Polk County Deputies Arrest Veterinarian and Her Husband for Felony Animal Cruelty
On August 22, 2017, Polk County Sheriff’s Agricultural Crimes Detectives arrested 66-year-old Dr. Gail Anne Nichols (DVM) of 3211 West Bella Vista Street in Lakeland, and her husband, 74-year-old Paul Craig Smith, and charged them both with three counts felony animal cruelty (F-3), one count misdemeanor animal cruelty (M-1), and five counts confinement of animals without sufficient food, water, or shelter (M-1), after conducting an investigation and seizing 28 miniature horses, 2 full-sized horses, and 8 dogs from their home that were neglected.
The investigation began when PCSO received a tip about animals not being properly cared for at the 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. We hope from this point forward she is not allowed to own, or treat, any more animals.” – Grady Judd, Sheriff
The following are excerpts from their affidavits, and are self-explanatory:
On 08/17/17 at approximately 1115 hours, an investigation of animal neglect and cruelty revealed owner, Dr. Gale Nichols and her husband/co-defendant, Paul Smith, did intentionally confine 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. The animals suffered as a result.
A search warrant was applied for, granted, and executed on this same date based upon the findings listed above. A search of the property, which was surrounded by fence, and residence revealed five of the eight dogs were living in cages inside the main residence 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. Two McCaw type parrots were found inside the front porch of the residence in filthy dirty cages. The parrots were both missing feathers on their chest. A search of the front pasture revealed 18 miniature horses were confined to a dirt pasture, with access to hay. 2 full sized horses were housed in a side (North West) dirt pasture with no access to grass or hay. 10 additional miniature horses were found in a back dirt pasture with no hay or grass. All had access to water. Three of the horses were found to have 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 amble 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 PCSO Veterinarian, Dr. Abbe Degroat. Dr. Degroat determined three of the miniature horses would require euthanasia based upon their X-rays of their hooves and prognosis. A second veterinarian, Dr. Katie Hennessy of Polk Equine, also evaluated the three miniature horses and she too recommended euthanasia based upon her findings.
The medical analysis revealed miniature horse #29, described as a black and white paint mare, approximately 3 years old, was suffering from severely overgrown front hooves that spiraled upward. An X-ray of the hooves revealed the horse’s coffin bone (bottom bone in the leg that is encased by the hoof) was dissolved away due to lack of blood supply from the overgrown hooves. This was causing the animal chronic lameness, pain and suffering which resulted in the death of the animal by humane euthanasia.
Horse #23, described as a black and white paint filly, approximately 8 months old, was found to be suffering from severely over grown front hooves that had turned upward in what’s known as an “elf shoe” appearance. The right front hoof appeared to be a deformity that was never addressed and was facing the opposite direction. The horse was suffering from severe arthritis, a dislocation and permanent lameness. It was determined this animal was caused chronic pain and suffering which resulted in the death of the animal by humane euthanasia.
Horse #51, described as a Dun colored filly, approximately 11 months old, was suffering from an untreated injury. The filly was a lame and non-weight bearing on her left front leg. An x-ray revealed a wire was tightly wrapped around her pastern bone (leg bone). It appeared the wire had grown embedded in through the skin. This caused the leg to become swollen at the top due to lack of blood flow. This was causing the animal chronic lameness, pain and suffering which resulted in the death of the animal by humane euthanasia.
Horse #54, described as a liver/white dapple palomino colored mare, approximately 3 years old, was suffering from severely overgrown and spiraled out front hooves. This was causing lameness. The x-rays revealed no permanent damage and a specialized trimming of the hooves over time would be necessary. This animal suffered unnecessarily because of the lack of care provided by the suspects.
Horse #26, described as a palomino/white colored filly, approximately 9 months to a year old, was suffering from parasites and malnutrition. It appeared emaciated with its bone structure felt through her thick coat. Her coat appeared dull and dry and old dried feces was matted in her tail. Her mane and forelock were matted and knotted. She was also suffering from muscle wasting on her back hips. Her hooves were overgrown in the front. Thrush (a fungal infection) was found in her back left hoof and had dissolved her frog (soft underside of the hoof). This animal suffered unnecessarily because of the lack of care provided by the suspects.
Dog #38, “Price” is described as a senior (10yrs old +) grey in color Greyhound type. This dog appeared extremely emaciated with all of his bone structure visible. He was found to be 10-15 lbs. underweight. He was suffering from a flea infestation which caused him red and inflamed skin. His body and ears were exceptionally dirty. This animal suffered unnecessarily because of the lack of care provided by the suspects.
Dog #39, “Flower”, is described as an approximately 4-5 year old brown/white female Greyhound type. She was suffering from a severe flea infestation, red inflamed skin and significant tarter on her teeth. She tested positive for parasites; Hookworms and Whipworm. Flower was found caged inside the residence without access to water. This animal suffered unnecessarily because of the lack of care provided by the suspect.
Dog #43, “Paige”, is described as a senior aged white/brindle Whippet type. She was suffering from flea infestation, red inflamed skin, and severely overgrown nails. She was also suffering from three untreated mammary tumors on her breast. Paige was found caged inside the residence without access to water. This animal suffered unnecessarily because of the lack of care provided by the suspects. The remaining 3 dogs (#40, #41 and #42) were caged inside the house without access to water, tested positive for parasites, fleas, and overgrown nails, tarter and lack of a basic standard of care.
Dogs #44 and #45 were located inside Smith’s travel trailer with access to food and water. Some horses were found with unkempt matted manes and tails, some with dried fecal matter entangled in their tails. Based upon the outcome of the medical evaluations, the overall wellbeing and lack of care of the animals and conditions, and the unnecessary suffering of the animals, both Nichols and Smith were charged with animal neglect and animal cruelty. Suspects Gail Nichols and Paul Smith were charged with 3 counts of felony animal cruelty for horses numbered #29, #23 and #51.
Both suspects were charged with a misdemeanor animal cruelty for horse number #54. They were charged with a misdemeanor animal neglect for horse #26. They were charged with misdemeanor animal neglect for dog number #38. They were charged a misdemeanor animal neglect for dog #39. They were charged with a misdemeanor animal neglect for dog #43. As well as one count overall neglect for dogs (#40, #41, and #42).
The suspects were both booked into the Polk County Jail on the aforementioned charges, and both 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.
The suspects are petitioning the court to retain ownership of the animals.