In the Southern Nevada business community, local government code inspection horror stories are like … noses — everybody has one. But what the Roos-N-More zoo in Moapa has gone through over the past month is enough to give even the most resilient entrepreneur nightmares.
Since 2008, husband-and-wife veterinarians Jay and Valerie Holt have hosted private tours of their rural property and allowed the public to enjoy their nearly 400 animals a few days each month. Roos-N-More is a unique zoo experience for those willing to drive 55 miles north of Las Vegas. There are no dangerous predators, so most of the animals share open enclosures. There are camels, llamas, a zebra and, of course, the namesake kangaroos. The nonprofit has brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.
Clark County shut it down. Although the zoo was issued special-use permits in 2009 and 2011, a single anonymous complaint against the zoo led to an inspection in September. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean, trucks full of inspectors from code enforcement, the building department and the Southern Nevada Health District arrived at the zoo Jan. 10 and closed it.
This wasn’t an animal welfare issue. Roos-N-More (www.roosnmore.org) is licensed by the federal government and accredited with the Zoological Association of America, and the animals are in great health. No, this was a bathroom issue.
The Holts provided portable toilets for their visitors and allowed them to enter a building that used to be the family home. The county has ordered the Holts to install an expensive commercial septic system and flush toilets. And they can’t allow visitors inside the building anymore unless it is upgraded to commercial standards. That isn’t cheap, either.
Last week, the county allowed Roos-N-More to reopen to private tours, but prohibited the zoo from reopening to the general public until the new bathrooms are built. And the portable toilets must be replaced by a trailer-style modular bathroom within a month.
The good news in this story is that, thanks to news coverage of its plight, Roos-N-More has received an outpouring of public support and nice start to the fundraising necessary to reopen the zoo to the public. The bad news is the loss of income and the new costs the Holts must endure while paying for the care for their beloved animals, and the fact that the public will be without any kind of zoo for some time. Last year, after years of struggles and controversies, the spartan Southern Nevada Zoological Park on Rancho Drive was shut down.
This regulatory overkill begs a few questions. If people are still allowed on the site, what difference does it make if they’re part of a scheduled, private group or if they drive up unannounced? If the portable toilets that have sufficed for five years are such a big problem, why can they remain for 30 more days? And if such a compromise to keep the zoo open was always possible, why did the county shut down the zoo in the first place?
County agencies have plenty of experience with heavy-handed crackdowns on feel-good enterprises. Recall that back in 2011, a health district inspector tried to break up a farm-to-fork dinner in Overton by ordering locally grown produce and locally raised meats doused in bleach and thrown in the trash. Never mind that everyone at the dinner wanted to eat that food precisely because it didn’t come from a government-approved agricultural plant.
Similarly, patrons of Roos-N-More don’t expect the amenities and hygiene of a Strip megaresort. They choose to visit a place where large mammals leave huge piles of poop. What the zoo has endured is arbitrary and stupid.
Yes, many codes and regulations are important to public safety. But, in enforcing those codes and regulations, there has to be room for common sense. Considering taxpaying companies struggle mightily to support themselves and the well-paid inspectors intent on crushing them, perhaps a little flexibility is in order, too.
That didn’t happen with Moapa’s roos. For that, the county deserves a hearty round of boos.