By Niki D’Andrea
On Wednesday, October 15, the Tempe Improv will host “Sheriff Joe’s Pink Collar Comedy Night,” an annual fundraiser to benefit Arpaio's Maricopa Animal Safe Hospice unit. Arpaio’s made much of his MASH unit over the past four years, and the mainstream press has portrayed him as an animal rights hero. But things are seldom as they seem with Joe, whose MCSO itself has been leveled with accusations of animal cruelty and who refuses to provide documentation of where certain Sheriff's Office funds are going, including funds raised for MASH.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Animal rights hero, or hypocrite?
Arpaio’s MASH unit is a great program, in theory: Abused and neglected animals of all kinds are housed in an air-conditioned jail and cared for by inmates (who live in non-air conditioned tents, naturally). There are two MASH units, staffed by 24 female inmates, eight to 10 male inmates, and 18 MCSO officers who volunteer for the animal-care jobs. "Non-evidence" animals are available for adoption.
MASH is Arpaio's main publicity gimmick aimed at painting himself as animal-rights hero. But he’s also done a couple of other things regarding animals to burnish his image: supporting Proposition 204 in 2006, which essentially provides better conditions for farm animals, and filing animal cruelty charges against Chandler Police Sergeant Tom Lovejoy, whose K9, Bandit, perished in the heat in the back of his squad car.
The latter backfired on Arpaio, when Lovejoy was found not guilty of the animal cruelty charges, and filed a $350,000 claim against Arpaio, alleging “malicious prosecution” (that lawsuit is still pending). Lovejoy told abc15.com that Arpaio prosecuted him as a PR stunt to gain votes before the election.
It wouldn’t be the first time Arpaio’s been accused of pursuing an animal-cruelty case for some glowing press. In August of 2007, the MCSO raided the Cave Creek home of rapper DMX and seized 12 pitbulls that were described as emaciated and in poor condition. Arpaio arrested DMX on animal cruelty charges in May. But DMX’s attorney, Murray Richman, told efluxmedia.com, “I think that the animal cruelty is not going to be able to be established, and I think that this is Sheriff Joe’s moment.”
Of course, Arpaio denies he’s pursuing these kinds of cases to gain favor with the public and garner votes, just as he denies that three dogs have died in the custody of MCSO handlers since 2000 because of heat prostration and lack of proper veterinary care. Arpaio stated there was no plan to investigate those deaths.
For someone who claims to be a champion of animal rights, ignoring the deaths of three canines in the care of his own department is hypocritical. But perhaps the best (or worst, given the nature of what happened) example of Arpaio’s hypocritical stance on animal rights happened in July 2004.
As detailed in the story “Dog Day Afternoon” by former New Times staff writer John Dougherty, the MCSO raided a home in Ahwatukee, launching tear gas canisters into the house that subsequently caught fire. When the owners’ 10-month old pitbull puppy came running out, deputies were said by witnesses to have driven the dog back into the blazing structure, and laughed at the owners’ distress while the dog burned to death.
Trisha Golden digs her dead dog out from the debris of her burned home, courtesy of the MCSO. (photo by Justin Delfino)
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In addition to Arpaio’s dubious animal-rights records, there is also a question of where, exactly, the funds raised for MASH are going.
Arpaio’s been lauded in the media for his cost-effective budget for the shelter: he uses an empty jail (deemed “unsuitable” for inmates) to keep the animals, he has several veterinarians under contract who offer discounted services, and 24-hour animal care is provided by the tent-dwelling inmates, who receive 28 cents an hour. The department also accepts donations and charges fees for adopted animals.
So what happened to the $85,000 the Pink Collar Comedy event raised last year? It’s hard to say, since Arpaio refuses to release public records on this and other money-making ventures within the MCSO (including pink underwear sales).
Tickets for this year’s Pink Collar event cost $30 each, and Arpaio will be counting on Phoenix voters to show up and shell out. Let’s just hope the money goes toward its intended purpose, or at the very least, that Joe drops his ruse as animal-rights champion. Not bloody likely, though, with the election right around the corner.