Sue Johnson needed little time to make up her mind about Jenny. The Chihuahua sported a black-and-white coat and little tufts of reddish-brown fur over her deep, dark eyes.
"She's very sweet," Johnson said. "How could you not?"
Jenny met one more criterion that was essential for Johnson, of Quakertown, who got the dog for her sister Saturday at the Pets Plus Natural store in Lansdale: The animal came to the store from a rescue shelter.
The big-eared pup was one of at least 10 rescued animals customers had adopted at the store by 5 p.m.
Following the lead of hundreds of other pet stores nationwide, the owners have vowed to stop selling animals from commercial breeders at all 10 of their stores by the end of 2015 - converting them one by one to stores that handle adopted dogs and cats only.
The conversions come amid criticism that some of the commercial breeders who have traditionally supplied pet stores are little more than "puppy mills" - a pejorative term for facilities that are unlicensed, cramped, or unsanitary. The Pets Plus Natural Lansdale store, among others, was often the site of protests.
The chain also has converted its stores in Northeast Philadelphia and Conshohocken, and a new store in Gibbstown, N.J., will feature rescue animals starting in January, said Bruce Smith, one of the owners.
The stores have been getting their rescue animals from Kentucky and Georgia shelters that have been vetted by the Humane Society of the United States. Starting this month, Pets Plus Natural stores also will take animals from the Pennsylvania SPCA.
In the past, the Lansdale store would sell a typical purebred dog from a breeder for $900, Smith said. Customers will pay $400 to $495 to adopt one of the shelter dogs, he said. That fee covers spaying or neutering, vaccinations, and the implanting of a microchip to identify the animal, he said.
The goal, Smith said, was to replace any decline in revenue with sales of other products to new customers supportive of the no-breeder policy.
"We're not making up the difference yet," Smith said, "but we're seeing a different customer base that we have never had before."
Some activists have been skeptical of the wave of store conversions, questioning whether all the animals are, indeed, from shelters and checked by vets.
Representatives from the Pennsylvania SPCA and the Humane Society said they were confident that with Pets Plus Natural, any fears were misplaced.
"Instead of supporting the commercial breeders," Human Society outreach coordinator John Moyer said, "they can be part of the solution."