The MASH Story

The MCSO Animal Safe Haven (MASH) Unit was created in 2000 by Sheriff Arpaio to provide support to the MCSO Animal Crimes Investigation (ACI) Unit and care for the abused and neglected animals seized in their investigations.

MASH actually came about as a result of an investigation in 1998 in Ahwatukee where a number of cats had been mutilated purportedly as a part of a pagan ritual. The cruelty of those cat mutilations inspired Sheriff Arpaio to bring animal cruelty to the forefront of public awareness.

MASH operates primarily as live evidence holding for animal abuse and cruelty cases, but doubles as a no-kill facility for victimized animals seized as evidence in animal crimes.

In addition to providing a “Safe Haven” to the animals, MASH provides inmates an opportunity to improve responsibility and nurturing skills, gain vocational skills in the pet industry and help train and address the inmates’ needs in areas of personal growth, parenting, cognitive restructuring, behavior modification, job readiness and community linkages.

Only sentenced female inmates care for these rescued dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals. Inmates are rigorously screened before they can work at MASH. Detention Officers and Animal Care Technicians review each inmate’s background to ensure she has never been arrested for violent behavior or any crimes against animals. Following that, each inmate is interviewed by MASH staff to attain work history, interest, and knowledge.

Once selected, inmates are required to work six days a week, eight hours each day cleaning, feeding, exercising, training, and socializing the animals. Inmates are supervised and directed by trained MCSO staff. In addition, inmates are trained to be keenly watchful for specific animal behaviors that may indicate illness, injury or aggression.

MASH recently began a new program called the Human Animal Interaction Program. Once a dog is deemed healthy and social, in great part due to the efforts and training by the female inmates, Detention Officers take the animals to Maricopa County jail facilities to interact with other inmates.

Program participants have observed a comforting effect for many inmates who react to these animal visits with compassion and ease. A special interest is given to our Veteran population, many of whom have experienced various levels of trauma. The presence of the dogs seems to provide a “calmer” climate and allows for some “normalcy” in the lives of these inmates.

Sheriff Arpaio and his team of officers and animal care technicians who run the MASH unit and its programs take special pride in this effort. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office remains the only law enforcement agency which rescues, houses, nurtures emotionally and physically each animal back to health, and then adopts them out to responsible owners. Together, they all feel that MASH not only aids in the well-being of the animals, but the inmate as well. As much as Sheriff Arpaio believes our sentenced inmates must pay for their crimes, he also believes they must be given the opportunity to better themselves in order to return to their communities as more responsible, accountable, and productive people.

MCSO has made some relatable observations since the inception of MASH. As you can imagine, these abused animals have much in common with inmates, as many have also been abused. This creates a mutual understanding and respect between the two. Many inmates in Tent City come from very difficult backgrounds. Some haven’t known much human compassion. Through the work with the animals and over time, a transformation can be seen among these inmates. The unconditional love they receive from the animal, coupled with the responsibility and trust they are given by the jail staff, seems to help many inmates see value in themselves. They have a sense of accomplishment and pride after winning the trust of a dog or when they succeed in teaching tricks and commands. It is not just a sense of accomplishment inmates feel, they also recognize how important and impactful their roles have been by helping fearful, shy dogs become happy, healthy, more trusting, and eventually adoptable. Without the inmates’ help, adoptions would be far less likely.

Since MASH opened its doors in 2000, thousands of rescued animals have been adopted and hundreds of inmates have been trained.

To see current domestic animals which are available for adoption, visit us on Facebook at “Sheriff Joe’s MASH Unit”

For Horses and livestock

Sheriff Arpaio’s MASH and Animal Cruelty Investigation units continue to carry out the Sheriff’s directives and certainly welcome public and corporate donations to continue this noble effort.

Donations can be made by visiting our website at:

Or mailing a tax deductible check payable to “MCSO MASH Unit”:
201 South Fourth Ave
Phoenix, AZ 85003