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1947 - 2018 Obituary Condolences Gallery

In Loving Memory of
Pat Dingle

April 25, 1947 ~
February 15, 2018

Pat Dingle, the longtime Las Vegas Zoo director and former North Las Vegas police homicide detective who balanced his life with harrowing adventure and a devotion to his community, died February 15, 2018, after a long battle with cancer. He was 71.
Pat faced life's travails with a smile even on the most difficult days. After being diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer, he didn't despair. Instead Pat laughed at the odds and said, "I wouldn't have it any other way. I always wanted to be special." With wife, Muffye, at his side, he fought bravely and displayed a sense of humor as rare as the disease.
Born on April 25,1947 in Alhambra, California, as a boy Pat was known for his work ethic, his disdain for bullies, and his disinterest in school. His junior high football career ended when he knocked an opposing player's tooth out in a post-game fistfight. He delivered newspapers, mowed lawns, and worked at a carwash.
At 14, he moved in 1961 with his family to Las Vegas, where he attended Western High sporadically before taking a job at Anderson Dairy unloading trucks on the loading dock. He rode his motorcycle to work and proudly cashed his paychecks at Binion's Horseshoe, where the drinks and smokes were free. As he would later recall in John L. Smith's 2014 book, "Vegas Voices, "I was 15 and living large. Of course, I didn't act ignorant in the casino, or they would have kicked my ass out."
On a day off from the dairy in 1964, Pat rode his motorcycle to the U.S. Navy recruitment office and enlisted in the service. He was 17 and assigned to the USS Yorktown and the operations intelligence division as a radarman. He spent his 18th, 19th and 20th birthdays in the Vietnam combat zone as part of the Navy's effort to rescue American plots shot down by the enemy.
In Long Beach during an overdue crew liberty, Pat returned to Las Vegas and learned that a former girlfriend had been caught up as a user in the local heroin subculture. With help from his brother Marlon, a Las Vegas police officer, Pat was recruited to work undercover to develop evidence detectives could use to bust a drug ring at a time another law enforcement informant had been shotgunned to death. It was dangerous work with blurred lines of loyalty: One of the police detectives was Joe Blasko, was later revealed to be associated with the Chicago mob.
While working undercover, Pat fell in love with detective work but almost didn't live to tell about it. A drug dealers he was investigating discovered his identity and set him up to be murdered. He sniffed out the setup, loaned the drug dealer his car to buy a little time, and contacted the detectives he was working with. He managed to turn the tables on the heroin ring.
When sheriff's deputies and Las Vegas detectives went on a search for Pat's vehicle, it was later found near a crash pad that the "gophers" used. They had also found the snitch, breaking into another vehicle and arrested him. When they asked the snitch who's car he was driving, he replied, "You know. It's that cop, Dingle." Later, the detectives raided the heroin shooting gallery and made sweeping arrests. Pat's instincts had proved correct and he had walked away from being murdered.
After the allotted month had passed, Pat returned to Long Beach and the Yorktown, but by then he's really developed a taste for police work. He was soon recruited by the Office of Naval Intelligence to work narcotics in Southern California. He spent the remainder of 1967 working cases in that area before returning to his ship.
During the Yorktown's final tour in 1968, Pat was part of a crew that attempted to provide assistance to the USS Pueblo after its capture by North Korea. They were harrowing times he experienced before he was old enough to vote.
Several months after returning to Las Vegas, Pat joined the North Las Vegas Police Department. He spent the next couple of years dodging bullets and making arrests. It was an exciting time to be a cop, but Pat kept his eye on making detective, an accomplishment he achieved at 23. In subsequent years, he won promotions until he made supervisor. Throughout his career, he worked a lot of high profile cases, including the capture of a rapist and serial killer that would be the highlight of the two decades he spent with the North Las Vegas department.
Near the end of his career, Pat had received a call at 1 a.m. on a kidnap/rape. Through a delicate interview with the victim, he was able to get a good description of a serial killer. At 5 a.m., he drove out to the crime scene and found a car with California plates that had been left in the abandoned parking lot. Pat had dispatch put out an "attempt to locate" to all Western states for one Michael Dee Mattson.
