In addition to the tangible goal of finding homes for on-site pets, these retailbased animal lovefests have some unexpected, high-impact benefits. In the case of MCSPCA and HSN, the mall sites increase adoptions at the main shelters, helping adult and larger dogs find homes as well. Many of the people who stop by don’t know that adoption exists as an option. The insight that it does often motivates them to head over to the shelter; some even volunteer or become donors. La Torre says that a few folks have come to the mall site thinking they want a puppy, but after speaking with an adoption counselor, realize that an older dog would be a better fit and go to the main shelter to meet some. Even a single drop-in visit at the Freehold Center can lead to a discussion of broader animal welfare issues.
“One of the best things about the setup is that we are educating the public,” says La Torre. “People come in saying they want to ‘buy’ a puppy, and that opens the door to talking about adoption and where our puppies come from and why they need our help. It’s almost as if you can see a light bulb going off in their heads.”
This isn’t the outcome the naysayers were expecting. Not only did the move into retail inspire dire predictions from people who thought that a mall-based location would knock the main shelter off the map, but many pessimists expected that the return rate of mallbased adoptions would be sky high.
“People were telling us that there would be a lot of impulse buying, but we actually have fewer returns from the Coastland site than we do from the main shelter,” said Simonik. “People worried that our donations would dry up if the shelter profile was lowered, but now we have many more donors because so many more people know about us. It’s 100 percent positive feedback.”
Even at the mall, potential adopters are subject to the same requirements they would face at most shelters or through most rescue organizations. These typically involve questionnaires, reference checks and either proof of home ownership or written permission from a landlord to have a pet.
After being approved as adopters, Limongelli and Drummond took Tibet home. Intrigued by his origins, they have since educated themselves about the terrible situation for abandoned animals in Puerto Rico and have connected with All Sato Rescue, the group that originally saved Tibet from the streets. “It has been a wonderful experience and we appreciate all of the people who work so hard to find these animals homes,” says Limongelli. “Tibet is the most loving dog we have ever met—he is the perfect addition to our family.”