28 miniature horses among dozens of animals seized from Polk Co. vet, husband

Veterinarian charged with felony animal cruelty for neglecting animals

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday arrested a Lakeland couple accused of animal cruelty and neglect.

Dr. Gail Nichols, 66, and Paul Smith, 74, are charged with three counts of felony animal cruelty and six misdemeanor charges of animal neglect.

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

Photos: Polk County husband, vet arrested for animal cruelty

Deputies seized 28 miniature horses, two full-sized horses and eight dogs from the home. The couple intentionally confined the dogs in cages, and didn’t provide them water or basic care, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

The affidavit stated, “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.”

Nichols and Smith lived in separate travel trailers on the property, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit also stated three of the horses had hooves that were severely overgrown to the point they were spiraled upwards, causing the horses lameness. Those horses had to be put down, but the rest of the animals are in the care of Animal Control and are improving.

Authorities released Nichols and Smith on $6,000 bond each.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is housing the animals. Nichols and Smith are petitioning the court to retain ownership of the animals, according to the sheriff’s office.

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