The sale of purebred puppies in at least nine Phoenix area malls is about to end. The Arizona Republic reported in November that Macerich, the parent company of Westcor (the malls’ owner) will not renew existing pet store leases. Instead, shelters and/or animal rescues will be offered space to boost adoptions because pet overpopulation is such a huge problem in Maricopa County. In 2010, shelters took in 94,000 dogs and cats and euthanized 50,000. The rescue community wants that to change.
News of the closings delighted Aprille Hollis public information officer for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. “So many homeless animals in our county wait to be adopted,” Hollis says. “Any time or place that these animals can be highlighted is wonderful.”
For years national animal welfare organizations, such as the ASPCA and HSUS, rallied against mall pet stores because many deal with puppy mills, which range from backyard breeders to large scale operations that breed dogs around the cycle and force them to live in substandard, inhumane conditions.
For more than 30 years, Frank Mineo and his family operated pet stores in Phoenix. Mineo says he doesn’t deal with puppy mills. “We have a strict ‘do not buy’ list that we keep of breeders that we will not purchase from,” he says. Mineo is currently negotiating with Macerich about a new concept to work with rescue groups and shelters.
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Several local malls already offer shoppers the chance to adopt dogs and cats. The Arizona Humane Society operates adoption centers in the Biltmore Fashion Center and Desert Sky Mall. More than 1,500 pets have been adopted over the past two years, says Bretta Nelson, public relations manager. “These storefronts have truly expanded the walls of the Humane Society allowing us the opportunity to adopt out more animals,” Nelson adds. The county also opened an adoption center at Metro Center Mall in January 2011 and at least 775 pets found new homes since then.
Local businesses collaborate with the rescue community to advocate for pet adoptions. According to Bari Mears, president and founder of the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition, “PACC realizes the great value of engaging the local business community to help save animals.” Mears appreciates the support from financial services company KPMG and Ford dealer Earnhardt’s for hosting annual adoption events for the rescue community where dozens of pets are adopted.
There’s a slow but steady trend away from pet store puppies to adoption in other cities too. For example, Austin, Tex., and West Hollywood, Calif., recently banned the sale of pet store puppies. Pet stores closed in Longmont, Colo., and Sedalia, Mo. Concerned animal lovers regularly protest outside pet stores across the country, including Phoenix, to educate the public about the plight of puppy mills. Protesters started showing up outside Phoenix malls almost three years ago. They converge on a different mall each weekend weather permitting. But other cities seem unfazed over the outcry. Thousands of pet stores allegedly with links to puppy mills continue to operate.
Nelson says the Humane Society cannot thank Macerich enough for their partnership. “We recognize daily that we could not continue to save thousands of lives without their support and the support of the community.”
The pet story closures extend beyond Phoenix. Macerich announced it is banning pet store sales in 70 malls across the United States. Kimberly Hastings, spokeswoman for Macerich, declined to comment for this story.