Malls push animal adoption centers over pet stores

A tiny white and orange kitten was found locked in a portable file case, underweight and covered with fleas. He was just 13 weeks old. Veterinarians could only guess how long he had been trapped.

The kitten, now named Dynamite, bounced around his crate last week at the Arizona Humane Society Petique at Biltmore Fashion Park, waiting to be taken to his new home.

Evenice Montoya and girlfriend Elise Howell had spent months looking for the perfect kitten to rescue, and they finally had found him.

“He just caught my attention,” Montoya said.

Cats like Dynamite and dogs like 11-week-old Ralphy, a stray found by the Humane Society, increasingly are finding their owners in local malls and retail centers. Macerich, parent company of one of metro Phoenix’s major mall operators, is phasing out traditional live-animal pet stores in favor of animal-welfare adoption centers.

Under a policy adopted last year, Santa Monica, Calif.-based Macerich, which owns 71 shopping centers, including the Westcor malls in the Valley, will not renew the leases for any pet stores that sell live animals.

The policy reflects national shifts in public opinion regarding pet buying, and could benefit rescued animals and the agencies that tend to them.

New policy

In recent years, investigations by the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have linked a number of U.S. pet stores to puppy mills, commercial dog-breeding operations that raise animals in squalid conditions without proper care.

Activists across the country have spent years fighting to crack down on the inhumane practice.

In 2010, the West Hollywood City Council in California voted to ban pet stores that sell any live animals unless those stores sell rescued animals or animals bred in humane conditions. The city grandfathered in current pet stores to allow them time to adjust.

Macerich went a step further, forbidding the sale of live animals in pet stores. Instead, only adoption centers with rescued animals are allowed to operate in its malls nationwide.

“Our focus is now directed to working with local pet-rescue organizations in our communities and pet-accessory retailers to serve the needs of our shoppers,” said Melissa Rupp, assistant marketing manager at Macerich-owned SanTan Village in Gilbert.

The trend toward adoption centers, which had begun in some Arizona retail locations even before Macerich changed its policy, has accelerated.

Many large retailers, such as Phoenix-based PetSmart and Petco, already operate adoption programs in their stores in coordination with animal-welfare organizations. PetSmart, for example, reports the adoptions of more than 5 million cats and dogs since 1994.

Many other stores in the industry have advocated for a change in adoption practices as well. According to the Humane Society of the United States, 1,700 pet stores across the country have signed its “Pet Friendly Pledge” not to sell puppies in their stores. Fifty-three of those locations are in Arizona.

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