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Can Actual Rats Save the Mall?

When Alia Mehmood visited the Westfield Annapolis mall in February 2022, she didn’t go shopping for clothes, watch a movie or even meet her girlfriends. She was looking for mice.

A week ago, Ms. Mahmoud saw a post online about a pack of rats at the SPCA of Anne Arundel County, whose shelter opened an outpost at the mall in September 2020. When she arrived at the new location and approached the rat enclosure, she saw Snoofles, Algernon and Ikit, 5-month-old sisters, sticking their pink noses through their crates to get a better look at Ms. Mahmood and her boyfriend. She was pressing.

“They kind of ran up to us and said hello,” said Ms. Mahmoud, 32, a school therapist in Alexandria, VA. “They melted our hearts with how small, loving and outgoing they were from the start.”

But it wasn’t until a few days later after a meet-and-greet that Ms Mahmoud finally decided to take them home, where Snowflakes ran down his shirt.

“At that point, I was like, well, I guess they’ve made a choice,” Ms. Mahmood said.

Snoofles, Algernon and Ikit are just a few of the thousands of pets that have been adopted from animal shelters that have sprung up in malls across the country in the past three years. A growing number of shopping centers are offering empty storefronts to animal rescue groups for free or at a significant discount, sometimes up to 90 percent. According to the Shelter Animal Count, a national animal welfare database, shelters have reported an increase in intakes. 4 percent In 2022, they were burdened with animals that were Hard to get once during quarantine..

With things like the collaboration between the SPCA and Westfield Annapolis gaining popularity, malls and animal shelters are hoping to attract more pet owners and customers. These retail spaces that were already struggling. Before the pandemic forced temporary closures.

Westfield Annapolis marketing director Morgan McLeod came up with the idea of ​​leasing retail space to animal shelters at a reduced rate in January 2020, after she saw dozens of people paying $25 to visit a crowded cat cafe in Washington. Queuing up to do, DC

Within days, he contacted Kelly Brown, president of the SPCA of Anne Arundel County, who suggested using one of the mall’s vacant storefronts as an extension of the organization’s main shelter. The new outpost, Paws at the Mall, opened eight months later. Since then, Paws has seen the number of adopters grow to 608 in 2021, up from 131 in 2019, including hundreds of cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and even some hedgehogs and hermit crabs. Homes have been searched for.

Alexandra Lange, author of “Meet Me by the Fountain,” which explores the history and future of American malls, said developers were thinking about ways to reimagine malls long before the pandemic.

The 1990s was the golden age of malls. Some had architecture that recreated quaint towns with cobblestone streets. Others offered photo shoots with Santa Claus, carousel rides and even a life-size dinosaur-themed exhibit. Teenagers often spend their free time lounging in food courts, riding escalators, and wandering around Abercrombie and Fitch stores.

But then came the rise of the Internet in the early 2000s. The proliferation of online shopping and the resulting decline in demand for physical retail space has made malls struggle to reinvent the shopping experience.

Just moving animal shelters into empty storefronts. The latest attempt by shopping centers to attract more customersMs. Lange said.

“Malls became so big and so commercialized and nationally franchised that they kind of forgot about that low-hanging fruit,” Ms. Lange said, referring to more community-based experiences. “So going back to a place that’s close to their original community, the spirit of the neighborhood seems like a perfectly reasonable idea.”

This initiative has been largely successful for animal shelters.

LA Love & Leashes, a Los Angeles organization that picks up animals from six city shelters each morning and displays them in its mall storefront before returning unadopted pets in the evening, is moving to a shopping center. Since then, more than 3,000 pets have been found homes. In 2021, annual adoption rates more than double. In Illinois, Storm Orphans has found homes for more than 200 cats and dogs at its two mall locations in Vernon Hills and Northbrook since opening in 2021, tripling its annual adoption rate. has increased And Hop on Home, one of two animal shelters at the Wilton Mall in Saratoga Springs, NY, has found homes for 354 rabbits since opening a store in the shopping center in 2022, making its annual adoption The take rate has tripled.

“When people walk by and they see the kittens in the window, it automatically draws them into the store,” said Tammy Davis, executive director of the Washington County Johnson City Animal Shelter in Tennessee. She said the shelter opened an outpost in February 2021 after the Mall in Johnson City offered to lease an adjacent one at a slightly lower rate. “Having an offsite location, especially in a high-traffic mall area, allowed us to reach people we might not have reached before.”

Round Lake, Ill. Jonquay Armon, 50, a client service adviser, said she found the shelters “very depressing” and would never have visited if it weren’t for the new checkpoints. Ms. Armon was running to a hair appointment at Hawthorne Mall when she saw Farley, a 10-year-old pit bull and mastiff mix in the storefront of Orphans of the Storm. She took him home a week later.

A socially active environment such as a window display also allows temperamental animals to better socialize with humans, increasing their chances of adoption. The shadowa black pit bull mix, sat at the L.A. Love & Lashes shelter in downtown Los Angeles for seven months before being adopted 10 days after showing up at her mall.

“Sometimes great animals will be overlooked because they’re hiding in the back of the kennel, because they’re so nervous,” said Lauren Kay, a volunteer coordinator for LA Love & Leashes.

Along with all the cute competition, marketing director Ms. McLeod said foot traffic at the Paws Wing has increased 10 percent since the Westfield Annapolis mall opened, leading to more people and spending in other stores.

“The evolution of malls is changing,” Ms McLeod said. “I think everybody really realizes that. I think what makes us so unique and special is that we’re really adapting to that evolution.

In addition to providing animal viewing opportunities, rescues like Hop on Home also host “Instagrammable” activities like yoga with rabbits, in which the adorable mammals hop around exercise mats that they sometimes chew on. are

Ms. Lange said she believes that despite the ease of shopping online, customers will continue to visit malls for experiences that can’t be replicated at home.

As for the newly adopted mice Snowfalls, Algernon and Akit, they now spend their days wallowing in one place. Mini pool of frozen peas, swinging in a plush blue hammock and running around Ms. Mahmood’s one-bedroom apartment. Ms Mahmood, though, already knows she will be back at the mall soon.

“Sadly,” he said, “rats only live two to three years.”



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