A new kind of pet store that features rescued dogs and cats rather than purebred puppies and kittens will have its grand opening inside Chandler Fashion Center this weekend.

PetMatch is a unique partnership between PetSmart Charities, the Arizona Animal Welfare League (AAWL) and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), and Macerich, the parent company of Westcor, which owns Chandler Fashion Center and many other malls across the Valley. The store looks and feels very similar to the previous tenant, Puppies N’ Love, but instead of puppies and kittens there are dogs and cats of all ages and breeds on the other side of the shop’s windows. The animals are all local rescues from AAWL.

Macerich made the decision not to renew leases with pet stores in December of 2011. Since that time local rescue groups have been working behind the scenes to open their own adoption centers inside those empty spaces. Jessica Alderman, assistant manager of PetMatch, said it took time to find the right business model, employees and volunteers for the store, but that they were able to open in November of 2012. Now, the store is ready to host a grand opening and officially introduce itself to the community.

“The best part is how receptive the community has been,” Alderman said. “People come in and they are just so happy. They make it a point to tell us how excited they are to have us here. They really want to support this.”

The grand opening will be tomorrow, Feb. 16, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Sunday, Feb. 17, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at PetMatch inside Chandler Fashion Center, 3111 W. Chandler Blvd. The store is located near Dillard’s on the second floor.

During the grand opening there will be crafts for kids to do and all adoptions during that time will come with a free goody bag of toys, food samples, treats and a clicker for training.

There have already been 348 adoptions from the center since its opening. Patti DuBois, director of shelter operations for AAWL, said that number is pretty consistent with the amount of adoptions AAWL sees from its shelter, but that the adoption numbers have been more consistent than the shelter. At PetMatch they have seen about 25 adoptions a week while at the shelter it’s more sporadic. AAWL is projecting the PetMatch Adoption Center to increase its adoptions annually by 1,200. PetMatch has a record of 14 adoptions in one day, which happened on Black Friday.

DuBois said the animals on display at PetMatch are the same ones they have in the shelter. In the store they’re restricted by size so customers will only see small adult dogs and puppies, but all of the animals AAWL puts up for adoption are spayed or neutered, recent on all shots, microchipped and have completed a behavior analysis.

The pets all come with 30-day pet insurance through the AAWL clinic and the AAWL will take back any of their animals for life if for some reason the adoption doesn’t work out. AAWL also has trained adoption counselors on hand to help people find the perfect pet.

“I think one of the best things about the possibility of this store is to make it so rescue doesn’t seem like they are broken dogs,” DuBois said. “You get to come in here and get to see them in an environment you are familiar with. It’s a rescue dog. It hasn’t had a home. It’s been sitting at a county facility, but here it is and it’s cute and the public can go, ‘Wow.’ It’s a fantastic way to change the perception and help people realize that rescue dogs are great.”

AAWL recently expanded its shelter at 25 N. 40th St. in Phoenix. It is the state’s oldest and largest no-kill animal shelter. The campus in Phoenix also provides comprehensive humane education programs and a clinic providing low-cost veterinary services.

For more information, go to www.aawl.org or call (602) 273-6852, ext. 116 for dogs, or ext. 103 for cats.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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