prison animal programs
Jails & prisons are instituting more animal care programs


As animal populations grow, facilities for unwanted pets in need grow with it. Authorities in central Arizona recognized that fact and did something about it by creating MASH, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Animal Safety Unit program in Phoenix. Housed in what was formerly the men’s incarceration unit, the program puts inmates in charge of the care of animals rescued from abusive and neglectful situations.

Prison Animal Care Programs

Using animals as a means for rehabilitating prisoners is not a new concept. It’s been going on for quite sometime in California and other places, although predominantly with male inmates taking part in the programs. Arizona’s MASH will be staffed with female detainees as part of a 30-day program where six days a week they’ll care for cats, dogs and horses, which will be housed there until adoptions can be arranged for the unwanted pets.

Horses often end up being rescued from neglect

Therapeutic Outlet

The facility is as much a therapeutic outlet for the animals as it is for the prisoners. The frightened creatures get to leave the shelters that had no room for them, anyway, and the prisoners get to experience the unconditional love animals give so freely. The end result is both receive the kind of attention they need while learning to trust again. But not just anyone can take part in it. The women are put through a thorough interview and screening process before being accepted and must work alongside animal professionals.

Rewarding Work

There are huge rewards to this kind of work for everyone involved. Kristina Hazelett, one of the detainees involved in the program, told REUTERS, “I get so much out of it, probably more than the dogs do. It’s very therapeutic for me as well, not just them, which was an unexpected, pleasant surprise.” Working alongside vet techs will also give the women needed skills that they can then use on the outside, once they’re released. It’s really a win-win situation.

prison animal programs
A life behind bars

Rescue Animals

Often times, neglected or abused pets require time to adjust before they’re ready to be adopted. Without this adjustment period, many of them would be returned to shelters only to be traumatized again. In order to make the former men’s ward more animal friendly, the area has undergone a playful transformation with the cells converted into individual dog suites with fun names attached such as Ruff Road, 2nd Chance, Purr Lane and Bow Wow Way.


Programs like these can always use additional funding. If you support the idea, check to see if there are similar programs in your state you can sponsor or contribute to.