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Animal rights groups appeal tigers permit ruling

Several nationally recognized animal rights groups are appealing the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission’s decision to grant a conditional use permit to Ray “The Flagman” Mielzynski’s property this week.

The northside site is home to 10 endangered tigers owned by local residents Kayla and Karl Mitchell.

Two weeks ago, the planning commission voted 4-3 in favor of the conditional use permit with special conditions.

Among them, the facility cannot publicly exhibit the tigers, while efforts must be made to allow for regular visits to the property by Nye County Animal Control officers to ensure the animals are healthy and secure. A bladed access road to the facility was also a condition.

The appeal was brought about by the Animal Legal Defense Fund; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); Lions, Tigers & Bears Sanctuary; Keepers of the Wild Sanctuary and Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary.

The groups want the Nye County commissioners to nullify the planning commission’s Nov. 12 decision.

Their reasoning, according to the appeal document, is based on the facility, Big Cat Encounters’ ongoing and illegal exhibition and interstate transport of the tigers, without a U.S. Department of Agriculture exhibitor’s license.

“The Mitchells have played fast and loose with the law for long enough,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Instead of acting in the best interest of the cats they use as entertainment props, they continue to defy federal laws and a local court order meant to keep the animals and community safe. ALDF is calling upon Nye County commissioners to reject the Mitchells’ latest attempt to circumvent the law and overturn the permit that the RPC improperly issued.”

This week, Mielzynski did not seem fazed by the revelation.

“They want the commissioners to reverse what the Regional Planning Commission said was okay,” he said. “I don’t believe PETA has the right to appeal this decision. I think the only person who could appeal this decision would be anybody who was denied the permit and that’s my understanding. We do have some support from at least two of the commissioners.”

Commissioner Frank Carbone said he and fellow commissioners are taking a wait-and-see position.

“People can send whatever they want from outside the county,” he said. “The district attorney will inform us if they have the right or not.”

Commissioner Donna Cox expressed the same sentiment while noting she does not support outside agencies attempting to force their agendas on local entities.

“We have an unalienable right to the free enjoyment of life, liberties and property and from the harassment of others,” the commissioner said. “The RPC has spoken, and their opinion will stand with me. It is not our job to be enforcing the federal law. If the feds have a problem with the Mitchells, then they can settle it in the federal court. Apparently these outside agencies and organizations only have a bitch with no real facts or I am sure they would have them in that court. Instead, they are trying to take a free ride on Nye County. This land is our land.”

Responding to a request for comment, Nye County District Attorney Angela Bello said on Wednesday, “Our ordinance does not clearly delineate who can appeal an RPC ruling but past practice has been to interpret it broadly,” she noted. “The appeal will be heard by the board of county commissioners in the next 60 days.”

Stated in the appeal document to Nye County commissioners, Legislative Counsel Carney Anne Nassar, Esq., for the Animal Legal Defense Fund stated the RPC’s decision was improper for several reasons, including the alleged ‘ongoing,’ ‘illegal exhibition’ and interstate transport of big cats by the Mitchells without a valid U.S. Department of Agriculture exhibitor’s license.

“The Mitchells are violating the federal Animal Welfare Act by continuing to exhibit tigers more than 10 years after the USDA revoked the AWA exhibitor license for Karl Mitchell and Big Cat Encounters,” the document stated in part.

Additionally, Nassar contends the Mitchells violated the law by transporting a tiger purchased from an animal handler in Oklahoma.

“Indeed Kayla Mitchell admitted as much during the Nov. 12, 2015 RPC hearing and boldly discloses their improper interstate transport on her public Facebook page.”

A check on social media revealed the post in question was made Oct. 30, 2015.

Mitchell, however, stands by her comments made at the hearing, stating that she does not exhibit the tigers at the site and she has also applied for nonprofit status.

“I just applied for a 501 c3 this week,” she said. “I’m not required to have a USDA license because I’m not exhibiting or open to the public. I can post anything I want on my social media. The pictures of Karl and other famous people were done before we moved to that property. None of those people have been to that property.”

The appeal document concluded with a recommendation that the four animal rights group are prepared to take custody of the cats, if commissioners decide to override the RPC’s decision, as Nevada is one of six states at present which does not regulate the private ownership of inherently dangerous animals.

“They stand ready to help rehome the ten tigers and recently-born cub to reputable, true sanctuaries where they will have vast, naturalistic habitats and won’t be used as props for public handling and other public exhibitions.”

Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at sharris@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @sharrispvt

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