Nichols and her husband, Paul Craig Smith, 74, were both charged on August 22 with three felony counts of animal cruelty and five counts of misdemeanor animal neglect relating to confinement without sufficient food, water or shelter according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO). The animals found at her home are personally owned by her and are not affiliated with a veterinary practice.
Deputies seized 28 miniature horses, two full-sized horses, eight dogs and two McCaw type parrots both of which were missing feathers on their chests.
All animals were put into custody of the sheriff’s office for veterinary evaluation. Three of the miniature horses required euthanasia.
According to a law enforcement report, an investigation that began on August 17 as the result of a tip revealed that Nichols and Smith intentionally confined and “failed to supply necessary medical and basic standard of care” in ways that resulted in severe neglect for horses and dogs.
At the time, Nichols told deputies she was a contract veterinarian at Gulfport Veterinarian Clinic, 5621 Gulfport Blvd., and Animal Emergency of Pasco in Port Richey. Brooks Ohman of Treasure Island, owns the clinic in Gulfport and serves as the office manager. Her daughter, Dr. Taylor Ohman of St. Petersburg, is the staff veterinarian.
On August 22, when deputies called Brooks Ohman to tell her of the arrests, she terminated her clinic’s 17-year business relationship with Nichols.
“My first reaction was, I was in a state of shock. She will not be called back to do any more care here,” said Brooks Ohman. “It’s grossly intolerable. Pictures don’t lie. My heart breaks for the animals in her care” at her home.
The clinic would call on Nichols to be a “fill-in contract veterinarian on an as-needed basis” like during vacations, she said. “There would be months where we wouldn’t need her services.”
Brooks Ohman vets her clinic staff and contractors through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, she said, to check veterinary-related licenses on an annual basis for any issues like complaints or disciplinary actions.
“Some of the stuff you read online just isn’t very accurate,” she said. “The licensing boards will investigate a complaint, if there is one, and follow through until there is a logical conclusion. Nobody saw this coming. Now, all of the appropriate actions are being taken and everything is going to be followed through on.”
About Nichols, “the fact that a practicing, licensed veterinarian caused so much suffering to her own animals is extremely concerning,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd in a press release. “We hope from this point forward she is not allowed to own or treat any more animals.”
According to a law enforcement report, both Nichols and Smith were released from Polk County Jail after posting bond. The surviving animals are being housed at PCSO facilities, pending custody hearings as the two suspects are petitioning the court to retain ownership.
This is not Nichols’ first brush with the law, however. On February 6, 2005, PCSO records show that Nichols, then 53, was arrested on a felony charge of “aggravated abuse of a disabled adult.”
In a February 8, 2005 news story published by the Orlando Sentinel, Polk County detectives say the charge resulted from Nichols striking and wounding her mentally disabled brother, then 48, locking him out of their home at night and refusing to let him eat when he didn’t do his chores.
The newspaper quoted law enforcement officials who said the brother “had swollen ears, scratches on his cheeks and jaw, bruises throughout his body, and a cut on his forearm that had been stapled.”
The Sentinel story also said the brother reported to detectives that his sister had “struck him with a metal broom handle and cut his arm. Nichols was able to clean the laceration and staple the wound because of her veterinary background.”
According to the article, the brother also told detectives Nichols wanted him to clean up after her 40 dogs and that if he didn’t do his “chores” properly, his sister wouldn’t feed him and would lock the refrigerator.
The news story quoted detectives as saying that, at the time, Nichols was a contract veterinarian for local animal hospitals.