It's a noble thing to want to help homeless dogs. With the overpopulation problem as bad as it is in the United States, strays can use all the friends they can get. It's not easy, however, to start a rescue group. It's very challenging.
Check all the zoning laws in the area where you want to start your rescue group. If you are looking to build or to rent space, you will need to be sure the area you are considering is zoned properly for your endeavor. All your good work will be for naught if you find out later the area on which you have set your heart is not properly zoned for an animal shelter. There is nothing worse than getting all set up and then learning your building is not zoned for an animal shelter.
Apply for any necessary permits and licenses. This will include filing the paperwork to create a nonprofit organization in your state, acquiring local business licenses and paying permit fees.
Research and identify grant and other funding opportunities. Financing is always a big issue with dog rescue organizations. Adoption fees will help, but they will not cover the enormous bills you will accumulate while building your shelter. Keep in mind you will need a budget that includes rent or mortgage, equipment, salaries, insurance, taxes, dog supplies, dog food, water and electric bills, and building and equipment upkeep. In addition to the medical and surgical equipment, you will need kennels, banks of cages or crates and a place for the dogs to exercise.
Recruit a board of directors to assist you with fund-raising, marketing, publicity and other operation of the rescue facility. Discuss with your board any partnerships you may enter into for the acquisition of animals such as forming alliances with other rescue groups or asking a local vet to donate services. Your board can help you decide how you will meet the veterinary needs of the dogs in your care and discuss the best route for sterilization, vaccination, microchipping and health issues. They'll help answer questions such as whether you should hire an in-house vet or recruit vets to volunteer to help you, and, if the latter, how you approach them, what's in it for them, and other concerns. Create a business plan that will allow you to raise the money to meet the dogs' needs, such as feeding, grooming and enrichment of the dogs in your care.
Select your board of directors carefully. It's tempting to fill your board with friends and family, but a board of directors can be your biggest ally in your quest to start a rescue group for dogs. Involve passionate people who will donate their professional services to the organization. For example, if you have an accountant, a lawyer, a marketing professional and a vet on your board, you have an advantage because you will not have to pay for those services. The board members should donate these services; in return they'll have a tax write-off for donating to a nonprofit. Also, a board of directors, while not being involved with the minutiae of the day-to-day routine, will be able to advise you on how to set up that routine, iron out any issues that come your way, and help you meet problems head-on. There are many decisions to be made; an educated, involved and passionate board of directors is your best resource.
Assemble your foster network. This will be a network of like-minded individuals who have the wherewithal and accommodations to offer temporary homes for dogs while they are awaiting adoption. You could choose to begin a breed-specific rescue, such as a poodle rescue, a specialized rescue such as a small breed dog rescue, or a rescue that serves all breeds and sizes of dogs.
Employ social media sites, email, websites, brochures and meetings to publicize the news that you are starting a dog rescue group. This will help you recruit more foster families; to secure donations of money, food and supplies such as bedding and toys; and to find willing community resources such as groomers who will help the dogs look their best, vets who will care for them and photographers and techies who will get them to "smile pretty" so you can advertise them on a website and elsewhere.
Notify the community and other animal-rescue facilities that you are ready and willing to take in stray or unwanted dogs and that you will be willing to assist other organizations do the same. If you are truly passionate about beginning a rescue organization to help dogs, you will find a way. The best advice, though it may seem trite, is to "follow your heart" -- if you are doing something you love doing, you can't fail. Don't be afraid to let others help you. Once you get rolling, you'll be surprised at how many people will be cheering you on.
Items You Will Need
- Shelter space (optional)
- Foster homes (optional)
- Dog food
- Veterinary care
- Dog treats and toys
- Dog bedding
- Dog restraint items (leashes, crates and collars)
- Starting out as a foster rescue organization with the goal of moving into a bricks-and-mortar building is a good way to begin rescuing dogs quickly and growing slowly. It is much more difficult to raise the money for an actual shelter than it is to convince like-minded friends to help house dogs temporarily.
- Consider acquiring an RV, either by purchase or donation, and retrofit it with banks of cages so you can travel about the community, offering dogs for adoption out of the RV. Many successful organizations start this way. An RV is less costly with upkeep than a building, and it helps you with publicity and community outreach when you take it to local fairs, festivals, green markets and other events.
- Be careful not to take in more dogs than you can accommodate or afford. It's very tempting to want to help them all, but it's virtually impossible.
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