More Than the Warm Fuzzies:
How To Start an Animal Rescue

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Starting an animal rescue may be about the critters first, but it also requires many of the same building blocks required by any new business launch—a business plan, mission statement, needs analysis, marketing and start-up funds.

One important way in which creating this type of business is very different? You’re dealing with lives, not just dollars. A poorly thought out start-up plan or unrealistic expectations about your resources can have disastrous, even fatal, consequences for the animals in your care.

At the same time, there’s no feeling like saving a life (furry or otherwise). And there’s no shortage of animals that need your help. With proper strategizing, you can start your own rescue.

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ESTABLISH WHETHER STARTING A RESCUE IS THE RIGHT THING FOR YOU

One thing that many people fail to realize is that you don’t have to be an adoption-based rescue to help save animals’ lives. Creating a network of foster homes for other rescues; starting a marketing campaign to encourage adoption; working to shut down puppy-mills; or advocating for the end of breed discrimination legislation—these are all important parts of helping reduce the numbers of homeless animals.

There are so many ways to help animals in need and feel the gratitude that an animal can show.

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WHO NEEDS HELP MOST?

If starting a rescue is the right path for you, next, consider whether your business idea has a market in your community. In this case, the market is your community and what the animals in your community need.

Are there are preponderance of feral cats? Are there specific breeds, such as chihuahuas or pit bulls, that are abandoned more often than others? Is there a lack of low-cost places for animals to be spayed or neutered? Ask yourself what the biggest needs in your community are, and find the one that speaks to you the most. If you live in a place where it snows most of the year, you’re probably not going to have much call for an iguana rescue.

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GET YOUR PAPERS IN ORDER

If you want to run a rescue that adopts out animals, research what should be included in the adoption and foster agreements. You can find sample forms online.

Be sure to get your volunteers to sign paperwork acknowledging they are aware that animals can be unpredictable and accidents happen. All volunteers should be trained in animal handling, but you also need to release yourself from legal responsibility in the event someone gets hurt.

And about those volunteers….

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DON’T GO IT ALONE

It’s fine if you would rather fly solo, but be aware that the physical, financial and emotional toll of running a rescue are extreme. Unexpected veterinary bills can run to the thousands. Saying good-bye to an animal is heartbreaking for most of us. And between caring for the animals, transporting them, marketing your rescue, and raising funds, it can exhaust even the most driven of people.
Look for volunteers who can help fundraise, assist with social media or just be there when you need to talk to someone.

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F.F.F. – FIND FOSTERS FIRST

Building or renting a facility that can adequately house your rescued animals is out of the reach of most of us. This is one of the reasons foster homes are so important to rescue groups. Many people make the mistake of rescuing the animal first, then looking for someone to foster him.

Securing a foster home should be on the top of your list of things to do before you starting taking animals. Even better, find a network of people willing to foster.

CALENDAR YOUR BREAKS

No matter how resilient you think you are, you will experience periods of “rescue burnout.” The only way to keep going is to plan temporary reprieves where you can step away. While any start-up can put a strain your well-being, the emotional aspect of rescue is especially draining. Schedule time off before the fatigue kicks in and give yourself time to recharge.

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