By Mark Waite
The Nye County Planning Department is recommending approval of Karl Mitchell’s request for a conditional use permit for an animal sanctuary for tigers at 6061 N. Woodchips Rd., which is up for consideration at the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission meeting today.
The planning department said the Nye County Code allows special conditions for animals and animal sanctuaries in a rural homestead zone with minimum 4.5 acre lots. The property owner is Ray “The Flagman” Mielzynski, the parcel is 20 acres.
The planning department report said Nye County Animal Control inspected the premises and found the property to be secure.
In a brief facility inspection March 29, Animal Control Officer Tim McCarty wrote: “during my visit I found Mr. Mitchell’s property to be secure and in accordance with current code, all animals appeared to be in an alert yet relaxed state of mind.”
Veterinarian Dr. Adam Hadland said he found no illness or neglect of the animals, with an environment above cleanliness standards.
Supporters wrote letters from Chula Vista, Calif., and Fairview, Tenn., backing Mitchell’s passion for his animals.
But Raymond and Rose Leach, of Phoenix, feel the sanctuary would have a negative impact on their vacant property down the street. They referred to the highly publicized incident last year where an exotic animal owner in Ohio committed suicide and let his wild animals run loose.
Walter Jervis, a property owner at 6101 N. Alanjay Ave., within the 300 foot notification area of the application, said: “does this imply that my property will be within an area that is now considered dangerous to children or pets? Will there be special provisions made to sequester the animals within the permit area that includes special fencing and noise abatement requirements? How does this affect the saleability of my property?”
Patsy Junker of Mesquite, who owns property at 5920 Acacia Ave., said the facility would depreciate her property so badly she could never sell it or live there.
McCarty said he’s been asked to attend the RPC meeting. McCarty said his inspection merely looked at the care and condition of the animals, along with public safety. McCarty said it would be easier if Mitchell had a conditional use permit and be under the authority of Nye County animal control than be a rogue.
The county zoning code requires animal sanctuaries to comply with all federal, state and county regulations; requires all animals to be treated in a humane manner; allows code compliance officers to enter the property when they have reason to believe the conditional use permit has been violated; requires the animals to be registered with Nye County Animal Control; requires permits from the Nevada Division of Wildlife or U.S. Department of Agriculture to be kept on file at the animal control office; and requires annual inspections by a national or regional organization or Nye County Animal Control.
The special conditions of approval require the sanctuary won’t be open to the public, with no exhibiting of animals on the premises. If that’s the case, Mitchell may want to update his Internet site for Big Cat Encounters. It advertises a “once in a lifetime, one-on-one personal encounter with one of the planet’s most powerful, precious and dangerous species.”
The advertisement was for Mitchell’s last compound with five acres of grassland on the south side of Pahrump. He listed eight tigers and a liger, a cross between a lion and tiger. The ad says visitors can pet the tigers, swim with them and romp with the baby tigers, who Mitchell said are as playful as kittens. He requested $500 donations for one person to interact with one of the tigers for an hour and $250 each for additional persons.
Mitchell was fined twice by the USDA for exhibiting animals without a license, in violation of the Animal Welfare Act, for $27,500 in May 2001 and $68,625 in September 2010. During the later hearing, Administrative Law Judge Victor Palmer fined Mitchell for exhibiting tigers without sufficient space and barriers and refusing to allow his facilities to be inspected. The judge said Mitchell failed on 12 occasions to obey two cease and desist orders previously entered against him.
Mitchell claimed his Big Cat Encounters, which he described as an animal rescue organization, was exempt as a non-profit corporation. The federal judge disagreed and said they were being shown for compensation.
Mitchell has shown his baby tigers to everyone from attendees at a Pahrump Valley Chamber of Commerce function in February 2009 to a celebrity Paris Hilton reality show that June.
In December 2009 the RPC denied Mitchell a permit to keep seven Bengal tigers on Manse Road, in front of 90 people in the crowd.
The Woodchips location appears to be more isolated.
If tonight’s meeting is a repeat of that RPC meeting, this last appearance featured supporters who talked about the unique experience of posing with tigers and workers who say they’ve never been injured. They were countered by neighbors who were afraid of their safety. Mitchell was criticized for inadequate fencing at that meeting, the RPC also received a petition with 87 signatures from Escapees Co-op RV Park opposing the conditional use permit.
In September 2010, Mitchell ended up in Pahrump Justice Court fighting eviction from a property on Homestead Road, just north of Terrible’s Lakeside Casino filed by Desert World Realty.
Still further back in history, Mitchell won a contract to operate the county animal control department in October 2000 after animal advocates were afraid the contract would go to an out-of-town company, Dewey Animal Care Center. But county commissioners repealed the contract eight months later, after Mitchell was arrested three times in one month.
Nine charges were dismissed against him, involving theft of animals and possession of a controlled substance. But Mitchell was eventually convicted in the theft of a GMC Suburban and accusations he stole $40,000 in three checks after he stopped operating the county animal control program. He served over two years in prison from July 2004 to September 2006.
While in prison, his exotic animals were seized and taken to an animal sanctuary in Texas.