By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 19 August 2008)
Many people contemplate starting homeless pet shelters because they care about animals and have taken in a number of strays. If you think this is something you’d like to do, a fair amount of research and preparation is required.
It’s advisable to volunteer at a local shelter and visit as many shelters as possible beforehand. You’ll need to be realistic about the time you can put in, and develop strategies for meeting food, facility, financial, and medical requirements in advance.
Regular supplies of high-quality food must be arranged. While dogs can eat a more varied diet, cats thrive on consistency, so switching brands frequently is not a good idea.
Ideally, you’ll be able to organize regular food donations, but this can require a lot of work to set up. Major pet supply and grocery stores may be willing to donate ripped petfood bags.
If you’ve found a suitable piece of property on which to locate your shelter, you’ll need to learn about local zoning laws, which regulate the ways in which land may be used and the number of animals permitted.
Neighbours should also be taken into account, especially if your shelter will house dogs. Having a buffer of trees can help, as can space between the shelter and its nearest neighbours.
A third issue is stability. Leasing is not a good idea because if there are any conflicts with the land owner, the animals may need to be relocated.
The nature of the land itself must also be taken into account. It’s best to avoid areas that are prone to floods and where access roads are not passable year-round. There must also be access to power and water.
Establishing a facility may involve adapting existing buildings or constructing new ones. If planning to rescue both cats and dogs, there should be separate areas for each as the barking of dogs can be extremely stressful for cats.
Facilities will also require quarantine areas for new animals, which should be kept separate for at least two weeks while temperament and health are assessed. This prevents violent confrontations and the spread of disease, as well as allowing the new arrival to get used to the place.
Shelters must have the financial and physical resources to deal with injury and illness, as well as spaying, neutering, and vaccinations. You’ll need one or more veterinarians working with your shelter. You may be able to negotiate discounts on medical care and medications, and if you’re really lucky, a veterinarian may donate some time.
Caring for many animals around the clock requires more than one or two people. Depending on the size of your shelter, you may be able to run with just volunteers, or you might need to hire some paid full-time staff as well.
To facilitate adoptions, you can post photos of animals on your website and at various pet supply stores. Networking with other organizations, such as breed rescue groups, can also help facilitate adoptions.
You can increase the likelihood of successful adoptions by having an animal trainer who can correct problem behaviours, such as litter box avoidance and aggression. You’ll also need to establish a database to record contact information of adopters, spay/neuter records, microchip ID numbers, vaccinations, etc.
You’ll have to do a lot of fundraising to cover both operating and capital expenses. Fundraising strategies include:
- Membership programs – Send an invitation to local animal lovers to become members of your organization. They will provide regular donations or sponsor animals, and in return receive newsletters with upbeat stories about animal rescues.
- Tables and booths – Seek permission to set up a table at a popular store with an eye-catching display to attract new members.
- Publicity – Build membership and obtain donations by sending heart-warming stories to local TV stations and newspapers.
- Car washes and bake sales – Recruit young people to help with these fun events.
- Donation cans in stores – These generate a small, steady income.
- Percentage of sales – Ask stores to donate a percentage of profits on certain days, and help them promote these events.
- Products – Local creative people may be willing to donate their services to make jewellery, T-shirts, hats, and anything else that can be sold to benefit animals.
- Events – Benefit dinners and other events can generate large donations, though they require significant organization and advertising. A professional event coordinator may be willing to donate time to the cause.
You can also solicit in-kind donations. Ask companies to donate goods, materials, or even services – anything from building materials to bedding to petfood. Many establishments will donate end runs or less attractive merchandise in exchange for a tax write-off, and hotels may donate old sheets, bedspreads, and blankets. You can also negotiate deals to obtain supplies cheaply – it’s always a good idea to ask and see what you can get.
Education and Outreach
By conducting education and outreach activities such as visiting local schools, offering pet care information on your website, and conducting guided tours of your facility, you can help raise awareness and funds. You can also offer an internship program, giving people interested in working with animals the opportunity to obtain hands-on experience.
In addition to zoning, there are other legalities to attend to, including:
- Obtaining tax-exempt, non-profit status, which increases an organization’s credibility and the likelihood of receiving regular donations
- Purchasing liability insurance
- Employing an accountant and/or attorney
- Developing release forms for potential adopters and shelter personnel or volunteers covering requirements, issues, and risks involved in adopting or working with animals
- Checking if your municipality requires a kennel license
Information for this brief overview was obtained from “How to Start an Animal Sanctuary” (PDF file) by Faith Maloney, Director of Animal Care for Best Friends Animal Society. If you plan to start an animal sanctuary, visit the Best Friends Animal Society for comprehensive information on everything you’ll need to know to make your shelter a success.