Doggo “Heaven in Anthem”

Anthem’s newest adoption: a unique thrift store

By Ron Sanzone

Bargain hunters are discovering they can get a deal while helping canines live out their golden years with love and compassion.

Open in Anthem since October 5, Rusty’s Resale Boutique sells donated goods to raise funds for New River’s Rusty’s Angels Sanctuary, which facilitates the adoption of senior dogs and provides a permanent home for those that are not adopted or are not adoptable. The sanctuary and the store are nonprofits.

Rusty’s Angels is the brainchild of Emilee Spear, a former veterinary technician who opened a home for older dogs after adopting one herself. While working in a no-kill animal shelter about a decade ago, she took home an elderly dog and named him Rusty.

Due to Rusty’s age and medical issues, “no one was going to adopt him,” Spear recalls. After he passed away two and a half years later, “I made a promise to him that someday I would open a dog rescue for old dogs just like him.”

Five years ago, that promise became a reality when she founded Rusty’s Angels Sanctuary in New River on 5 acres of land nicknamed “Heaven on Earth.” Now sitting on 10 acres, the sanctuary does not take in dogs younger than 10. Typically, the older dogs come from families who are unable to care for dogs their elders left behind.

“I really wanted to be there for people who either are either moving into a nursing home or just passed away.” Spear says. “The way it’s set up, the sanctuary becomes (the dogs’) home for the rest of their lives unless they are adopted out.”

Since it opened, the sanctuary has adopted 102 of the 192 dogs it has rescued. Local donations enable the sanctuary to care for its rescued dogs, but to take care of even more dogs, and to pay ever-increasing medical costs, more funds are needed.

Spear long contemplated opening a thrift shop to raise funds for the sanctuary by selling surpluses of donated pet supplies. When a local specialist in helping animal rescues open thrift shops approached her this past summer, Spear was inspired to act, and act fast. In seven weeks, she found a store location, negotiated the rent, opened it for donations and held its grand opening.

“I’m the kind of person who once I set my mind to something, just get out of the way,” Spear says with a laugh.  “It’s going to happen.”

Shoppers who entered the 2,000-square-foot store in October were greeted with selections of clothing, shoes, accessories, games, toys, home décor items, books, movies and pet supplies. As December approaches, the store will display and sell the Christmas-themed items it has received.

“It is beautiful,” Spear says.  “You walk in and it doesn’t feel or smell like a thrift store. It feels like a boutique, but then you look at the prices and see that they’re thrift store prices.”

The store is run by 15 volunteers and one employee, store manager Brenda Vantussenbroek, who believes Rusty’s Resale Boutique’s location will help drive foot traffic.

“We’re in a very good area in terms of bringing in people,” she says. “We’re located across from Walmart and down the street from Goodwill and the Outlets at Anthem.”

Rusty’s Resale Boutique will offer on-site adoptions of senior dogs on Saturdays, further bringing awareness of senior pets, Vantussenbroek says.

“So many people forget about the seniors,” she says. “So many people are afraid to (adopt them) because of heartache or extra medical expenses for older pets.  They’ll see how much life they have left.”

Anyone who enters Rusty’s Resale Boutique can help older dogs simply by shopping there. Spear says 100% of the store’s proceeds will go to the sanctuary.

“Every little bit that comes in through the store is going to help us offset the costs that it takes to run it daily,” she says.

Operating the sanctuary is not cheap, and it gets more expensive year to year. Instead of boarding dogs into large, uncomfortable kennels. Rusty’s Angels houses them in tiny, air-conditioned homes designed for four to eight dogs. Because of the dogs’ ages, the sanctuary incurs over $30,000 in medical expenses a year. Spear is still paying off the additional 5 acres of adjacent land that were purchased last year.

If the store is successful, Spear says, it will help the sanctuary develop that additional land, which will in turn enable it to rescue more dogs. And that would also set up more adoptions.

While age and potential medical expenses can disincentivize the adoption of older dogs, there are also advantages to consider, Vantussenbroek says.

“They’re totally mellow and they don’t chew up furniture,” she says. “They give you unconditional love. It’s just fast-forwarding to the best part.”

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