Learn How to Start an Animal Rescue

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Starting an animal rescue or shelter requires proper planning, facility preparation, and dedicated fundraising efforts.

Initial Considerations

The first step is determining what type of animals you want to rescue, and how many animals you can adequately provide care for at your facility. Since animal care is a 24-hours a day, 7 days a week responsibility, you will likely need to enlist the help of either volunteers or full-time employees (or both).

You will need to come up with a good name for your rescue, as well as design a logo for advertising purposes. Brochures and business cards will useful advertisements and should feature your logo prominently. You will also need to set up a dedicated phone line, post office box, and website to facilitate adoption efforts.

Experience and Training

Even if you have extensive experience working with animals, it is wise to take the time to volunteer at local shelters or rescues to learn how they operate. A working knowledge of animal health, pet first aid, and pet CPR is beneficial.


It is important to check the zoning regulations for the land you plan to use for your rescue facility. Also, you must evaluate whether the structures on the land (if they are pre-existing) can be converted for your purposes, or if new construction will be necessary.

The facility needs to have sections available to separate dogs from cats, nursing mothers with offspring from the general population, small animals from large animals, and young animals from adults. Isolation areas are also necessary to quarantine new additions so any infectious diseases are not transmitted to healthy animals.

Legal Considerations

If your rescue group can qualify for non-profit status (also known as 501(c)3 tax-exempt status), donors will be allowed to write off their contributions of money, food, and supplies. After filling out the proper paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service, it can take three to six months (or more) to obtain non-profit status.

You should check into the licenses required by your city and state. You will likely need a business license, and some localities also require a kennel license.

It is important to have release forms drafted for use when an animal is dropped off or adopted out. It is also wise to have volunteers or those providing a foster home to also sign a basic release form.

Fundraising & Donations

A membership program can raise regular funds from animal lovers in the community. A website and email newsletter should be available to your members to demonstrate what is being accomplished with their support. Be sure to send acknowledgments for donations.

Other fundraising activities include applying for grants and endowments, hosting benefit events (dinner, fashion show, or art show), asking local animal businesses to keep a donation jar on their desk, seeking publicity from the media, and selling items such as tee shirts and hats featuring the rescue’s name and logo.

Donations of goods and services are often as important as financial contributions. Pet food companies may provide discounted or free bags of food. Hotels may provide old bedding and towels for use in cages. Newspaper stands may donate unsold papers. Local pet photographers may agree to take photos of your animals for your website or brochures.

Veterinary Assistance

Establishing a good relationship with a local veterinarian is critical. Many dogs and cats that are turned in to rescue groups need spay and neuter services, basic vaccinations, and medication. Some vets may agree to discount the cost of medical services for rescue animals, or even do the work pro bono.

Record Keeping

Accurate records must be kept at all times. Donations should be carefully recorded for tax purposes. Detailed cage cards and files should be kept for each animal. All release and adoption forms should also be filed.


You will need to obtain an insurance policy that covers liability and other needs. The coverage will protect you in the event that someone is bitten or injured by an animal or is otherwise injured on the premises.

Coordinate with Other Rescues and Shelters

It is important to establish relationships with other shelters, humane societies, and animal control offices. Let them know what type of animals you will be willing to accept into your rescue program, and set up regular visits to check their populations for potential rescues.

Additional Sources of Information

Information on starting a shelter may also be found at the website of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

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