A Lakeland nurse is facing three counts of animal cruelty after deputies say she purposely poisoned a neighbor’s two pet cats and their pregnant Chihuahua, which also killed the 8 puppies in the dog’s womb.

According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, the investigation began when the animal’s owners called authorities after their two cats, Pancake and Luna died within hours of each other. The victims said that both cats had the same symptoms, which included choking, unable to breathe, foaming from the mouth, and in obvious significant pain. 

Sheriff Judd says about four hours later, they could not find their pregnant Chihuahua named Daisy and began looking around the house for her. When they found Daisy, she, and the puppies in her womb, were dead. 

The victims told deputies that their neighbor 51-year-old Tamesha Knighten of North Davis Avenue in Lakeland, who is a licensed practical nurse working for United Health Care at Wellmed in Lakeland, had repeatedly threatened to poison their pets if the pets came into her yard, according to Sheriff Judd. 

READ: 82-year-old woman 36 animals rescued from Polk County home in animal cruelty case: PCSO

On the day that the pets died, Sheriff Judd said the couple noticed Knighten pacing in her yard along the shared fence line. Judd stated that Kighten had also yelled at the victims’ children that day, who were outside playing ball. The victims asked her not to yell at their kids. They said Knighten was also outside when they noticed their cat acting strangely in the yard, foaming at the mouth, and that Knighten said the cat must be choking on a frog.

While investigating what happened to the animals, detectives noticed video cameras in her yard and asked to see video from that day. 

READ: ‘Overwhelmed cat lady’ arrested after 309 animals seized from Polk County mobile home: Sheriff Judd

According to the sheriff, she showed them the video which showed her wearing a blue glove, holding a white Styrofoam bowl containing a white and brown substance. In the video she’s also talking to a relative and pointing at the neighbor’s yard.

Daisy and her eight puppies were fatally poisoned.

Daisy and her eight puppies were fatally poisoned.

“Why would you be wearing rubber gloves to handle the food that you just put out for the animals? Asked Sheriff Judd. “We asked if we would find any other substance in this chicken and she said, ‘Just my special seasoning.’ Well, her special seasoning was phorate.”

According to Sheriff Judd, samples from the white Styrofoam bowl of chicken laced with what Knighted described as her “special seasoning,” of the pets’ tissues taken during their necropsies, and of the ant bait, were sent to the University of Florida and analyzed by that school’s veterinary pathology department, as well as labs at Texas A&M University and Michigan State University. 

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According to PCSO, the chemical analysis confirmed that the pets had ingested phorate, a pesticide found in insecticides, which matched the sample from the laced canned chicken in the bowl, and doctors stated that phorate would have caused the animals to suffer. The ant bait was not present in any of the animals.

Tamesha Kighten mugshot courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

Tamesha Kighten mugshot courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. 

“Why do you do this? There’s no excuse for this. None. Zero. There are other ways to deal with conflict even if you are upset about the cats and the dog, but at the end of the day she chose to do a criminal act,” Sheriff Judd stated. 

In addition to the three counts of animal cruelty, Kighten has also been charged with one count of depositing poison in a public area. 

Tamesha Knighten’s criminal history includes an arrest in September 2013 for aggravated battery (domestic) with a deadly weapon. 

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