overgrown hooves, which had curled around their feet.

According to NWF Daily News, the hooves of some of the horses were so severely damaged the Sheriff’s Office had to euthanize three of the horses. Two PCSO veterinarians determined the horses’ conditions untreatable after X-rays were taken of the animals’ feet.

One horse’s hooves had curved up into its leg, cutting off blood supply while another suffered from severe arthritis. “This was like your foot being gone,” said Sheriff Grady Judd in a news conference, “and you’re trying to walk on the nub of your leg.”

Even the two parrots weren’t safe from cruelty. Confined to filthy cages, deputies found the birds just inside the front porch. Feathers were missing on their chests.

According to a Facebook post made by the Sheriff’s department, Dr. Nichols informed the police she practices part-time veterinary medicine at the Gulfport Veterinary Hospital. She also practices Animal Emergency in Port Richey.

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

Dr. Nichols and Smith were arrested on August 22 for three felony charges of animal cruelty and six misdemeanors — one count of animal cruelty, five counts of confinement without sufficient shelter, water, or food. Both Dr. Nichols and her husband have been booked at the Polk County Jail.

The animals are currently being housed in PCSO facilities. Custody of the animals has yet to be determined. However, Dr. Nichols is petitioning the court to retain her custody over the animals.

Photo: Orlando Sentinel

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