During my recent #PitBullFlowerPower trip to Phoenix, Arizona, I visited the MASH Unit and photographed some of their adoptable dogs – including some long-timers who have been there for several years! The MASH Unit is a very unique shelter, hosting animals who have been the victims of severe cases of neglect and abuse, most of which are on “court hold”, seized as evidence when their owners are charged with a crime. If the animals are not signed over by their owners, they can end up sitting as live evidence for months or years, before the MASH Unit actually gains ownership of them and is able to place them up for adoption. To say the Unit deals with difficult cases is an understatement: from hoarding situations, puppy mills, to the worst cases of animal abuse, the list is long and terrifying.
The particularity of the MASH Unit is that the shelter is actually a 30-year-old jail that previously held inmates, but was closed in 1999 and transformed into an animal shelter instead, and it is run as an inmate program by the office of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa county.
Under the supervision of highly trained officers (who also have dog training experience), inmates care for the animals, while they serve their own sentences. At MASH, the inmates learn valuable skills, about 20 different classes ranging from animal care to the diseases that animals can get, and quarantine statuses, grooming, training, an outstanding example of TJC program (or Transition from Jail to Community), and a very successful one, too. Currently, one of the MASH Unit’s inmate is going through a dog training class to get one of their dogs the good canine citizen award. She is being the direct handler of that dog. This is a first for the Unit, but they are certainly hoping she won’t be the last. The duo inmate/dog has made a huge impact on each other, both parties learning skills while recovering. The MASH Unit also does lots of community outreach, through events, or when they have county attorneys spend their lunch break opposite the courthouse, walking some of MASH's dogs...
I had the privilege to spend a day with the MASH Unit photographing some of their adoptable dogs, and to chat with Officers Keeney and Sibole about the wonderful work they do there, and witnessed how much pride they take in their mission. Not just for the dogs, but for the humans too: “MASH is an inmate program. It is not just for the animals’ rehabilitation but also the inmates’. We see a lot of healing for the inmates too, here. They get to come and receive individual responsibilities. Some inmates are crying when it’s time for them to leave”.
We also talked about the plea of pit bulls in Arizona, the devastating effects of BSL (Breed Specific Legislation) and the portraying of pit bulls in the media. The MASH Unit used to host Mickey, a highly publicized dog I was able to meet and photograph during this trip too.
If you would like to see more about the work the MASH Unit does, follow their Facebook page, and click here for a great video about the work of the MASH Unit and the inmates (the video is not by me).
Meet the doggies I photographed that day! Many of them wore flowers, I'll post the results on my Instagram. Most of these doggies are still waiting for homes, so please contact the MASH Unit for more info: 102 W Madison St, Phoenix, Arizona, (602) 876-1212.
Also, please consider a donation to support the outstanding work the MASH Unit is doing, both for the animals and the inmates themselves. They welcome donations to care for the animals on this page. They also have an Amazon Wishlist.