Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s MASH unit

In Adoption, Protection and Safety by LindaLeave a Comment

When you adopt from MASH, you will have your photo taken in front of this mural by Gina Ribaudo.

When you adopt from MASH, you will have your photo taken in front of this mural by Gina Ribaudo.

Exactly what is the MASH unit?


Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known around most of the country as the world’s toughest sheriff, is also known for Tent City, bologna sandwiches (now Vegan fare), chain gangs, and pink underwear.  But, few people, including the residents of Maricopa County where he and his deputies protect and serve, know little or nothing about his Maricopa Animal Safe Haven unit, affectionately known as MASH.

In a nutshell, the MASH unit is for animals who have been rescued from hoarding situations, saved from neglect and abuse, or confiscated during drug and other criminals raids.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of touring the MASH unit with some of my fellow animal advocates.  Many of my friends wanted to know what MASH was when I told them about the upcoming tour.  I was a bit surprised at the question, but then I take for granted that everyone knows about MASH.

I first became aware of MASH after working for many years at PACC911 adoption events, yet there is a whole population of Phoenicians who’ve never heard of the place.

The building that houses the MASH unit sits unobtrusively across the walkway from the Federal Courthouse at First Avenue and Madison, in the former First Avenue jailhouse.   First opened in 1962, the First Avenue jail was in use until the end of 1999 when it was shut down, since it was considered undesirable and uninhabitable for humans.

Around that same time, Sheriff Joe formed a special posse for the sole purpose of investigating animal cruelty.  He knew the old, empty jail would be just right for confiscated animals, and the MASH unit was born!


Murals the MASH unit

Some bunks were removed in each cell and the place was spruced up with colorful paint and mural drawings.  Most of the animals have a windowless cell all to themselves, and others share the space.  Despite the fact that not a single animal who lives at MASH has done anything wrong, their days are long in the cells.

There is a dog park of sorts on the roof of the building, where many dogs are taken to stretch their legs and play ball with the inmates.  Also, many criminal attorneys, judges, prosecutors, and others who work at the court building across the walkway, volunteer to walk the dogs during their lunch breaks, so they do get out of the building from time to time.


Roof top dog park at the MASH unit

The animals are treated with great kindness and are taken care of every day by the inmates who are transported back and forth from Tent City.  They feed the animals and clean the cages during their 10-12 hour shift.  That sounds like a long day, but two of the inmates I spoke with said they love caring for the animals.  It gives them something meaningful to do as they serve their sentences, and it makes them feel good.  Plus, they get to pet the kitties and play with the dogs.  It’s a win-win for everyone!

Oftentimes, the effect of caring for these animals ends up having unanticipated and very optimistic results on the inmates.  I heard about a female inmate who was so positively affected by her time at MASH that she had gone on to a Veterinary Technical College upon her release.  And another story about a withdrawn man with a very tough and seemingly impenetrable shell, who slowly blossomed while caring for an abused horse.

Since MASH is a no-kill facility, many animals spend year after year in their cages.  Some are there as evidence in criminal cases, and they can’t be put up for adoption until the case has concluded.  Others, though they are loving and wonderful animals who would make great family pets, wait for their forever homes; possibly because so few people know they’re there.  That is why I decided to write about MASH.


Adoptable dog at the MASH unit

Read more about MASH.  Find out how you can adopt a dog, cat, or horse.

You can donate much needed food and money, too.

Spread the word!



To read about MASH from other sources, click on the links below.–or-life-sentence/18356845/


Leave a Comment