MASH Unit a Safe Place – Interview with Sheriff Joe Arpaio

by Tanya Ruth

1569 Mickey 009The MASH Unit, was created to house and care for animals that have been abused or neglected by their caretakers and rescued by the Animal Crimes Investigations Unit. The purpose of the shelter is to provide a safe, healthy and healing place for these animals, who must await the outcome of their owners’ cruelty cases in court. Hopefully, their ultimate outcome will be adoption into loving, permanent homes. I myself have gained great inspiration from Sheriff Joe Arpiao for his efforts to help animals and change laws here in Arizona for animal cruelty cases.

I had the opportunity and the great honor to interview Sheriff Joe Arpaio regarding his no-kill animal shelter. Sgt. Adrianne Epperson, MASH Unit Supervisor, was also at the interview.

AZLOCAL: Did you have animals when you were growing up?

SJA: Yes I had a dog that lasted for 18 years and he was hit by a car. He used to follow me to school, wait for me and then come back home. His name was Pepper.

AZLOCAL: Do you have a favorite animal?

SJA: Well, I have to politically correct, so all animals, but let me just say this to you, I’ve always had dogs. In Turkey, Mexico, all over the world, my dogs have followed me. So you get the idea I kind of lean towards dogs.

AZLOCAL: Do you have pets now?

SJA: I have a lot of pets that are in jail in the MASH Unit, but personally, right now I don’t. I’ve been married 58 years and you can get the idea that my wife and I are not young and she just can’t get out to walk a dog plus we have security issues that prevent it at this time. When I leave office if the threat situation isn’t there where I can take care of a dog then I’d consider it. I don’t believe in having animals if you can’t take care of them.

AZLOCAL: What was the defining moment when you knew you had to fight for animal rights?

SJA: It happened about 12 years ago in Phoenix where they had a rash of killings of cats, drinking their blood and all that. I remember going to a big community meeting where there were 500 people who were angry and no one seemed to be doing anything about it so that triggered me into forming a special detective unit made up of about 6 investigators. At the same time we needed a place to house the abused animals and we had a jail that was already closed due to needing repairs so we used that and formed the MASH Unit. Dogs and cats are housed at the First Avenue Jail, located at First Avenue and Madison Street in Phoenix which was no longer suitable for housing inmates, but looks like paradise to the four-footed victims that call it home.

AZLOCAL: How many animals have gone through the MASH Unit since its inception?

SJA: I haven’t counted every one but thousands have, maybe 3,000.

mash-inmate-dogAZLOCAL: How many inmates are working in the Unit?

SJA: We usually have 6-8 depending on the availability. They all volunteer. I like this program because it gives the prisoners a chance to get to love the animals and since it’s a two way street it’s a bigger picture than just having workers come in an take care of the animals.

Psychologically it’s good to give inmates the chance to connect with the animals and then when they get out they are better citizens and it offers them work experience at the same time. We hope that we can find jobs in that industry when they get out.

AZLOCAL: How many officers are working in the unit and how do they get assigned to MASH?

SJA: We have 6 officers that supervise the inmates. They all volunteer and they must submit a memorandum of interest and of course they are interviewed by the supervisor. This is a very important program so we want to make sure that the officers love animals too. And they have to be on the job for 2 years, we don’t put brand new detention officers in the unit. We do give preference to those officers who have animal experience and have a weapons certification.

AZLOCAL: Inmates help socialize and care for the animals at the MASH Unit, but why animals with inmates? Where did the idea come from?

SJA: It makes common sense and this is just one of many programs we have. We have drug and alcohol prevention and other great rehabilitation programs. The great thing is that we aren’t paying for it. When the inmates buy a coke at the canteen or make a phone call and we get money back, those funds go to those special programs.

kato-inmateAZLOCAL: Is there anything that inmates can’t do with the animals?

SJA: Well, usually we don’t let the inmates walk the dogs outside. We don’t want them in their black and white stripes walking down the streets with the dog. We have volunteers dog walkers do that so people in the community can see the dogs and will want to adopt them.

AZLOCAL: How does an inmate qualify to come to the Unit to work with the animals?

