Loving dogs is not enough to run a successful rescue, and the decision to start a rescue should not be taken lightly. There are many emotional, situational, and financial considerations.
Many new rescues underestimate the time, expense, and problems associated with running a rescue and soon find themselves overwhelmed and unable to do the right thing for the animals in their care.
Rescue organizations must anticipate unforeseen problems like injuries, illnesses, and contagious disease and must have a plan to deal with them.
There is no greater failure than becoming unable to care for the animals you “rescue” because you did not properly plan your organization. Careful planning and honest introspection can help you decide whether starting your own rescue or volunteering with an existing rescue is right for you.
Why Start a Rescue
If you’re interested in starting a rescue because you just found out how many dogs are euthanized in shelters each year and you want to do something to help save them, volunteering with an existing rescue or shelter may be the best choice.
On the other hand, many rescues are born out of a community need. For example, if the local shelters are inundated with black dogs and nobody is serving their needs, starting a black dog rescue might be a great idea. (Known as black dog syndrome, black dogs are often the last to get adopted out of shelters due to dim shelter lighting and/or people’s superstitions.)
Another reason people start rescues is because, after working with an existing rescue, they develop different ideas about how a rescue should run and decide to go for it on their own.
Look around and see what rescues already exist. Is there one that fits your interests where you can volunteer? Is there a need for the type of rescue that you are most interested in? Above all else, remember that running a rescue is hard work, and the only way to succeed is to be extremely passionate and diligent about your rescue.
Do not expect to rely on volunteers to pick up all of the work because reliable volunteers are hard to find and keep. Of course, volunteers are an integral part of running a rescue, but in the beginning, you’ll be doing most of the work.
Volunteering with an existing rescue is a good way to find out if you have the drive and desire to start your own.
Starting a rescue is a life-changing undertaking, even after you find dependable, capable volunteers to help you. It’s essentially a full-time, unpaid job. As the founder, the rescue is ultimately your responsibility from start to finish. You will be regularly engaged in computer work, human interactions, canine interactions, daily maintenance activities, vet visits, networking, fundraising, publicity, and much more.
•Are you organized?
•Being organized is helpful, but if you’re naturally a disorganized person, at least recruit an organized treasurer early on to keep your records straight.
•Are you a “people” person?
•If you are starting a dog rescue to escape humans, you are entering the wrong line of volunteer work. Much of what is involved with running a rescue requires you to deal with people. You need to be able to successfully communicate with volunteers, adopters, board members, etc.
If you are not a people person, partner with some people who are great communicators and let them manage volunteers, adopters, events, and other people-related facets of your rescue.
•Can you honestly assess your strengths and weakness?
•What are you good at? What are you not-so-good at? Make a list, and run it by some trusted friends. Do they agree? To avoid burnout, retain volunteers. Succeeding in rescue requires an understanding of when to participate and when to let others handle things.
•Can you delegate responsibilities?
•Burnout is one of the biggest challenges of running a rescue. Most founders work full-time jobs and then spend the majority of their “free” time working on their rescue. One way to mitigate burnout and ensure a balanced life is to recruit great volunteers and delegate responsibilities to them. Your rescue will not grow if you hold on to control too tightly.
•Do you have space to house the dogs until you get foster homes?
•You will not be able to save every dog who comes your way, and when you begin, you will have limited access to foster homes. Even as you grow, situations will arise where dogs will need temporary shelter and care.
Is your family on-board with your starting a rescue? Are your current companion animals? Will you be able to house dogs in your home temporarily or pay for a local boarding facility to house them? (Often local boarding facilities will give discounts to rescue or foster for free. It’s worthwhile to begin developing relationships with them early on.)
•Are you in a financial position to support the animals you rescue, at least in the beginning as you develop your rescue?
•Veterinary care, grooming, and feeding are not cheap. There will be times, especially before you are incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit, that you will need to use your own money to help the dogs in your care. Are you willing and able to do so? Is your family okay with the idea?
•Is your family on board with your decision to start a rescue?
•Rescue is going to take up a lot of your time and at least some of your money. Does your family understand that and support your decision to start a rescue?
Starting a rescue is not worth losing your family over, as there are always other ways you can help, like volunteering with existing organizations, blogging about pet-related topics, coordinating local adoption events, etc.
•Do you have time to properly care for the rescued dogs, recruit volunteers, arrange transport, attend events, and do the necessary paperwork?
•Again, rescue is physically and emotionally consuming. It is a lot of work, and takes a significant amount of time. If you have the time and emotional strength to handle it, rescue is very rewarding, but remember, once you start, you are responsible for the dogs in your care. Be sure you’re available for them.
•Do you have considerable knowledge of the breed(s) you will be rescuing?
•You will learn as you go, but if you are getting involved with a specific breed, you should learn as much as you can about the breed beforehand.
For example, what are common illnesses? Temperament issues? Exercise requirements? This will help you in selecting families for your adoptable dogs and will help you to more quickly identify when veterinary care or special training is needed.
Whether you are starting a breed-specific rescue or general rescue, knowledge of training techniques is always useful.
•Do you have any experience in management?
Rescue Development Process
Once you’ve decided that founding a rescue is, indeed, your calling, you should follow a logical process to get started. Founding a rescue isn’t as simple as bringing home a stray dog, thinking up a name, and putting an ad on Craigslist because, aside from needing a business structure to attract donors, volunteers, and adopters, without a carefully-planned adoption process, you could be putting the dogs you are trying to save at great risk.
Below are several steps that are necessary in founding a rescue. They do not necessarily have to be completed in this order, but you should set a timeline to accomplish them all:
1.Write a business plan.
2.Decide on your rescue structure and find volunteers to fill critical roles.
3.Incorporate your organization, obtain a rescue license (only necessary in
some states), and prepare your 501(c)3 paperwork.
4.Set up means of contact (phone number, email, PO box, etc.).
5.Build a website, make a Facebook page, start Tweeting, etc.
6.Develop a relationship with veterinarians.
7.Introduce yourself to local shelters.
8.Research online and local marketing opportunities.
9.Identify and stick to your limitations.
10.Start saving dogs.