Neglected minihorses, dogs seized from Florida veternarian's home, deputies say

Husband, wife face animal cruelty charges

Gail Nichols and Paul Smith

LAKELAND, Fla. – A Central Florida veterinarian and her husband face multiple animal cruelty charges after deputies found neglected miniature horses and dogs at their Lakeland home, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office. 

Deputies said the department received a tip about dozens of animals not being properly cared for at the home of veterinarian Gail Anne Nichols, 66, and her husband, Paul Craig Smith, 74.

When agricultural crimes detectives arrived at the West Bella Vista Street home on Thursday, they found 28 miniature horses, two full-sized horses, eight dogs and two birds, many of which showed signs of neglect, according to a news release.

Deputies said 10 of the miniature horses were in a dirt pasture with no hay or grass, and the other 18 were in a dirt pasture where they had access to hay. The two full-sized horses had no grass or hay in the dirt pasture where they were kept. All the horses had water.

Three of the miniature horses had to be euthanized due to untreated health issues. Several of the horses had hooves that were so overgrown they curved and spiraled, making it difficult for the animals to walk, deputies said.

The two parrots were in "filthy dirty cages" inside the front porch of the home and were missing feathers on their chest, a news release said.

Five of the dogs lived inside the home, which authorities described as "uninhabitable for humans" due to the filth and rat infestation, and the other three dogs were kept in a trailer on the property, according to the report. Most of the dogs were covered in fleas, had skin inflammation and tested positive for parasites, deputies said.

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

Nichols told authorities she is a part-time veterinarian at Gulfport Veterinary Clinic in Gulfport and Animal Emergency of Pasco in Port Richey. 

She and her husband are charged with three counts of felony animal cruelty in connection with the horses that had to be euthanized, one count of misdemeanor animal cruelty, four counts of misdemeanor animal neglect and one count of overall neglect.

They are being held at the Polk County Jail. 

The animals that were seized are being housed at PCSO facilities until the court can determine their custody. Nichols and Smith have petitioned to retain ownership of the animals.

UPDATE: June 2019 - On Thursday, June 6, 2019, a Polk County jury found Gail Nichols guilty on four counts of cruelty to...

Posted by Polk County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday, August 23, 2017