How to Start a Dog Rescue Business
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How to Start a Dog Rescue Business

How to start a dog rescue business. How to raise money and form a charity to rescue unwanted pet dogs. Other tips about being a dog shelter. How to open your own dog rescue. Learn more about admitting dogs and how to adopt them out. How to make a dog adoption contract.

Dog lovers often think about starting their own dog rescue business, but just how does one go about opening their own dog rescue shelter?

Research Laws and Need

Find out the laws in your area regarding how many dogs you can keep on your property, or if you need to find a place in an area with different zoning (many shelters are in Industrial zoned areas).

As with opening any new business, you should research the need, and demand. If your area already has several dog rescues, they may not need another.

Find out what business license is required. You may need a “Kennel” permit.

Find out about the noise by-laws in your area and look into ways to control noise from barking (when dogs are outside).

Learn more in regards to running a private shelter or charity. If you wish to run a charity (and give tax receipts for donations) you will have to register as such, and may be required to have a “Board of Directors”, and a yearly “Annual General Meeting” with elections of officers.

If you have no experience, you may want to spend a week (or more) volunteering at another well established Dog Rescue in another area to learn about how they run things, asking them what they would do differently if they were to start again.

Different Facility Types

  • Some dog rescues are run out of private homes, keeping a few dogs on the premise (within the city by-laws for number of dogs).
  • Some dog rescue groups make use of “Foster Homes” where the dogs are in several homes throughout the city, or area.
  • Most rescues are run out of buildings set up primarily as a shelter facilities, however to get such a facilities requires a lot of early financial commitment, or the luck of a generous donation.

Other shelters are a combination of two, or more, of the above.

It should be noted that shelters that do not have one public building have a more difficult time getting adoptions for their animals unless they have venues where the dogs can be brought and shown to the public, such as an “adoption event” in a city park, or at a store.  Many dog rescues start out in a persons home with the intention of moving to a proper building.

Decide what Type of Dog Rescue you want to be

Some dog rescues are breed specific, they accept only dogs of certain breeds. They try to reunite the dogs with their breeder, but failing this, adoption is the main goal.

Some dogs rescues are age specific, either accepting only older, and harder to place dogs, or young puppies.

Most dog rescues accept only owner relinquished dogs, or dogs from other shelters and pounds.

Some dog rescues accept stray dogs. If you are thinking of accepting strays, is that you become familiar with the laws regarding strays in your area. Often each area already has a place for strays (such as a pound, SPCA, or Humane Society), and the public knows to contact them when a dog is lost. If your area already has such a place then by accepting strays you may confuse the public in now they have other places to look.

Note the area laws, most require a stray dog to be held for a minimum of 72 hours (10 days for animals with identification) before it legally belongs to the shelter, assuming that during these 72 hours the owner would have easy contact with the shelter to claim their lost pet. As such if you take in any strays you (your rescue) must report finding them to the center that deals with strays in the area, and your rescue would not be considered the owner of the pet for a greater time, and could not ask for funds from the owner to return the pet to them. Your dog resuce shelter might be accused of theft if it accepts strays when there is already a shelter that handles strays, as such this might be a good thing to avoid (unless nobody takes in the strays). Either way you should inquire to the laws in your area regarding stray dogs.

Ideally if you are going to accept strays you should make a deal with your local police department and city, such that you get funded to act as the city pound. Of course if you want to do this you must be open regular hours. Unclaimed dogs become your property to adopt out, or euthanize.

Some dog rescues operate as “No-Kill”, meaning that once a dog is accepted it will not be destroyed. There are always some rules that can be broken, if the dog is in physical pain, or has other problems that are beyond the rescues ability to deal with. Generally “No-Kill” means fewer than 5% euthanasia rate. No-Kill shelters typically turn dogs away when they are full and cannot house more dogs.

Other shelters practice euthanasia when they are full, or if they feel a dog is unadoptable.

Once you have decided what type of dog rescue you want to be, and whether or not you will accept stray dogs, put everything in writing as this will be your “Mandate” or “Mission Statement”.

Public or Private – This refers mostly to how you can gain funding. If you are private you rely on your own money and donations (but they may be harder to come by). If you are public (and have registered as a charity) you can accept donations in exchange for tax receipts, but must allow the public to become members, have a Board of Directors, and so forth.

Proper Dog rescues are Non-Profit.

Accepting Dogs

You should have a contract asking information about the dog, as well as making sure the contract states that the owner is signing the title of ownership over to you, the dog rescue. Typically the owners are allowed a 72 hour window to change their mind, after which the shelter is considered the legal owner (assuming it was the owner that brought in the dog). Typically a “relinquishment” fee is requested. This generally will weed out people trying to dump a neighbors pet, and should not be so high it limits people who are in financial straights. Indeed, the relinquishment fee is more of a token, than to help pay for much of the pets expenses.

