A veterinarian who practices part-time in Gulfport and Port Richey was arrested Tuesday along with her husband after the Polk County Sheriff's Office said it found more than 30 severely abused animals at the couple's Lakeland home.
Gail Anne Nichols, 66, and Paul Craig Smith, 74, each face 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 after deputies said they seized 28 miniature horses, two full-sized horses and eight dogs from their home at 3211 West Bella Vista St.
"The fact that a practicing, licensed veterinarian caused so much suffering to her own animals is extremely concerning," Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news release. "We hope from this point forward she is not allowed to own, or treat, any more animals."
Nichols told deputies she practices veterinary medicine part-time at clinics in Gulfport and Port Richey.
The investigation started Aug. 17 when the Sheriff's Office said it received a tip that animals were not being properly cared for at the home. Deputies said they learned that Nichols and Smith intentionally confined the animals and failed to care for them or address their medical needs, causing the animals to suffer.
The animals were seized, deputies said, and two veterinarians recommended that three of the miniature horses be euthanized.
Deputies searching the residence and property discovered five of the eight dogs were living in cages inside the house without access the water.
Two McCaw-type parrots were also found inside the front porch of the residence in filthy cages. The parrots were both missing feathers on their chests.
Eighteen miniature horses were found confined to a dirt pasture with access to hay, deputies said. Two full-sized horses were housed in another dirt pasture with no access to grass or hay.
Three of the horses had severely overgrown hooves that spiraled upward, causing the horses to become lame
Most of the dogs were extremely dirty, emaciated and underweight, deputies said, and suffered from flea infestation, red and inflamed skin, and tested positive for parasites.
The house emitted a very strong odor of ammonia, deputies said, was infested with rats and had clutter piled up to the ceiling with small pathways for walking.
The home had no air conditioning and was uninhabitable for humans, the Sheriff's Office said.
Nichols and Smith each lived in separate travel trailers on the property.
Nichols' veterinary license was still active on the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation's website as of Wednesday. The department couldn't confirm if any complaints had been lodged against Nichols related to this case, which are private 10 days after they've been filed. Nichols faced reprimand from the Board of Veterinary Medicine in February 2016 for not completing the necessary continuing education required for her license to be renewed, records show.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday that Nichols was not the subject of any investigations. The Gulfport Police Department did not return a call for comment.
Both Nichols and Smith were booked Tuesday into the Polk County jail, and freed Wesdnesday after each posted $6,000 bail.
The animals are being housed at county facilities, pending custody hearings. The Nichols and Smith have asked a court to let them retain ownership of the animals, according to the Sheriff's Office.