Lakeland veterinarian, husband face animal cruelty charges

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A Polk County veterinarian and her husband have been arrested on charges of animal neglect.

Dr. Gail Nicholas and Paul Smith were arrested Tuesday night after deputies raided their farm Windsome Acres, on West Bella Vista Street, just outside Lakeland.

"We [saw] horrible neglect, horrible abuse," said Polk Sheriff Grady Judd. "She is a veterinarian. She should have known better."

In all, investigators seized 28 miniature horses, two full-sized horses, eight dogs, and two parrots.

Three of the miniature horses had to be euthanized, two because their hoofs were so neglected they curled up like elf shoes. Judd says their lives could have been saved simply by having their hoofs trimmed for $30 every six to eight weeks.

A third mini had to be put down after a wire got tightly wrapped around its leg and the skin eventually grew over it.

"The bone of the foot has disintegrated," said Judd. "It would be like your foot being gone and you trying to walk on the nub of your leg."

He described it as excruciatingly painful.

Nicholas and Smith were living in separate trailers on the same property. They couldn't live in their house, according to Judd, because it was uninhabitable.

Dogs, some of which did not have water, were being housed in crates. The smell of urine was overpowering, and the house was overrun with rats.

"It was such a train wreck, such a disaster, the only thing we didn't see was a monkey wearing a top hat lassoing the rats," Judd said.

Nichols has been working part time at Gulfport Veterinarian Hospital and Animal Emergency of Pasco. She also worked for Polk County Animal Services before the sheriff's office took over.

A judge will decide if Nicholas and Smith eventually get the animals back.