PHOENIX — The parent company of one of metro Phoenix’s major mall operators is phasing out pet stores in favor of animal adoption centers.

The SantaMonica, Calif.-based Macerich, which owns the Westcor malls in the Phoenix area, said it will not renew leases for any pet stores that sell live animals. The policy adopted last year could benefit rescued animals and the agencies that tend to them.

“Our focus is now directed to working with local pet rescue organizations in our communities and pet accessory retailers to serve the needs of our shoppers,” said Melissa Rupp, assistant marketing manager at the Macerich owned SanTan Village in Gilbert.

The policy reflects a national shift in public opinion regarding pet buying, the Arizona Republic reported Monday. The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Animals have investigated puppy mills and commercial dog-breeding operations that they say raise animals in squalor.

The West Hollywood City Council voted in 2010 to ban stores from selling cats and dogs to curb puppy mills and kitty factories. No pet stores in the city sold animals at the time, but officials said they were hopeful the ordinance would prompt other municipalities to follow suit.

The owners of pet stores in four Macerich malls unsuccessfully fought the company’s policy. Frank and Vicki Mineo, who run Puppies ‘N Love, said they are nearing the end of their leases and possibly their business.

“I do believe there are pet stores that do buy and sell puppies from substandard breeders,” Vicki said. “But for us it is disheartening to know we do everything to assure that we purchase our puppies from reputable and responsible breeders, only for something like this to happen.”

The Mineos, who are siblings, allow rescue groups to adopt out dogs from their shuttered pet store in a Scottsdale mall, free of charge. Their earnings come from the sale of pet supplies, toys and food.

The trend toward adoption centers began in Arizona before Macerich adopted its policy.

The Humane Society Petique opened at the Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix in November 2009. More than 2,000 animals have been adopted out of the rescue storefront.

Phoenix-based PetSmart and PetCo, also work with animal welfare organizations on adoption programs in their stores. According to the Humane Society, 1,700 pet stores nationwide — 53 of which are in Arizona — have pledged not to sell puppies in their stores.

Animal rescue groups say the storefronts help bring in new customers, and raise money for and awareness about animal overpopulation.

“Some people have this stigma around visiting a shelter, they may be sad … and then you offer people this unique setting,” said Arizona Humane Society spokeswoman Bretta Nelson. “It’s more cozy. It’s more homelike.”

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