It turned out that Mattson had committed several kidnap/rapes and murders of little girls in southern California. The next day, Pat received a call from the Ely Sheriff, stating that he had found the victim's car on the side of the road, just inside the county line. Pat then placed a call to the sheriff of the next town of any size. The sheriff told him that he knew an older couple who owned a home just outside of town. On a hunch, he visited the older couple and asked them if they knew Michael Mattson. They replied, "He's our grandson. What did he do now?" The sheriff then proceeded to take Mattson in to custody at gunpoint, then called Pat.
The next day, Pat and his partner, Bob King drove up to Ely and took Mattson into custody for the kidnap/rape in Las Vegas. He was booked into a single cell in the Las Vegas jail. The detectives' interrogation uncovered Mattson's connection to a string of violent sex crimes in Southern California. Mattson was given a trial in Las Vegas, where he pled guilty to five homicides and several kidnappings. He received double life sentences without parole in Nevada. He was then transported to California where he stood trial for his crimes there. He was sentenced to death row at San Quentin.
Birds were another passion in Pat's life, and he became known as a keeper of exotic parrots. The menagerie quickly outgrew his apartment and he four a half-acre property near downtown on which he built commercial aviaries. When a small strip mall opened not far away, Pat signed a 2-year lease for a store and with a friend helping out while he continued his detective work. On one of Pat's days off from the detective bureau, he was working in his bird store. In walked a lady named Muffye and her two small children, Jenny and Jake. They never left. Within a month, Pat retired as a detective.
Hiring Muffye to run his bird store, "For the Birds," was a wise decision. The store prospered and soon outgrew its location. That's when Pat found a property on Rancho Drive. It was 1.5 acres with a careworn building constructed in the 1940s, but to him it had real possibilities.
He bought the property and moved "For the Birds" at the end of his 2-year lease. It was to be the biggest bird store in Las Vegas. The property had a fenced area that ran from the building to the street then back West, making a large compound.
Pat's devotion to the birds caught the attention of officials from the San Diego Zoo, who encouraged him to build exhibits to house rare and endangered species. And the Las Vegas Zoological Park was born. In time, following the advice of other zoo officials, Pat acquired a fine collection of exotic animals. A generation of public school children and members of the public were drawn to his diminutive zoo.
In the mid 90's, Pat started a zoo program called "Desert Eco-Tours." Locals and tourists booked escorted trips with a variety of destinations ranging from rock hounding and gem collecting to ghost town visits, and nature sightseeing in remote parts of Clark County. Pat was among the first to take visitors to the border of Area 51.
Pat and Muffye decided to close the zoo in 2013 after 33 years and 1.5 million visitors. Their little place put smiles on the faces of a generation of Southern Nevada schoolchildren. Before turning out the lights for the last time, they found homes at zoos around the country -- including their beloved San Diego Zoo -- for every animal in the park.
In a 2014 interview Pat observed, "I'm like countless thousands of others who want a large zoo for Las Vegas and are amazed at the lack of foundation interest. With all the money in this town, you'd think people with money would think enough of the community to invest in it by creating a world-class zoo. But they haven't. I will say this for us, we have no debt. We have no unpaid bills. ... We made it happen."
During his lifetime Pat was able to visit coastal waters or lands such as N. Vietnam. S. Vietnam, Bangkok, Thailand, Japan, Okinawa, Philippines, Belize, Guatemala, Paris, Mexico (as an investigator), Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon. Paris was a brief visit, as Pat was on his way to Beirut, Lebanon where he was the first American ever allowed into the Hezbollah military district, surrounded by two dozen armed militia. During Pat's time in that part of the world, he also went to Syria, where he was rudely kicked out at gunpoint.
His greatest adventure was spending his life with his beloved Muffye and his zoo animals.
"Knowing I'm going to cash in not too far down the road here, I'm like Ol' Blue Eyes," Pat recalled. "I can honestly say I did it my way. Not necessarily in the manner I would have liked, but I did it my way. And it's true. The Navy, the police department, the zoo. Everything.
"How many people can say that?"
Pat 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 are private, In lieu of flowers, a donation to Doctors Without Borders would be greatly appreciated.
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