Animal Rescue Set Up: How to Do It Right
Learn how to set up an animal rescue properly!
If you care about homeless animals and have either adopted or fostered a “stray,” chances are you might have thought, “I would really like to own an animal rescue.”
There are thousands of non-profit animal rescues and shelters out there. Many do it right, but others do not.
Faith Maloney, cofounder of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, a sanctuary that cares for some 1,700 homeless animals on any given day, offers workshops trying to help people who are serious about setting up a rescue to do it right.
“Sometimes after our workshop, people figure out this is something they don’t want to do,” says Maloney. “We offer them a reality check and all you have to do is watch the nightly news and see the hoarding cases to know that there are people who didn’t get a reality check.”
One of the first things you should do, as with any venture, is to spend time around others who are doing it. Volunteer at a shelter or rescue and better yet, sit on a board. Soak in the good things other rescues and shelters are doing and make a mental note of the things you do not wish to see happening with yours.
Maloney says there is a lot besides time and money that goes into the plans to start a rescue. Here is what the experts say you need to consider a rescue or animal sanctuary venture:
A Business Plan
While running an animal shelter is not a “business” in that you are not selling goods, commodities or animals, it truly is a business and Maloney says the first thing you need to do is have some business sense. “You have to have some business skills,” says Maloney. “You will have to have basic fundraising skills, marketing and accounting, everything you need to have to run any business.”
Business plans allow you to outline your organization’s mission, forecast expected budgets, set goals and basically puts into focus
Drawing up a business plan will also help you with the next steps, the first of which is incorporating as a non-profit organization in the state in which you will be operating the business.
You will need to do this, Maloney says, before you apply for your federal non-profit 501 ( C ) 3 status, which allows your donors to deduct their donations from their taxes, but also gives your organization respectability and certain tax exempt benefits.
In addition to the state and federal non-profit status, you must also check your state’s licensing requirements for operating a shelter/rescue.
Melody Kelso, founder and director of The Pet Connection in Olathe, Kans. says her state mandates a license from the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
These very first steps are oftentimes what stops a new rescue or shelter from forming. The forms to fill out for the federal 501( C) 3 are time consuming and arduous. They require budget projections and many other details.
Kelso says that while she filled out her own forms, it did take about 60 hours of her time. You can also hire an accountant or attorney to work through the paperwork with you, but Kelso estimates the cost to be at least $3,000 for the service.
Before you even get to your business plan, there are other things to consider:
Shelter: How will you shelter these animals or will you? You could be a “foster” only rescue whereas you take in homeless animals as you have foster families available to house them. Kelso’s rescue is a foster only rescue. The organization has 25 animals in the program, which are transported on weekends to the organization’s headquarters on weekends for adoption events. Maloney’s group, Best Friends, is obviously a sanctuary housing homeless animals of all types. She says the organization didn’t grow from dogs and cats to bunnies, horses, pigs and birds overnight. You should also decide at this point what animals you have expertise with and the facilities to care for.
Land and Facilities: Maloney says this is something you might be able to get away without having at first if you’re able to lease facilities from another licensed kennel or shelter or you’re going to do a foster only program in the beginning. However, your long term plan should allow for land and facilities and if you’re looking for land immediately, you should check the proper zoning laws which Maloney says are typically “agricultural.”
Money: Kelso says that unless all items such as food, cages, carriers, toys, blankets and all of the other necessary items to get started are donated, at minimum, it will take $5,000-$10,000 to start up a rescue. “If you want to do it right, you have to have the money to help you get started,” says Kelso.
Maloney says you also need to take into consideration the type of food you will be feeding your charges, how you will work with a local veterinarian for their care and the costs associated with that care. For example, if your mission is to end the plight of homeless animals, Maloney believes you cannot have an effective rescue without a mandated spay and neuter policy for animals cared for by the organization. How will you pay for this, for vaccinations and for care of sick animals that test positive for heart worm or feline leukemia or other diseases? Will you take in critically injured animals and if so, how will you pay for their veterinarian and/or rehab costs?
Time: You may be retired or better yet, independently wealthy and not have to work, but this isn’t the case with most people. Good hearted citizens who want to start up rescues typically also have a “day job.” How will you manage your time between working on the business of the rescue and working to support your household? Who will take care of the animals when you aren’t available? Will you be hiring employees, if so how many?
How many animals would you have in the program? If people who love animals and are setting up a rescue don’t put a limit on how many animals they can realistically help, that’s where the trouble begins, says Maloney and where you might find your face on the news labeled a hoarder instead of someone who was truly helping animals in need.
“This is where you might say I want to take care of 25 animals but after doing a budget on how much it really costs to take care of that many, you reevaluate and possibly lower the number to start with,” says Maloney.
Marketing and Fundraising Plan: Within the scope of your business plan, what’s your plan to market your organization? How will you raise funds? Will you charge an adoption fee, if so, how much should you charge? What is your competitors (breeders and pet stores) doing with regards to marketing and fees?
Adoption Plan: This plan is critical to any rescue or sanctuary say our experts. Most rescues, including The Pet Connection and Best Friends has an application that ask a lot of questions from potential adopters such as their living arrangements, who lives in the home, if they have other animals, how will the animals be cared for, where will they sleep, etc. All appropriate, says Kelso. The mistake some rescues make, though, is having too stringent of policies in place like saying the adopters must have a fenced in yard, completely dismissing people in apartments or people on rural land, many of which have no fences.
“We put more stock in putting in time with people,” says Kelso. “What we try to tailor is the animal with the right family.” For example, while Kelso doesn’t like to see a cat go to a home where it will be allowed to go outside, she says there are some cats that would do well in that environment. “No one here is allowed to tell people they cannot adopt,” says Kelso. “If we reject them, we make them think it was their idea, we convince them they aren’t ready for a dog for whatever reason or whatever he case is.”
The rules you and your board implement for the adoption process can forever turn a person for adoption or against it, driving them into the arms of backyard breeders and pet stores.
Choosing a Board: Kelso says when you’re just getting started, a good rule of thumb is to choose a board that can help you with managerial tasks. People who have varying skills such as accounting, operations, animal training and behavior, etc. will round out the organization and its policies.
Risk Management: This should be a huge consideration, says Maloney. What kind of insurance do you need to carry? How will you handle dogs that bite, or can you? What types of animals can you safely handle and how many?
Quick Tips for Setting up an Animal Rescue or Sanctuary
- When selecting the name for your rescue, don’t make it too geographical, which will limit your reach and may limit your donors.
- Paperwork has to be filed continuously and your organization needs to be aware of new regulations and laws surrounding animals and rescues. If you’re not good at administrative tasks, hire someone for the job.
- Choose people for your board who believe in your mission and who bring a varied skill set, not just money.
- Make education in your community about homeless pets, spay and neuter, BSL etc. a part of your organization. This will help curb the problem and hopefully, someday eliminate it.
- If you cannot do it right, don’t despair. Work with another rescue or shelter, volunteer on boards, help set up low cost spay neuter clinics. There’s always something you can do to help save a homeless pet’s life.