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Sheriff's jailbirds to take care of dogs, cats

June 9th, 2005, 06:42 PM
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is giving some animals in the Valley a stay of execution.

Starting this week, a section of the old First Avenue Jail will house unwanted dogs and cats, many of which would otherwise be put to sleep at overcrowded local animal shelters. The goal is to find them all homes.


"The animals are victims that did nothing wrong," said Arpaio, a self-described animal lover.

On Wednesday, the first day of the program, the jail located at 120 S. First Ave. received 10 dogs from various shelters, and jail officials say there is space for between 250 and 300 dogs and cats.

Arpaio couldn't say how much the program will cost but said money would be taken from a jail education budget, since inmates staff the program. He said he plans to continue it at least through summer.

The First Avenue Jail housed inmates until it closed in 1999. The inmates were transferred to other jail facilities including Tent City, where convicted criminals and defendants awaiting trail are housed in outdoor tents.

The former jail is now used exclusively for Arpaio's animal program.

Dogs like "Frankie," a Dalmatian Labrador, live in refurbished jail cells that once housed dangerous criminals, complete with new paint and old mattresses once used by prisoners.

About 25 of Arpaio's inmates have volunteered to work with the 10 dogs and one cat, cleaning their cells and giving them $2 worth of meals per day donated by Wal-Mart.

One inmate, Linda Desmond, says that the program can help inmates "start a new life" in the animal-care industry after they're released.

"This is a lifesaver," says Nancy Swanner, founder of White German Shepherd Rescue, a local animal rescue agency. "It's puppy-dumping season, and everyone is getting rid of their pets. We get calls every single day, and we're simply full."

But Mary Rose Wilcox, the Maricopa County supervisor for District 5, criticizes the sheriff for turning a jail into an animal-control program.

"We can't create another animal control," said Wilcox, adding that people should be the "top priority."

Nicholas Hentoff, a civil rights attorney who has previously sued the county over jail conditions, goes further, saying that the sheriff labels all inmates as prisoners, regardless if they're not convicted and still await trial.

"He brings cruelty to new levels," Hentoff said.

Arpaio hopes that the animals, soothed by radios playing Beethoven, are placed in homes soon.

Anyone interested in adopting an animal or donating food should call (602) 876-1212.

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