Winter 2009 Newsletter

Lucky Paws: New Look for an Animal Shelter

By Nancy Marano

Michelle King's passion for animals is evident. "Basically, our goal is to change the world one animal at a time," she said. "These are amazing animals but it takes the right person to walk in the door, see how terrific they are and take them home. These dogs and cats just want to be in a home again."

King is the manager of Lucky Paws, the first municipal animal adoption center permanently located in a retail shopping mall. This facility opened its doors February 28, 2007 at Coronado Mall in Albuquerque. Since then, 3,204 animals have walked out the door to new homes. This averages 160 animals a month. While dogs and cats make up the majority of animals available here, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, ducks, parakeets and even two pregnant rats and their offspring have passed through these doors.

The large display windows in the front of the store face into the mall. Animals show off in them for admiring mall walkers. Going into Lucky Paws is a happy experience. There are no bars on these kennels. Glass doors display the bright, clean interiors stocked with water and food bowls, a bed, towels and toys to keep dogs comfortable. Each run is tiled in turquoise, ivory, green and orange, adding to the overall cheeriness of the décor.

In a separate room 26 cats rest in double decker condos outfitted with beds, bowls and litter boxes. Bill Nelson, a volunteer, gently pets and brushes Silver, a 10-year-old cat who is looking for a new home. Nelson comes every day to interact with the cats. They are excited to see him arrive and all want to be first in line for his attentions.

Lucky Paws resembles a pet store but isn't. It is part of the Albuquerque Animal Care Center. This facility resulted from Mayor Martin Chavez's insistence that Albuquerque become a "live exit" city where animals leave the shelter by the front door on their way to a forever home and not by the back door as one of the euthanized.

"The Mall offered a ready made clientele," King says. "The City's intention was to draw people into an animal experience. We hoped they would tell their friends about us after they walked out."

King explained the Lucky Paws concept as "one stop shopping." When a person pays $59 for a dog or $39 for a cat and leaves with their animal, they are finished except for the wellness exam that comes free with every adoption. Each animal is spayed or neutered, has a rabies shot, immunizations, heartworm treatment and a microchip. The cats also receive feline leukemia tests. An adopter can take the animal to any of 20 veterinarians throughout the Albuquerque metro area for a wellness exam. If the veterinarian finds anything questionable, such as kennel cough, the person brings the dog or cat to the Eastside Animal Care Center where shelter veterinarians will assess the problem and administer whatever treatment is necessary.

"The City is responsible for an animal for 14 days after the animal is adopted. We encourage adopters to take animals for their wellness check. It costs them nothing and it is a way to make sure the animal is healthy. It's so important and it's included in the adoption fee. They can take the animal to their own vet if they want to, but why pay the extra when we provide the service," King said.

With the economy worsening more people are being forced to relinquish their animals because they can no longer afford to feed them. "The economy always affects animals. There is a chain reaction" King says. "One woman relinquished her two dogs. She'd tried everything to keep them including selling her wedding ring but she could no longer afford their food. We decided those two dogs had to be adopted together. I knew if they were my dogs I wouldn't want them separated. She gave up what she loved most not because she wanted to but because she had to. They went to a wonderful home. Sadly, she'll never know it but we do. We know we did right by her and her dogs."

When people come to Lucky Paws, a counselor greets them and asks some basic questions. Do they have children, do they live in a house or an apartment and do they have a backyard? Is the backyard shaded, do they have a fence, how high is the fence and will the dog be alone all day? These questions and others help the counselor assess the best type of animal for a particular family. Then a background check is run on the person to see whether they are a qualified adopter. Only after the counselor determines a person is serious about adopting an animal are they allowed to meet the animals.

Prospective adopters take a dog or cat of their choice into the bonding area. If a family has children or other dogs, the counselor will suggest that the family dog and children come in to meet the new dog. "If something is going to go wrong, we would rather it happen here than after our dog goes home," King said. "We want them to go to forever homes and not come back to us."

However, if something does go wrong and an animal is returned to the shelter, Lucky Paws takes that animal back. "We are honest about our animals. If they need special attention or handling, we're truthful about that," King said.

All the dogs and cats who come through Lucky Paws get a lot of staff attention. "The best thing you can give them is the power of touch. It's a gift that changes everything," King says. "I tell people this animal will transform when you get it home. It won't even look the same. What you see here isn't what you get. Usually you'll get something better. They have a family again. All they want is to be part of a family. These animals give back more than we could ever give them."

The committed, enthusiastic, animal-loving Lucky Paws staff are animal advocates waiting to match you with the right animal for you. Nothing will make you feel better than giving the gift of love to an animal who is down on its luck and needs a forever home. Your kindness will be repaid a thousand fold with licks and purrs.

Check this page to learn how Lucky Paws helps get food to the companion animals of low-income people and what determines a "qualified adopter."

Lucky Paws is open the same hours as Coronado Mall.
There will be longer hours during the holidays.
M-F: 9:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Saturday: 8:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sunday: 9:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.

Since the times vary from day to day, check the hours
by calling Lucky Paws at 505-768-1975.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning author who is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

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