6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting an Animal Rescue

By Paula Fitzsimmons

There’s no question a need for animal rescues, shelters, and sanctuaries exists.

The animal welfare community has worked – and succeeded – to decrease the number of homeless animals, but there are still pressing issues. According to a 2012-2013 study by the former National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (by way of the Humane Society of the US), there are an estimated 3,500 animal shelters in the United States – with 6 to 8 million cats and dogs entering these shelters each year.

This is not even taking into consideration the other species – birds, reptiles, rabbits, and other exotic animals – in  need. Statistics for these animals are even more difficult to locate; but having spoken with avian sanctuary managers, I feel confident that there is a need for quality rescues. In an article I wrote about running an avian rescue, I heard stories of birds having to be turned away for lack of space. Some situations are quite desperate.

As an animal lover you may be reading this, ready and willing to start your own shelter. After all, you get to spend your day surrounded by animals, while making a difference in their lives. What’s not to like?

This is not meant to discourage you, because this work can be quite satisfying. But before you even consider taking on the monumental task of being responsible for animal lives, you may want to start by honestly answering the following – because the realities may not necessarily match your expectations.


Also read “Should You Start Your Own Animal Welfare Nonprofit?


1. Can you make a lifetime commitment?

Running an animal rescue or sanctuary is unlike most jobs, or even businesses, in that you can’t just quit or close shop when you’ve become tired or bored. It’s a lifetime commitment. Sort of like the commitment you made to your beloved companion animals – except that with sanctuary work, you’ll have many more lives to consider, and many more responsibilities.

Even if you’re in it for the long stretch, do you have a network of trusted people who can take your place in the event you can no longer take charge?


2. Do you value your free time? How about sleep?

This is not a 9 to 5 job. It’s not even a 7 to 5 job. When you run a sanctuary, the animals are ultimately your responsibility, so you’re on call all the time. While having staff, volunteers, and trusted supporters does indeed allow rescuers to enjoy some time off, it’s not always the case.

If you become like most rescuers I’ve spoken with – and especially if you’re just starting out – it’s more likely your free time will be at a premium. From administrative duties and performing damage control, to running sick animals to the vet and constantly having to raise funds . . . plan on full days.


3. How do you get along with people?

Learning to communicate with a variety of personalities is essential to running an animal welfare operation. One of the benefits of this line of work is that you’ll probably meet some of the kindest people this planet has to offer. But you’ll also likely run into your share of critics and unkind people.

And you’ll need to negotiate with donors, neighbors, members, and supporters . . .with grace and professionalism.


4. Are you adept at fundraising, or are you willing to learn?

Locating funds is a constant challenge for shelters. Along with your other responsibilities, you’ll need to constantly hustle to raise money for food, housing, veterinary expenses, toys, bedding, cages, and other expenses that arise. You may be able to find veterinarians & other vendors willing to donate their time or services, but you can’t count on it.

Can you write grant proposals, organize special events, hold membership drives – all while running a rescue? Or are there people who can commit to helping you with this?


5. How do you handle burnout?

If you’ve read up to this point, you’ll hopefully realize that running a rescue isn’t for those afraid of hard work and commitment. The heartbreaking stories, the critics, the stress of lack of funding . . . the utter exhaustion. These aspects can all take their toll on your health and well-being. Which is why it’s vital to know how to practice self care, which includes maintaining a network of caring, trusting people to be part of your circle.


6. Do you have a plan?

Running an animal rescue requires more than just acquiring a few homeless animals and calling it a day. If you want to operate a nonprofit, there are rules to follow. And logistics to consider – where will your funding come from (see how that pesky word, funding, keeps coming up?); where will you locate affordable, yet healthful food for the animals; who will be on your board of directors; who will be in charge if you need to take time off; how will you transport animals to the vet? These are just some of the questions requiring readily available answers.


If you’re sure you want to make the commitment, you thankfully don’t have to do this alone . . . resources exist to help you along your journey. Some to consider include ASPCA Professional, and Animal Sheltering (a program of the Humane Society of the US), and Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries,

If you decide running a rescue is not for you, don’t let your talents and devotion go to waste – consider working for a sanctuary, or perhaps even volunteering for one. If you care and are committed, you are most definitely needed.

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