PHOENIX -- Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is hoping dog lovers will open their homes to pit bulls that have been "doing time" in his jail.
Arpaio is reaching out to the community to adopt animals that are behind bars as a result of their owners being arrested on animal cruelty violations. He added that the owners often do far less time in jail than their pets.
Arpaio says a full-figured 78-pound pit bull named Queenie is his toughest adoption case yet.
The average pre-trial inmate sits in Arpaio's jail for seven days while the sentenced inmate's average is 25 days. But Queenie, whose only crime is that she loves people and not other dogs, has spent the best part of her youth staring at the four walls of her lone jail cell.
For 49 dog years she has waited patiently for the only friends she has in the world -- some female inmates and an occasional visit from the sheriff himself -- to visit, feed or play with her.
Queenie was rescued by the sheriff's animal cruelty unit in August 2003 as a result of a cruelty/neglect case out of Queen Creek. Queenie's owner left her and his other dogs unfed and without water for more than a week while he vacationed out of state.
The dogs' owner was arrested and charged with animal cruelty and neglect, spending 20 hours in jail before a judge released him without bond. Meanwhile, Queenie has been waiting seven long years for someone to invite her to live in a real home with a real family.
"I can't understand why we haven't found her a home," Arpaio said. "I realize she's not a celebrity dog like those we confiscated from the rapper Earl Simmons, aka DMX. Those dogs were more easily adopted. But Queenie is a good dog who deserves a good home. I hate to think of her spending the rest of her life behind bars even though it's true, she's never complained, issued a grievance or filed a lawsuit."
Queenie is one of more than 200 dogs, cats, horses and pigs living behind bars today. Since Arpaio opened the MASH (Maricopa County Animal Safe House) unit 10 years ago, more than 1,500 animals have been incarcerated, usually for years at a time.
Arpaio says most of the animals live a good life in his jails -- eating well, getting exercise and proper grooming -- all work done by inmates. And many of those inmates have benefited from the animals by getting work in the pet care industry upon the inmate's release from jail.
But because Arpaio's jail is a no-kill animal shelter, pets like Queenie can be there an awfully long time.
Since opening day, the sheriff's MASH unit has operated almost completely on donations and not on taxpayer money. With fewer people adopting from the MASH unit, Arpaio is looking to creative ways to reduce the population of his adoptable animals.
"We are now actively seeking adoption homes outside the Phoenix-Metro area," Arpaio said. "When we find homes far way, we may team up with long-haul truckers who will take the animals to their new homes. Or if the adopter is somewhere in Arizona, my inmate transportation vans or airplanes, which normally travel throughout the state picking up and dropping off inmates to various jails or prisons, will take the animal to its new residence. I run a no-kill animal shelter and I intend to keep it that way."
For more information on adopting a "canine inmate," call 602-876-1212.