- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio is known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” but he has a secret that not many people outside Arizona know: He loves little critters, like puppies and kittens.

Honored for his humanitarian efforts by the Humane Society of the United States, he also received the lifetime achievement award from the nonprofit group In Defense of Animals for his work encouraging police agencies nationwide to take more seriously the crimes of animal cruelty.

He puts animal abusers in jail instead of giving them citations.

The sheriff even has dedicated an air-conditioned jail solely as a sanctuary for dogs, cats and other animals that have been removed by his deputies from abusive and neglectful homes. He began a training program for some of his female inmates to learn how to care for, groom and train those very animals.

So you might imagine how disappointed he was when President Becky Barnes of Guide Dog Users Inc. (GDUI) booted him as the keynote speaker for its July national convention in Phoenix because of his tough stance on immigration enforcement and the state’s pending immigration law.

“This group says it isn’t involved in politics. Well, clearly they are,” Sheriff Arpaio said. “The local group, Arizona Council of the Blind, petitioned the national board to have me removed, and for what, because they don’t want me to enforce Arizona’s immigration laws? They are out of step with our citizenry; shame on them.”

Ms. Barnes told The Washington Times that shortly after the Arizona law was enacted, members of Guide Dog Users of Arizona began expressing concerns about the invitation based on their view of Sheriff Arpaio’s policies and perceived concerns over security at the event.

She said the invitation to the sheriff “was not political in nature at all, and it is too bad that politics were injected into the situation with the outcome we have now.”

“We are a democratic organization, and I acted at the direction of my board of directors,” she said. “It was a very close vote, and I suspect there would have been anger and disappointment no matter the outcome of that vote.”

According to GDUI’s national coordinator, Cecilia Warren, the national board called an emergency meeting after it had been lobbied for five weeks to remove Sheriff Arpaio from the speakers roster.

The lobbying began, she said, one day after Arizona’s immigration legislation known as S.B. 1070 was signed into law, with several e-mails sent to Ms. Warren from members of the Arizona chapter. She said the national board then voted 6-5 against and Sheriff Arpaio’s invitation was retracted.

“It is unfortunate that this organization, which stands for a noble cause, has to be put in a position like this because of the politics involved in the enforcement of illegal immigration laws,” the sheriff said.

Several national conventions scheduled to be held in Arizona have pulled the plug since Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the legislation. In the case of GDUI’s national convention, instead of boycotting Arizona, the group singled out Sheriff Arpaio personally because of his local and national reputation for enforcing immigration laws.

Sheriff Arpaio had been scheduled to give the keynote speech in front of more than 200 participants on July 14.

GDUI is an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind and was organized as a registered 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization incorporated in Washington, D.C., in 1972. It has 19 affiliate organizations throughout the U.S. and boasts a membership total of 1,100.