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Sheriff chastises critics, says he won't rush 'Shelter Paws' investigation

Posted: 7:58 PM, Oct 30, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-31 08:22:12-04

We showed them to you earlier this month. There were 53 dogs at Shelter Paws in Mesa. Some appeared emaciated. Some were lying in their own waste when the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office raided the facility. One of the dogs died.

Now, that same group of animals is in MCSO's Maricopa Animal Safe Haven or MASH. Animals housed there are cared for by female prisoners and MCSO detention officers. They appear healthier, though some are still extremely thin.

"We found 14 dogs were tied to the owner of that facility," Sheriff Paul Penzone said in a news conference Tuesday.

It's been an emotionally charged case. Penzone chastised critics of his deputies. Some people  protested outside the sheriff's office just days ago, saying some of the dogs were at Shelter Paws for temporary boarding and training and have owners who can't get any answers from MCSO. 

"When they (the dogs) are evidence, we are not permitted to release them until the courts deem otherwise," Penzone said. "They stay in our custody because they are our responsibility."

Some protesters also asked why the case hasn't been given to the county attorney's office for prosecution.

"Although they are animals with a heartbeat, they are also evidence in a case and in a crime," Penzone said.

Penzone said the investigation is complicated. His office must determine if any of the animals were neglected before they were taken to Shelter Paws. Penzone said the probe also involves evaluations from veterinarians, something that is time-consuming considering the sheer number of dogs. 

The shelter's owner Domenic Asprella is not charged at this point. Asprella spoke with ABC15 when he opened Shelter Paws in May. He said his mission was to save dogs that were close to being euthanized.

We reached him by phone on Tuesday. He declined to talk about the case, only saying he will talk with us soon. Sheriff Penzone could not give a timeline for when his office would hand the case over to the Maricopa County Attorney for possible prosecution.