State News: Lakeland couple accused of felony animal cruelty as deputies seize 38 animals; 3 miniature horses raised for breeding euthanized

By Gary White and Suzie Schottelkotte | The Lakeland Ledger

LAKELAND — Polk Sheriff’s deputies have arrested a Lakeland veterinarian and her husband on allegations of felony animal cruelty, saying many of the miniature horses the couple raised for breeding were emaciated and suffering with painful, overgrown hooves.

The hoof deformities had become so severe on three of the horses that the Sheriff’s Office had to euthanize the animals, Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news conference Wednesday. Two other animals are undergoing treatment for their injuries.

In describing one horse’s condition, Judd said, “This was like your foot being gone and you’re trying to walk on the nub of your leg.”

Gail Anne Nichols, 66, a licensed veterinarian in Florida since 1997, and Paul Craig Smith, 74, who live on 2 acres at 3211 W. Bella Vista St., 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, the Sheriff’s Office reported.

“She took an oath to look out for and make the lives of animals better,” Judd said, “and in fact, she did just the antithesis.”

Agricultural Crimes Detectives from the Sheriff’s Office seized 28 miniature horses, two full-sized horses and eight dogs after an investigation found the animals were neglected.

“I have never, ever, ever seen a vet that has allowed this to happen, in my whole career,” Judd said, “and it’s shocking.”

He said he’s hoping Nichols will no longer be permitted to own or treat any more animals.

Neither Nichols nor Smith returned phone calls for comment Wednesday.

The investigation began after the Sheriff’s Office received a

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