Dogs living in cages without water, including one with untreated breast tumors. Another dog underfed into being little more than skin over skeleton. Horses with hooves so overgrown, they appeared to be walking on golf clubs.
The owners of these and other mistreated animals, cops say: a veterinarian and her husband.
Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested Dr. Gail Nichols, 66, and husband Paul Smith, 74, last week on three counts felony animal cruelty, one count misdemeanor animal cruelty, and five counts confinement of animals without sufficient food, water, or shelter. Deputies also seized three full-sized horses, eight dogs and 28 miniature horses from the property.
Nichols and Smith each posted $6,000 bond.
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“The fact that a practicing, licensed veterinarian caused so much suffering to her own animals is extremely concerning,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. “We hope from this point forward she is not allowed to own, or treat, any more animals."
Nichols, the sheriff’s office said, claimed to still do part time work at Gulfport Veterinary Hospital and Port Richey’s Animal Emergency of Pasco. According to the state Department of Business & Professional Regulation, Nichols’ license bares only one blemish, a citation from 2016.
The cleanliness of her license, first gained in 1997 and valid until May, 31, 2018, contrasts with the complete squalor described in the arrest affidavits:
“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.”
Five other dogs were caged in the main house, unable to get to water. Paige, a senior white Whippet type, suffered from three tumors on her breast.
On the front porch were two McCaw parrots which were missing chest feathers. The 18 miniature horses in the dirt pasture at the front of the property, the affidavits claimed, could get to hay. That meager solid nourishment wasn’t available to the two full sized horses on a side dirt pasture nor the 10 miniature horses on the back dirt pasture.
“Three of the horses were found to have hooves that were severely overgrown to the point they were spiraled upwards causing the horses lameness,” the affidavit read. “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.”
Three horses — a 3-year-old, an 11-month-old and an 8-month-old — were put down on the recommendation of the PCSO veterinarian and a vet from a Frostproof large-animal medical care business.