To the Rescue: Animal Rescue Best Practices
Having a will and a heart that compels a person to help animals is never a bad thing. In fact, there should be nothing but kudos given to those who decide to open their own rescue. If you’re one of these people, you should know that it’s easy to become overwhelmed when faced with hundreds of homeless animals and limited resources to offer them.
However, following these best practices can help ensure the success of your animal rescue, and in turn, provide a long-term benefit to animals in need.
Animal Rescue Best Practices: Think with Your Head, Not Just Your Heart
The first best practice in animal rescue is to think with your head rather than just your heart. It can be very easy to get caught up in the short term of helping an individual animal rather than thinking of the long-term success of the rescue operation.
Thinking too much with your heart is the reason rescues at capacity accept more animals, the reason some rescues ignore local regulations in order to help an individual animal, and the reason budgets are not adhered to.
“It’s good that people think with their heart when running an animal rescue,” says Kim Saunders, Vice President of Shelter Outreach and Public Relations for Petfinder.com. “But [running a rescue] needs to be done properly.”
Animal Rescue Best Practices: Plan Your Rescue Properly
In using your head combined with your heart, it’s important that every facet of your animal rescue is planned ahead of time. Saunders suggests that animal rescues craft their own mission statement. This is a motto that works to keep the rescue on track. Your rescue’s mission statement could look like any of these statements from established shelters:
- St Hubert’s Animal Center: “St. Hubert's is a nonprofit animal welfare organization dedicated to alleviating the suffering and neglect of companion animals, and providing services that support the human-animal bond.”
- Humane Society of Pikes Peak: “Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region's mission is to help decrease the pet overpopulation in the Pikes Peak Region and save more animal lives.”
- The Owl House: “The mission of The Owl House is to support low-income and senior landowners who are struggling with growing outdoor cat populations caused by cat abandonment on their property, and to resolve outdoor cat over-population situations in a manner that takes into consideration the well-being of the cats, and the desire of compassionate landowners to ‘do the right thing.’”
She also suggests that animal rescues set up a Board of Directors, comprised of people that will not let their hearts cloud sound judgment and who will make decisions to ensure the long-term success of the rescue. Your Board of Directors could consist of people you’ve known your whole life; they can be well-connected people within your community that also have professional skills that would benefit the rescue, including:
- Public Relations experts
- Graphic Designers
- Civic Leaders
Saunders is not alone in advocating the importance of laying out a strategic plan for your animal rescue.
“The biggest error start-up groups make is not having a business/strategic plan, making it hard to define where they’re going and how they expect to get there,” says Mike Arms, President of Helen Woodward Animal Center. “Without this, many start-ups come and go within a relatively short period of time. They are under-budget, over-extend, and completely burn-out. This can clearly be avoided if they have a path to follow, and take baby steps in the first year, so they have some history of what to expect.”
While there are many books that provide guidance on creating a business plan and strategy, an excellent resource for an animal rescue to consider is the ASPCA’s Making Plans to Make a Difference. The extensive text provides a methodology for creating a successful business plan as it relates to starting animal rescues and shelters.
Animal Rescue Best Practices: Become a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization
Once your strategic plan is laid out, it’s important to take steps to becoming legitimized in the world of animal rescue. Without proper credentials, donors are less likely to trust that their money is being used properly. The best way to pursue legitimacy is to become certified as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. With this powerful label, people will be more willing to work with your animal rescue in terms of providing manpower and donations gained through fundraising.
“Many are intimidated by becoming a 501(c)(3) because it is a rigorous process,” says Saunders. “In the end though, it is worth it, as it is the ultimate sign of legitimacy.”
For those wary of becoming a 501(c)(3), visit Petfinder.com’s step-by-step article detailing how to gain the coveted 501(c)(3) status.
Animal Rescue Best Practices: Be Mindful of Money Issues
According to Saunders, one of the biggest pitfalls that people in the world of animal rescue encounter surrounds money. While an original business plan accounts for emergencies, including large vet bills and occasional building repairs, it’s impossible to account for every possible scenario.
“It’s easy to get in over your head,” says Saunders. “In the blink of an eye, animal rescues can be sucked into extensive fees due to any number of circumstances.”
Keeping this thought in mind, it’s important to always revisit the business plan/strategy and the mission statement you have laid out for your animal rescue. Visiting this plan will help guide decision making in all monetary matters and otherwise, including making the decision to expand, exceed capacity or start a new outreach initiative.
Animal Rescue Best Practices: Keep Local Regulations in Mind
“Be mindful of the regulations, such as licenses, necessary permits and insurance policies, of the area you’re setting your rescue up in,” says Saunders.
To find out more about local requirements and regulations, which may be set by town ordinance, regulation, or state statute or code, the library in your area might be a good place to start.
“Your local library is a good place to start if you haven’t yet recruited that attorney board member who might handle it for you,” says Saunders. “Other good resources would be your local existing humane society or animal control agency and your state board of health.”
Saunders also suggests that those interested in beginning their own animal rescue attend an animal welfare educational conference, which will provide a framework and pathway for becoming involved in the world of animal welfare. These conferences are held locally by state animal welfare federations as well as by national organizations such as Petfinder, the Humane Society of the United States, and Best Friends Animal Society.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, since most animal rescues function on the local level, it’s important to keep your local community’s needs in mind. For instance, a city or neighborhood with a rat problem is likely to be supportive of a cat sanctuary with a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program, but a closely-managed suburban office complex may not. An animal rescue can just as quickly fail due to a negative perception in the community as it can due to under-budgeting.