Sheriff Joe Arpaio Has Soft Heart for Pets



Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, AZ, puts animals in jail — and he’s proud of it.

“I believed from the start that working with animals softens hardened criminal types,” says the man who proudly touts himself as the nation’s toughest sheriff, in a conversation at the Business of Saving Lives animal welfare conference Feb. 5-7,in San Diego, CA,  hosted by the Helen Woodward Animal Center.

By law, animals in animal abuse and dogfighting cases are often required to be kept as evidence until a judge hears the case. At that point, in many communities, such animals are euthanized. Not in Arpaio’s jurisdiction. “These animals have done nothing wrong,” he says.

What’s more, as shelters and rescue groups struggle to find space when animals are confiscated from hoarders, Arpaio has literally opened the local jail for them, as well as animals held as evidence. Usually, their incarceration doesn’t last long, as most are adopted. While in jail, inmates help care for the dogs and cats inside, as well as horses living on the property.

In 1993, Arpaio’s moved prisoners from the jail into his now famous outdoor M-A-S-H units, literally living in a tent city. “It’s 130 degrees in the summer, and we don’t allow salt,” says Arpaio. The sheriff touts that he’s saved on the jail food budget by carefully restricting prisoners’ diets. For example, no meat is served, and no condiments. “I’m all about heath. Isn’t a vegetarian diet healthy?” he asks, smiling wryly.

By law, TV must be offered to prisoners, but the law doesn’t dictate what prisoners can watch. Arpaio limits their viewing.

“I am the TV Guide,” he says. “They can watch the Weather Channel, (so) they know when it’s going to be over 100 degrees; the Food Channel, (so) they can salivate about what they don’t have, and C-Span; I believe watching all those politicians talk non-stop is the best kind of torture.” Prisoners can only watch G-rated movies. Arpaio’s favorites: “Lassie Come Home” and “Old Yeller.”

Soon after prisoners moved into the tents, the critters took over the jail. There are now about 100 dogs and 80 cats, with about 50 more cats on the way, the result of a recent hoarding case. The pets eat quality food, they have toys, dogs are exercised on a rooftop deck and in the yard, and the animals live in air-conditioned comfort.

“Some (have) said the animals have it better than people in my jail,” says Arpaio, smiling. “Well, the dogs and cats are innocent. The people are there for a reason.”

He continues, “I’m a warm-hearted guy, no matter what the media says. Some prisoners drew a heart (on a wall) and (wrote) Joe’s Cat House (in the heart).”

What Arpaio hasn’t done is to study the rate of repeat crimes (recidivism) among the prisoners who work with the animals vs. those who don’t. Anecdotally, he notes that most prisoners build confidence, take their animal care responsibilities seriously, and may even build a sense compassion through the experience.

A new focus of Arpaio’s is arresting people participating in the crime of bestiality. “I take this stuff seriously,” he says. “Again, the animals are victims.”

Arpaio says this activity is advertised on Craig’s List. Using standard undercover police techniques, he’s caught and arrested seven individuals since 2012. “These aren’t the scum of the earth; they’re professional, sophisticated people doing this,” Arpaio says. He’s written to the CEO of Craig’s List to ask for cooperation, but hasn’t received a reply.

Arpaio says he does right by the animals because “it’s the right thing to do,” but concedes it can be frustrating when other public officials don’t support those efforts, and the U.S. judicial system doesn’t take these crimes seriously. “They (judges) say there’s no room in the jails. Well, I will find the room,” he says.

At 82, Arpaio is planning yet another run for the office he’s held since 1992. “I worry (that) when I go away from office, my programs will shut down, and there will be nowhere else for these animals.”

Arpaio is wearing a tie with the image of a revolver pointed at the person talking with him. Is he really as tough as his image suggests? Arpaio scrunches up his face and just stares before answering, “What do you think?”

©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency