Wouldn’t it be wonderful to start your own animal rescue or sanctuary? I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this would be a dream come true. It’s so inspiring to read about others who’ve gone before and turned their ideas for rescues into realities—for instance, Farm Sanctuary, The Gentle Barn, Bat World Sanctuary, Center for Great Apes and The Wild Animal Sanctuary (just to name a few). If starting an animal rescue sounds like your true calling in life, here are four questions to ask before you take the leap:

What kinds of animals do you want to save?
There’s a big difference between establishing a small shelter to save a handful of cats and dogs vs. exotic big cats, elephants or horses. Think ahead about what size and type of facility or acreage you’ll need, and if you’ll have access to the resources and space necessary to manage it. Start small in the beginning so you can work out all the kinks and stay on top of what comes—you’ll have the ability to expand later once your rescue takes off.

How comfortable are you with the business side?
At the end of the day, a nonprofit is a business just like any other. You’ll need a team of people you trust and critical business skills to ensure success. Yes, you’ll be helping animals—but you’ll also spend your nights and weekends writing a business plan, filling out paperwork to obtain nonprofit status, managing people and zoning issues, fundraising, handling legal issues and more. If you’re sure starting an animal rescue is for you, learn all you can before you launch. You can take an informative workshop on the topic from Best Friends Animal Society, read books such as How to Start and Run a Rescue by Jennifer Williams, and interview the founders of other rescues for their best tips for success.

Is it really viable in the long term?
An animal rescue can quickly grow out of control if not managed and funded properly. How will you pay for rent, vet bills and so on? Will you be able to raise money, grow membership and pay salaries in the long term? There are also emotional issues such as burnout and compassion fatigue to deal with, which are real risks for those spending their lives helping homeless and abused animals. It’s a lot to think about, but don’t lost hope: Look around at all the animal rescues that inspire you, and keep in mind that they, too, faced challenges such as these in order to start and grow to where they are today.

What’s your ultimate goal?
I’m guessing that your goal is, in general terms, to help animals in need. But sometimes, starting a rescue isn’t the best way to serve those animals. Perhaps your animal rescue idea is already successfully established in your local community, and simply volunteering there might be a better use of your time and resources. Or, instead of a shelter, brainstorm alternative nonprofits you can start to help animals. For instance, my Shelter Animal Reiki Association isn’t an animal rescue, but we do bring Reiki programs into shelters and sanctuaries worldwide—and that work supports hundreds and thousands of animals in a different way.

Do you dream of opening an animal rescue? I’d love to hear about it.

6 thoughts on “Starting an animal rescue: what you need to know”


    Hello Kathleen,
    I’m interested in opening a not for profit animal rescue in the Midwest ( specifically MT,ND&SD)for exotic animals only, as there are very few options in the tri-state area for birds, reptiles,sugar gliders etc… I have signed up for the best friends work shop on how to start a sanctuary but it seems to focus on cats,dogs and other common pets. I was wondering if you have any information on workshops or websites that would be tailored more towards exotic animals?
    Thank you for your time,

    1. That’s a wonderful goal Chelsea! And I’m so glad you’re taking Best Friend’s workshop. If you want to do exotics, I would recommend volunteering at a sanctuary near you that is doing something similar, or if there’s no one in your area, traveling and doing an extensive internship at an established exotics sanctuary, so you can see what it entails on a day to day basis. Also, cultivating relationships with people who can advise you and help you to fundraise would be very important 🙂 Blessings to you on your journey!

  2. I am in the early stages of opening a sanctuary. I have an attorney working pro bono for me and he is handling all the paperwork. He said he should have papers ready by end of this month. Like getting my EIN. I’m in wv. Probably one of the hardest states to do this in. There are only 3 zoos. My main question is. Should you take money raised to visit other sanctuaries the long established ones. I plan on doing farm animals and some dogs and cats maybe rabbits. Then expand. I also know that I should go become a vet tech and volunteer at a zoo which I intend to do. I have to raise from dollar 1 up and buy property so I have a long road but am great at fundraiser and have an amazing grant rider I plan on dogs that come in and can be to be trained as service and companion dogs and given to families.

  3. Im 20 years old. I am in college for a bachelors in Biology and then Zoology. I would love to open a sanctuary and rescue animals. I’ve always loved taking care of animals and devoting my life and soul into something as amazing as a sanctuary is my dream. I would love for my sanctuary to be a forever home for the animals with the exception of a few animals being adoptable to good families. The families obviously would not get them right away I would have them spend a few days getting use to the animal and making sure that they really want it before sending it with a new family. I believe that it will be hard and difficult at times but so rewarding in the end. Where I live the closest sanctuary is in another state about 4 1/2 to 5 hours away. So I feel that it will really help the animals in the area that have been abandoned, hurt, mistreated, and abused. If you have any suggestions or anything you’d like to tell me please feel free to!

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