Proper shelters accept owners bringing in unwanted dogs, they do not buy dogs, nor do they go around advertising “Dogs Wanted”. Proper shelters do not become “hoarders”, they accept dogs for one reason, to help the dog find a new home – this is called “adoption”.

Adopting Dogs

You will need a questionnaire and adoption contract. Your questionnaire should ask people if they own their home, or rent (and you need to follow up to be sure they have landlord approval to own a dog). Ask if they have a fenced yard or dog run, some municipalities do not allow people to keep dogs on chains, and many shelters will not adopt to homes that intend to keep dogs this way. Your questionnaire should cover their lifestyle to help you determine if the dog they selected is a good fit. You will want to know their level of knowledge regarding dog care and ownership, so you can offer them advice as needed. You will want to ask if they have had dogs in the past (and what became of them), or if they currently have dogs and other pets. You will need to make sure they have a veterinarian.

The questionnaire needs to establish that you have the right to refuse adoptions for any reason. Some dog rescue groups even insist on home approvals prior to adoption.

You will need an adoption contract. This should cover all points of adoption. It needs to have a description of the pet, the identification of the rescue group, and the new owner. It needs to be dated, and signed by both parties. The contract itself then covers the care the new owner is to have of the dog, such as if they are required to spay or neuter it, and within what time frame. It must cover known health concerns of the dog, as well as any guarantees of health offered by the rescue group. Most offer 10 day – 2 week health guarantees on diseases, but do not cover injuries – and ask that if the dog is ill that the adopter call the rescue group first prior to seeing a veterinarian, the rescue group then has to authorize a vet visit at the rescue groups expense.

The contract must state that the rescue group has the right to demand the return of the dog if any rules of the contract (such as failure to spay/neuter) are broken. It should also specify that if the new owner cannot care for the dog at any point in its lifetime (or one year from the adoption date) the dog be returned to the rescue group rather than rehomed by the new owner.

The questionnaire must mention the adoption fee, and what it includes, as well as what, if any, refund options are available if the dog is returned. Most shelters do not offer a refund, but some will allow for an adopter to return a dog and switch for another in certain situations.

The dog adoption contract should be checked by a lawyer.

The rescue group will keep the questionnaire and one copy of the adoption contract, the adopter will get the other copy of the adoption contract.

SPCA dog

Funding and Staffing

Most shelters start out as something people do in their own time with their own money. Eventually, and especially if they form a proper charity, they hold fund raising activities and accept financial donations. Proper budgeting is important to keep the shelter in operation for many years, as such (unless you are lucky enough to receive government assistance – as when operating as the cities dog pound) the staff will probably not be paid initially.

As funds are gained having paid staff is important.  Funds can be gained through fund raising events, adoption fees, and applying for charity grants.  As suggested earlier, operating as a pound for the city will also generate funds to be used for staffing.  Funds can be raised by running a "charity shop" a store where donated items are sold, or even where pet supplies are purchased from wholesalers and sold retail (other business licenses may be needed for this).  Volunteers should be used to help kept staff expenses low, however volunteers should never be trusted with certain duties that should be long to paid employees (opening up, locking up, dealing with sick or dangerous animals, handling money).  Most established shelters use volunteers as dog walkers, and foster homes.

Starting a dog rescue shelter should be something you do from the heart, not something you do to make money.

Related Reading

The Difference Between No-Kill and Regular Animal Shelters

If Animal Shelters Really Want to Save Pets, Why Don't they Give Pets for Free?

How to Raise Funds for Animal Shelters

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Comments (8)

I applaud everyone that does anything to help dogs or any animals. Great write.

Great article and beautiful pictures

Wonderful article!

This is really a good business idea!

Wonderful article. I really love pets, especially dogs and cats but don't have one due to the feat it may bite.

Great info. Interesting and useful. Write more !

Tina Busch

I loved this article and it was very helpful. As I am looking into starting an animal rescue that is similar to Villalobos (pitbulls and parolees on animal planet) that is specific to beds such as pitbulls, rotties and bullies. I wasnt to do this because I dont think the wheelers in my area have the resources to have training specific to these strong, loveable yet stubborn and feared breeds. Although I would like to help and work with the city youth to give them another alternative to juvenile facilities and a way to straighten out their lives and relationships before it is too late. I have a lot of research to do but this was a great start. If anyone has any suggestions or would like to become involved please contact me at I life in harrisburg, pa and own to start it in this area. Thank you.

this is wonderful for a dog lover like me who wants to step into business! i realized that my passion for these dogs will improve my current earnings. I just dont want to have one source of income. By the way guys if im gonna be starting a business like these do i need a business listing strategy for promoting it? is it worth it?