Animal rescue can be a very charged topic. People are very passionate about the work, and opinions about best practices vary widely. While ultimately the missions of various rescue groups are the same – save lives – it can be difficult for organizations to work together to achieve this shared goal. What is unique about AniMall, an organization with a retail model, is that it occupies a neutral space in this sector.
A shopping mall isn’t typically the first place one would expect to see an animal rescue organization. Ten years ago, AniMall’s founders were offered space in a dying outlet mall near Raleigh, North Carolina. Being in a retail environment, AniMall began to sell inventory as a way to support themselves. In an effort to bring in additional revenue, they partnered with K9 Solutions to offer dog training in the store. As word got out in the rescue community about this space, partnerships with other organizations began to form, and from there the organization began to grow. AniMall has since moved to a more vibrant mall, Cary Towne Center, in an affluent suburb of Raleigh, and partners with almost every single rescue group in the area.
From the start, AniMall’s mission has been to save the lives of homeless animals. And while their mission hasn’t changed, their methods have. AniMall initially began as a rescue, pulling animals from shelters, taking in owner surrenders and strays, and putting them in the mall space. Going from paying no rent in the outlet mall to full rent in Cary meant money that had been going to help their adoptable animals was now going toward rent. Sales needed to increase to support their work. “Trying to run a business and trying to be a rescue was going to be one of the reasons that AniMall was not going to be successful,” says Jeremiah Adams, Executive Director. With rescue partners utilizing their space for adoption events and fundraisers, AniMall decided to shift their focus away from their rescue work to building the business. “Adopt, shop, save lives. That’s the concept,” according to Adams. Today, AniMall’s focus is on animal nutrition, while serving as a space to educate the public and promote the work of local rescue organizations.
Since coming on board as Executive Director seven years ago, Adams has worked hard to develop relationships with local rescues. Many of these groups do not have a physical location, and rely on a network of foster parents to care for their adoptable animals. AniMall serves as a bridge between the public and the rescues, putting a face to these organizations. Small animals and cats are in the store seven days a week. The cats are rotated out weekly, and about eight cat rescues participate in the program. Every Saturday and Sunday, dog rescues bring their dogs and do adoption events. The rescue network partners participate in one capacity or another, from holding fundraising events, conducting meet and greets with potential adopters, or utilizing the dog wash in the store. AniMall hosts many events where they have successfully gotten a good mix of the rescues all together.
“We are very unique in that we are a support system for the entire rescue community,” says Adams. “Neutral territory at AniMall. That is the number one rule. You don’t badmouth any other rescues. You don’t like what they’re doing, that’s fine, don’t say anything. You’re welcome here, and so are they. Everyone is welcome here.” Rescue groups are all competing for the same pool of adopters and supporters, and AniMall has what every rescue wants – a steady stream of potential adopters and funders walking through its doors every day. By providing the neutral space, all area rescues have the opportunity to participate in events that give them exposure to the store’s customers. According to one partner organization, access to this neutral space has cut back on the animosity groups feel towards each other. People from different rescue groups are talking to each other for the first time, and getting to know one another. They are finding out that they actually like one another. Because of AniMall, rescue groups are starting to move toward a more collaborative, rather than competitive, mindset towards saving lives.
The model that AniMall has developed has proven to be very successful. Over the years, they have built lasting relationships with the customers, adopters and rescues. “I think that one of the biggest successes is that it works… the rescues are using it. It started that I had to go and find them. Now they come and find us,” says Adams. While it is difficult to track the work of all of the individual organizations, an estimated 5,000 animals have been adopted as a result of being at AniMall. On average, 2 to 3 cats are adopted every single week. Adoption events are booked through the rest of the year, and there is no space on their calendar to get more rescues in on the weekends.
AniMall has grown tremendously in its ten years. Looking toward the future, Jeremiah Adams hopes to expand the model, ideally to multiple stores in multiple states. In the short term, the goal is to build out the Board of Directors and staff, grow the education component in the store and in the community, and to engage in more fundraising activities, in order to take on bigger missions, bigger projects, and get the rescues to all work together. Says Adams, “I would like to see a time come where AniMall can lead a movement and all the rescues can follow.”
AniMall is a not-for-profit retail store founded solely to help homeless animals find forever homes. At AniMall, animal rescue groups and potential adopters meet every day, and pet owners shop to find everything they need for their four-legged friends. Proceeds of all sales go directly to animal rescue.