Police detective turned Las Vegas zookeeper Pat Dingle dies at 71

Updated March 2, 2018 - 8:24 pm

Pat Dingle capped his career as a North Las Vegas police detective by helping to catch a serial killer. Then he operated what everyone knew as the Las Vegas zoo on Rancho Drive for more than three decades.

The almost-lifelong valley resident died Feb. 15 after a long battle with cancer. He was 71.

Dingle was born April 25, 1947, in Alhambra, California. He moved to Las Vegas with his family in 1961 and attended Western High School before taking a job on the loading dock at Anderson Dairy. Though still too young to drive, drink alcohol or gamble, he used to ride his motorcycle to Binion’s Horseshoe to cash his paychecks from the dairy.

Dingle enlisted in the Navy in 1964 and served in Vietnam. After the service, he returned to Nevada and joined the North Las Vegas Police Department, where he made detective at age 23 and eventually became unit supervisor.

He cracked his biggest case in 1978, when he helped apprehend Michael Dee Mattson, a serial rapist and murderer who died on California’s death row in 2009.

Dingle was still working as a detective when he began collecting exotic parrots. His menagerie soon outgrew his apartment, so he opened a pet store near downtown Las Vegas.

He met his future wife, Muffye, when she came into the store with her two small children, Jenny and Jake. A month later, he retired from police work.

When his business outgrew its storefront, he and Muffye leased a 1.5-acre property on Rancho Drive near Vegas Drive with plans to open the largest bird store in Las Vegas.

‘Hobby that got carried away’

The operation caught the attention of officials from the San Diego Zoo, who encouraged Dingle to build exhibits for rare and endangered species.

So began the Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park, a place Dingle would describe decades later as a classic case of “a hobby that got carried away.”

“It was interesting for sure,” said Dingle’s daughter, Jenny Douridas, who spent her childhood around wild animals. “It was probably the best upbringing a child could have, especially in this town.”

The no-frills zoo survived for 33 years on admission receipts, gift shop sales and the occasional donation. Douridas said her parents poured their lives into the place. “For 30 out of 33 years they were in business, he never took home a paycheck,” she said of Dingle.

At one time or another, they cared for more than 150 different species of animals, including African lions, Barbary apes, chimpanzees, flamingos, ostriches, emus, wallabies, eagles, rare Madagascar fossas and a sickly mountain lion cub rescued by a hunter from a road near Ely and relayed south to Dingle by a daisy chain of law enforcement officers.

The spartan, 1.25-acre attraction also saw its share of trouble, from occasional protests from animal rights advocates to a laundry list of minor violations uncovered by wildlife and workplace safety inspectors.

But the zoo filled a void in the valley, operating for years as Las Vegas’ only exotic animal attraction not housed at a casino. By Dingle’s count, more than 1.3 million people visited the place before it closed for good in September 2013.

A short time after he shut the doors, Dingle told longtime Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith about his plans for several boxes containing the cremated remains of animals that had died at the zoo over three decades. “Those ashes?” the detective-turned-zookeeper said. “They’ll be mixed with mine.”

Dingle is survived by his wife, Muffye; daughter, Jenny Douridas; stepson, Jake Landers; grandchildren, Joshua Douridas, Taylor Douridas and Emily Douridas; his sisters, Gail Martin, Sharon Geyer and Kim Dingle; and his dog, Wiley.

Services will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to be made to Doctors Without Borders.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week.
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Star Trek fans on show’s enduring popularity
Star Trek fans at the Star Trek Convention 2018 talk about why they think the show has stayed popular across the years Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Nonprofit provides clothing for homeless
Sydney Grover of Can You Spare A Story?, talks about how she founded the non-profit organization. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Camp Broadway teaches kids how to sing and dance
The Smith Center's seventh annual Camp Broadway musical theater program gives 150 kids ages 6-17 an opportunity to learn musical theater skills from industry professionals over a five-day period. Marcus Villagran/ Las Vegas Review-Journal @brokejournalist
Restoring classic Corvettes to perfection
Members of the National Corvette Restorers Society Convention talk about what it takes to earn the NCRS Top Flight Award for a restored Corvette at South Point in Las Vegas on Tuesday July 17, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
'NO H8' Campaign comes to Las Vegas
Hundreds of locals participate in the NO H8 campaign founded by Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley as a response to Proposition 8, a California ban on same-sex marriage. The campaign has since evolved to represent equal treatment for all. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Star Wars and Golden Knights mashup at downtown art shop
Star Wars and Vegas Golden Knights fans attend the Boba Fett Golden Knight Paint Class at The Bubblegum Gallery in Las Vegas, Friday, June 29, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Clark County recount votes in commission’s District E primary
Clark County staff begin the recount requested by candidate Marco Hernandez in the democratic primary for the County Commission's District E seat on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Long-running local hip hop producer wants Vegas rappers to shine
Las Vegas Hip Hop producer and co-owner of Digital Insight Recording Studios Tiger Stylz reflects on 30 years of music production in the city. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
"Pawn Stars" fans visit Richard Harrison's memorial at Gold & Silver Pawn
"Pawn Stars" fans from around the world visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas following the passing of Richard "Old Man" Harrison on Monday, June 25, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Construction for new 51s ballpark underway
New home of the Las Vegas 51s is planned to be finished by March 2019 in Summerlin according to team president Don Logan. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like