SJA: Of course we are very careful about who we pick to work with the animals. We don’t allow anyone with a violent record, domestic violence, abuse, animal cruelty, etc. work in the unit.

AZLOCAL: How many pets are housed at the MASH Unit?

SJA: Around 260 currently.

AZLOCAL: Do you only take animals from animal cruelty cases into MASH?

SJA: Normally yes, unless there are extenuating circumstance. One reason we keep the animals is for evidence. We’ve had a flood of puppies coming in from cases involving hoarding. We have about 165 dogs right now, 91 cats and a couple of rabbits too. We’ll take anything. Plus the horses are in the tents and are taken care of by the men. Our female inmates take care of the animals in the MASH Unit.

AZLOCAL: If you could change any law on the books regarding the treatment of animals what would it be and why?

SJA: I don’t like any law that is too weak. We need to push tougher laws on animal abuse. In 2006 we went to the legislature to get the bestiality law passed. We did. And if you remember, just last week we arrested a guy from Philadelphia for that crime.

AZLOCAL: What kind of shelter is MASH?

SJA: We are a no-kill shelter. I refuse to euthanize, we don’t believe in it. That’s why we have to keep fighting for the adoption program. Our goal is to get the animals into a nice home. We had a dog in the MASH Unit for 8 1/2 years before she was adopted. So, we’ll keep them for life if we have to.

AZLOCAL: What is one of your most memorable success stories with the animals?

Well, Queenie was there for 8 1/2 years as I just said, but my personal story I will never forget was outside the jail. Way out in the hills of Istanbul Turkey. When I was a federal agent in charge of the DEA in Turkey the Ambassador gave me a little dog and I already had the French Bulldog following me around the world but here I had another dog and I wasn’t able to keep him so I gave him to an employee at the embassy and he took the dog 60 miles into the hills of Turkey and 6 months later, on Christmas Eve, raining, there was a scratch on the door and there was the dog after 6 months. He found his way back to my house. A lot of people don’t believe that kind of thing, but I believe in Lassie come home stories because I experienced it.

banditAZLOCAL: We’ll be sharing the MASH Unit Facebook page. Can you tell our readers the handsome dog’s name on the cover photo and is he still available?

SAE: That dog is Bandit. He’s been with us since 2010 when he came in as part of a fighting ring case. He’s an 8 year old pit bull mix. He’s very lovable but he does have server arthritis. We are working really hard to get him fostered or adopted.

SJA: I really appreciate your interest because it really means a lot to get the message out for the general public to help us out.

AZLOCAL: Are there any events for the MASH Unit this year that you want the community to know about?

SAE: You can look at website to see of any events coming up at

AZLOCAL: Thank you both very much for taking the time to speak with us today. If readers want to adopt from the MASH Unit what should they do first.

SAE: Visit the MASH web page, or call us at: 602.876.9018.

Interested in adopting animals from the MCSO Animal Safe Haven? You must promise to treat your adopted animals with care and affection, and:

  • Provide adequate meals and water
  • Provide a safe environment
  • Check animals daily (including ears and toes) for anything harmful to them – like burrs, foxtails, ticks and fleas
  • Brush and bathe animals regularly, and keep their nails clipped
  • Use flea and tick prevention
  • Do not hit the animals, even with a rolled-up newspaper
  • Use praise and humane obedience training
  • Obey all leash laws
  • Return unwanted animals to a “no-kill” shelter, or to MASH

About Sgt Adrianne Epperson, Supervisor, MASH Unit

mash-supervisorSgt. Epperson had been with the Sheriff’s Office since September 2005, starting off as a detention officer working at the Lower Buckeye Jail. She’s worked with all classification of inmates, including remanded juveniles. She worked Central Intake as both an officer and a Sergeant. She also worked in the Jail Intelligence Division as both an officer and a Sergeant. Earlier this year she was transferred to the Custody Support Division, and took over as the MASH Supervisor in March and it’s been a whirlwind for her ever since.

MASH Unit a Safe Place – Interview with Sheriff Joe Arpaio

by Editor time to read: 8 min