AniMall, which had its opening weekend June 25 and 26, showcases animals from Triangle-area rescue agencies in a mall setting. It should not be confused with a pet store, however, because AniMall does not sell pets nor offer on-site adoptions. This policy defines what AniMall is about.
"Pet stores do not inform people about the realities of owning these animals, which contributes to them being abandoned," says Susan Schneck, executive director of All Creatures Rescue and Sanctuary. "AniMall's 'no same-day adoptions' policy breaks the cycle of impulse purchase of animals."
AniMall is a place for rescue agencies to showcase their pets in a non-retail setting, says Dan Richards, executive director of AniMall. After rescue groups sign up for times with Richards, they bring their animals into the store. Mall patrons interested in adopting a pet must complete an application and return it to the rescue agency in charge of the animal. Then, the rescue agencies interview the applicants, making sure that the pets will find good homes. This way, AniMall helps people avoid impulse pet buying, a practice that leads to pet overpopulation, hundreds of stray animals and, sadly, thousands of euthanized pets every year.
The AniMall store at Prime Outlets is not the first of its kind. The first store for nonprofit pet adoptions opened in Utah, and another followed in Winston-Salem. The idea soon crept onto the radar of a group of Triangle residents.
"There was no reason why we didn't have a store here," Richards says.
Local volunteers at rescue groups started to discuss opening a pet adoption center somewhere in the Triangle. Pet euthanasia is a problem in North Carolina; in the Triangle in 2003, county shelters euthanized 13,000 animals.
"Too many N.C. animals are being euthanized, and we felt there needed to be a way to bring adoptable animals to the public's attention," says Audie Schechter, an AniMall board member. "The time was right for an adoption center in the Triangle."
The next step was to find a location. Members of the AniMall project decided to try Prime Outlets of Morrisville due to its central Triangle location.
"Prime Outlets was our first choice, and they were kind enough to accept our proposal," Schechter says. "It was a good match!"
Prime Outlets, however, went further than just leasing AniMall a store. They donated the space rent-free. Each rescue group pays a small fee to showcase its animals, and that money helps pay for utilities and sanitation. AniMall also offers a selection of pet merchandise.
"We're a nonprofit business ... [so] any money from merchandise sales goes right back into [the store] to keep us going," Richards says.
Finally, all that AniMall needed to open was a lot of volunteer hours to take care of the busywork. For that, Richards gladly stepped in.
"[Dan] has spent countless hours doing all aspects of nonprofit management, from the paperwork and setup to working the register and mopping the floors," Schechter says. "He has done a magnificent job."
Local rescue groups are happily taking advantage of the opportunity that AniMall provides.
"The entire concept of AniMall was ... a godsend to me," says Schneck of All Creatures Rescue and Sanctuary. "The concept of a rescue-friendly indoor storefront was a perfect mesh with my rescue's needs."
Veronica Noechel, president of Raleigh Rodent Rescue, shares the same joy about AniMall's services. She notes the many benefits of AniMall as opposed to pet stores, which can often be completely retail-driven.
"AniMall is more high-profile than a lot of the places we have had our adoption days. A lot of people will stop in to meet our animals here. We also like that the mall has a storefront that encourages people to adopt--not buy--pets," Noechel says.
AniMall board members hope to take the project further.
"Our goal is not only to be an adoption center, but also an educational center," Schechter says. "We hope to reduce pet overpopulation with education, spay/neuter advocacy and adoption."
Thanks to the many hours of work put in by Richards and other AniMall volunteers, the store is a reality. Yet the work of those volunteers--and hundreds of others working with rescue groups all over the state--is not finished. The problem of pet overpopulation cannot be fixed with just one adoption center, Schechter says.
"AniMall is one piece of the puzzle. It [also] comes down to the individual. Every person needs to educate their friends, family and neighbors about the necessity of spaying and neutering their animals."
Schechter says it would be great to have no need for rescue groups or adoption centers like AniMall.
"I guess this would be the ultimate success: to have every animal wanted and loved, and to put ourselves out of business."
AniMall is open weekends during mall hours (Saturdays 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays noon to 6 p.m.). Prime Outlets is located just off I-40 on Airport Boulevard. See which rescue groups have signed up for this weekend at www.animall.org.
More kind souls
Three other groups helping to reduce pet overpopulation and provide care to shelter animals are AnimalKind, the Animal Protection Society of Orange County and the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas.
AnimalKind (www.animalkind.org) has a mission to eliminate unnecessary euthanasia of adoptable pets. It is an 8-year-old nonprofit organization, and its spay/neuter awareness campaign features poster displays at numerous places people take their pets, including veterinary offices and pet stores.
AnimalKind also sponsors THE $20 FIX. This program assists lower-income Triangle families in spaying or neutering their dogs and cats for just $20. By the first anniversary of the program in June, it had done over 1,500 spay and neuter surgeries, helping to reduce the number of stray and unwanted pets in the Triangle area. To help support THE $20 FIX, AnimalKind opened ReTails thrift shop at 1608 N. Market Drive in Raleigh. Open Thursdays through Sundays, all proceeds from the store go toward funding the program.
The Animal Protection Society of Orange County (www.animalprotectionsociety.org) knows that adopting a new pet can result in unanticipated disappointment--on both sides. To address this problem, APS selects highly adoptable dogs and cats from participating shelters in Orange, Durham, Chatham and Caswell counties. They address any medical and behavioral issues the animals have, and also make sure they're spayed or neutered. Then APS works on the other side too, matching the animals for high compatibility with their new owners and providing follow up for certain animals.
Since opening their new adoption center a year ago, APS has found homes for 456 dogs and cats who most likely would have been otherwise euthanized. Moreover, their return rate is less than 1 percent; nationally, a 2.5 percent return rate is considered outstanding.
The Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas ( www.vetspechosp.com) is the largest private veterinary hospital in the state. It's 24-hour facility offers specialty care as well as emergency facilities. Dr. Kelly Ferris heads up a team of doctors that includes veterinary students from N.C. State University.
VSH has recently partnered with the Wake County Animal Shelter to provide specialty treatment to select shelter animals. This partnership intends to save the lives of animals that were thought to be unadoptable. "They recently treated a dog who had a fractured leg that otherwise would have been euthanized, but was operated on, recovered and was adopted by a man in Virginia who flew him home," says Amy Barefoot, who works with VSH.
The ultimate resource list
For more information on local rescue groups and shelters, locations for spay/neuter surgeries and links to more pet resources, visit www.trianglepetrescue.org.