Maricopa County MASH Unit pairs veteran inmates with abused dogs

MASH pairs abused dogs with veteran inmates at local prisons. (Photo by James Ulrich/Cronkite News)

Every Wednesday, the veteran inmates housed in Maricopa County’s Towers Jail get a treat. They get down on their knees to stroke, cuddle and hug the dogs – from chihuahua to pitbull mixes – staying in the MASH Unit.

It helps the inmates with post-traumatic stress disorder, officials said. And the dogs learn to cope with humans so they can one day be adopted.

MASH – Maricopa Animal Safe Haven – takes in abused and neglected animals seized from their prior owners through the Animal Crimes Investigations Unit. Sheriff Joe Arpaio instituted MASH 15 years ago, and the animals are now housed in an air-conditioned facility at First Avenue Jail until they’re ready for adoption.

Female inmates take care of the dogs. And now these male inmates can hang out with the canines in the veteran pods of the Towers Jail.

Bill McGowan served his country in the 1990s and developed PTSD, a neurological condition that has many side effects, including anger. McGowan said the Wednesday visits help him with his disorder.

“One of my problems is my temper with my PTSD, and they help me greatly be able to control that,” McGowan said of the dogs.

Research studies have shown that animal assisted therapy is an effective PTSD treatment.
“It brings you a little piece of reality being stuck in here,” McGowan said. “The dog helps me calm down. Helps me be able to cope with what I’m going through right now.”

The animals in this MASH Unit have lost trust in their owners as well as other humans, officials said.

“These dogs have been abused, so it’s a two-way street here,” Arpaio said. “Can’t ask for anything more than that.”

As for McGowan, he has plans for adoption once he serves his sentence.

“When I get back on the street and get my own place again, I’ll definitely have another pet,” McGowan said. “I’ll always have a pet. They love you unconditionally no matter what you did wrong.”

According to a news release, the county plans plan to have dogs visit all inmates with the exception of disciplinary pods.