Lost Our Home Pet Foundation

Volunteer caretaker Jeff Frick is shown with Maverick, a dog surrendered from a military serviceman, at the Lost Our Home Pet Foundation's rescue shelter in northeast Phoenix Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011.

Tim Hacker/Tribune

Shoppers at Phoenix area malls may start seeing dogs and cats of all ages and breeds inside the windows of pet stores, and rescue groups say it's a great thing.

Macerich, the parent company of Westcor, which owns many of the malls in the Phoenix metropolitan area, has announced a plan to not renew leases with pet stores and, instead, allow animal rescue groups to move in and showcase local animals up for adoption.

While Macerich representatives say details of the idea are still being discussed, local rescue groups are excited about the idea.

"There are close to 90,000 homeless animals just in Maricopa County alone sitting in shelters or rescue groups waiting to be adopted," said Aprille Hollis of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. "There's so many animals already here that need homes, it really doesn't make sense to go to a pet store where a lot of those animals were brought in from out of state. We love the fact that so many shopping centers are letting more rescue groups in. It's good to see that turn."

Hollis says in February they were contacted by Metro Center Mall and offered a space that a pet store was leaving. With help from donations from PetSmart Charities they've been able to turn it into their own store front with 40 to 50 animals ready for adoption. From February to September of this year Hollis says more than 470 animals were adopted from that facility.

"I cannot tell you how many people have told me before that coming to the shelter is scary," Hollis said. "If us being outside of the shelter environment helps someone who wouldn't normally go to a shelter come to us, it's absolutely wonderful."

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Tammy Teeter, co-owner of Wiggles and Wags Pet Resort in Tempe, says in their experience they've seen the same thing. People are afraid to adopt a dog simply because they are afraid to enter the shelter environment. She and her husband, Howard, have worked with many rescue groups in the area and they've had the chance to see stores run by rescue groups thrive.

"The stores we've seen look very much like a normal pet store but they have a variety of ages and breeds," Tammy said. "I think a lot of times people complain to us that they would adopt from a shelter but it's just heartbreaking for them to see the conditions that the dogs are in. It's just too sad. I think having it in a strip mall gives people some comfort to go into a nice place to find their potential house pet. I think it has been successful for that reason alone."

The Teeters say a movement like this, promoting adoption over breeding, also helps control the creation of puppy mills, where dogs are bred continually in unsanitary conditions. Tammy once helped locate and end a puppy mill in Georgia with 40 Australian Shepherds stacked in crates in an unfinished barn. The puppies that survived had skin problems from the unsanitary conditions they had been living in.

"If you don't run the checks and balances on the dogs generation after generation really ugly things happen," Howard said. "Some of those include internal parasites, hip dysplasia, genetic deficiencies, behavior problems and all kinds of hereditary problems. There are lots of horror stories out there about things that happen."

Monkia Sperke, shelter operations director for the Arizona Animal Welfare League, said they haven't heard yet which groups will get space inside the malls but that any extra space for adoption is a great thing.

"It's such a positive move in the right direction," Sperke said. "It sends a wonderful message to our community. The opportunity to save more lives is first and foremost. The fact that we, as animal welfare groups, can reach a whole new segment of the population to show what animal groups are doing is wonderful."

Animal Kingdom and Puppies N Love are two pet stores being run by the same company in malls in the East Valley. Frank Mineo III says his family has been running pet stores in the Valley for over 30 years.

"The decision made by Macerich not to allow pet stores to sell puppies in any of their malls had nothing to do with our company," Mineo said. "It was a corporate decision that was made at the corporate level and affects all 70 of their malls nationwide. We are currently in negotiations with Macerich to launch a new concept where we offer adoptions at a couple of our locations as soon as the first of the year."

Currently, stores being run by rescue groups can be found at the Biltmore Fashion Center, and Desert Sky Mall. Superstition Springs Center, Fiesta Mall, SanTan Village, Chandler Fashion Center and many more malls in the Valley are owned by Westcor.

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

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