PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) -- The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office may have to return grant money that was supposed to be used to help abused animals.
In early 2019, PetSmart Charities committed to providing $2 million to help Sheriff Paul Penzone fulfill his vision for a new Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Animal Safe Haven unit. Some of the funding has not been spent, and the agreement with PetSmart Charities is about to expire.
The current MASH unit is in an old downtown Phoenix jail. Right now more than 80 dogs and cats seized from criminal investigations are being housed at MASH where they will be rehabbed and ultimately adopted out. The animals are kept in modified jail cells.
Though PetSmart Charities committed $2 million, MCSO began its work with almost a million dollars from the grant. Penzone tells Arizona’s Family the grant disbursements were supposed to keep coming as long as MCSO kept up fundraising efforts.
Penzone says the pandemic halted those efforts. “None of us expected to have a pandemic,” says Penzone. “For me, I made what I believe to be the responsible decision. It would have been inappropriate over the course of the last nine months to go and ask major corporations for dollars to build this new facility understanding they’re probably laying people off.”
Last week the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved the return of nearly $375,000 of unspent grant money. Penzone says, so far, PetSmart has not asked for the money to be returned.
PetSmart Charities sent a statement to Arizona’s Family saying it understands “the impact the pandemic has had on the nonprofit community and the fundraising challenges generated as a result of it.” The charity says when a grantee is unable to meet the terms of the grant agreement, “we may require unused funds to be returned so they may be reinvested back into the community.”
Based on rough estimates, deputies seized at least 400 animals in February, including dogs, cats, alpacas, miniature horses, donkeys, zebras and more.
Despite challenges related to the MASH unit, animal crimes investigations continue. According to records from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, MCSO has referred 26 of the most severe animal crimes cases for felony prosecution over the last two years. Some of those cases are awaiting trial.
The dream of a new state-of-the art home for abused animals will have to wait. Penzone says the timing is “not right yet.”
Arizona’s Family reached out to Jerry Sheridan, a former MCSO official running against Penzone for sheriff. Sheridan sent this statement:
Law enforcement must take the investigation of animal cruelty and neglect seriously. Caring for the animals that have been victims of these crimes will be a priority of my administration once I become sheriff.
Full PetSmart Charities statement:
We understand the impact the pandemic has had on the nonprofit community and the fundraising challenges generated as a result of it. As part of our standard grant agreement, we require grantees to provide regular updates on their progress. In instances where a grantee may not be able to meet the terms of the grant agreement, we may require unused funds to be returned so they may be reinvested back into the community.