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How To Start A Cat Rescue

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Set Up An Accounting System And Budget

How to start an animal rescue

Youll need an effective accounting system that documents income and expenses in understandable categories. If you do not have an accountant or bookkeeper, consider recruiting one to help you with this task.

What do we do first? Youll need to create a budget. Based on your track record of spending and bringing in resources and on your plans for the next year, you can project expenses. If youre just starting out, use your goals as a starting point for estimating expenses. Your accountant can be of help here. The budget is a guideline. You don’t have to get it penny-perfect just do the best you can. You’ll get better at projections over time.

When doing your budget, do not neglect to allocate resources to fundraising. It takes money to make money!

Why go through all this? Well, there are several good reasons: First, the board and executive director need to have a clear understanding of the resources needed to make your plans work. Its a sobering experience to realize that you have the responsibility to raise these resources.

Second, the IRS requires that you put together a budget and have a sound accounting program in place for tracking your work. Finally, large donors, particularly foundations and businesses, will want to see your budget before they consider funding you.

When your budget is done, you can clearly see what you need to raise in terms of financial resources. But you still have more work to do to ensure the success and stability of the organization.

Come Up With A Mission Statement And A Plan

Presumably, your group has already discussed its goals at length, but now its time to put your thoughts on paper for others to see. Write a mission statement that explains the purpose of your organization. This will help guide your development and is required for incorporation as a non-profit.

To incorporate, youll need to include the organizations bylaws and articles of incorporation, as well as a list of those on the board of directors. Refer to the bylaws of other organizations for ideas samples are included in the NSO guidebook. There are a number of documents that must be filed in order to qualify for the IRSs 501 3 tax-exempt status. Mistakes in filing can mean lengthy delays in getting the shelter off the ground. Thats why its important to have an attorney help you navigate this legal process.

Once youve filed for incorporation, the next step is to develop policies and protocolsabout adoption, euthanasia and volunteering, to name just a few. Youll also to need to determine the future of your shelter. Where do you want the shelter to be in five years? In 10 years? What part will your community play in supporting the shelter? How will you develop supportive relationships with local and national vendors? Do you have people in your organization who can find and develop potential resources?

Managing An Animal Rescue

Starting an animal rescue may seem like an easy thing to do just put up a few puppies and kittens temporarily, right? If only things were that simple.

Its super rough in the beginning, Howell says. Youre dealing with things youve never dealt with before, like never-ending expenses and legal concerns, and youre learning as you go to make sure the animals are taken care of. It doesnt stop there, either.

You have to keep rolling with the punches. Having worked with this shelter for over 15 years, I can tell you that even now we face challenges. Their type and scope have evolved, but challenges are always there.

Beyond the daily operations, keeping a cool head and remembering why youre doing this are two important lessons you learn very quickly.

Once youve started your rescue, you have to manage it. Below are several key operational areas youll deal with from day to day.

Just so you know

Manage records, volunteers, and more for your animal rescue with our free customizable form templates designed to meet your needs.

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Some Practical Aspects You May Not Have Considered

Its a demanding job that may infringe on personal time

Taking care of even one animal is a 24-7 job. Owners often compare having pets to having children because they are all living, breathing creatures that need care, nurturing, attention, and time. Lots and lots of time. A running joke with pet owners is that the only difference between the two is youre allowed to leave the pet at home alone sometimes.

But thats just one animal. Imagine having to care for 10 or 100. Even if you manage to get help and youll definitely have to you still must commit a large share of your personal time to your animal rescue business.

Unlike most jobs, even when youre off, youre not really off, says Maria Gillinson, founder of Central Ontario Animal Rescue . Theres always a dog, a cat, or a person that needs something from you. For example, I was watching TV at home with my husband in the evening, and a veterinarian called needing care input on one of my recent rescue dogs. I couldnt just tell him Id call back the next day because that poor pup couldnt wait. So I took the time and answered the vets questions. I gladly accept those interruptions, of course, but its something you have to consider.

It takes an emotional toll

The joy of rescuing an animal and matching it with the perfect family can make your day. But that doesnt happen overnight. For some dogs and cats, it takes months to get adopted.

Just so you know

It requires some degree of business savvy

Know What You Are Comfortable With

How to Start a Nonprofit Animal Rescue

We are a sanctuary where animals come to live out their lives versus a rescue that adopts animals to the public. We knew that learning to say farewell to animals and simultaneously trusting people to take proper care of them would be very challenging for us, so we opted to offer forever homes to our rescues.

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Obtain 501c Nonprofit Status

If you’re in the United States, one of the most important steps in how to start a dog rescue and officially setting up this business is obtaining your 501c nonprofit status. This sets your animal rescue up as a charitable organization so that you are given more credibility as an organization, and it also limits your personal liability. Having nonprofit status also ensures that any donations made to your organization are tax-deductible which is a great leverage tool when fundraising.

For the first step in obtaining your 501c status you will need to register your corporate name and complete your incorporation paperwork. It’s not a complicated process and you can even use services like or similar to do it all quickly online. After you’re done with that, you can use IRS Form 1023-series to elect your company as nonprofit and apply for exemption.

However, if you are unfamiliar with setting up a new company and dont have a board member who can help with the process, and are uncomfortable with this type of paperwork, its best to consult an attorney or a professional incorporation organization to ensure that the process is done correctly. Improperly setting up your organizations nonprofit status can cause more than a few problems including auditing by the IRS, which is not a good way to begin. But once you have your nonprofit registered, the next step in how to start a dog rescue is putting your accountant’s hat on.

My Army Of Volunteers

Although I do all day-to-day care and most of the rescues, its basically a full-time jobin addition to my dog-walking gig. I have a small army of online minions that share my posts and get the word out. They respond to people giving away pet goods, food, litter, and toys, and throw my name in the hat. I have a couple of people that will transport animals, pick up goods, etc. too, and people who regularly check in to make sure everything is okay and if I need anything. If I have a large or difficult rescue and need a second set of hands, friends jump right inno matter what the weather is like outside. If youre an animal lover, youll want to know about the things shelters desperately need right now.

Courtesy Denise Lauffer

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Tips On How To Start A Cat Cafe

Are you looking to start an unusual animal business? You should consider the cat cafe, a business mash-up that crosses a coffee shop with a pet adoption center. Patrons of cat cafes pay an hourly cover charge to play with cats while enjoying lattes and bakery items.

The first cat cafe was established in Taiwan in 1998, and the concept became wildly popular in Japan around 2004. Since then, the trend has gone global, and there are now cat cafes across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.

Cat cafes began to take off in the United States in late 2014, with both pop-up and permanent locations appearing in many major cities.

Here are some of the steps for starting your own cat cafe business. Some of them you may be able to handle yourself, others may require the help of an expert, such as a web developer, marketing agency, lawyer, or graphic designer.

Ner With Local Cat Rescue Organizations

How to plan start and open an animal rescue shelter

It is a big plus if cafe customers can apply to adopt the cats and kittens that they meet during their visits, and your business will benefit from being affiliated with rescue groups in the community.

Establish relationships with local animal rescues and shelters to populate your cat cafe. You will probably need 10 to 15 cats on average, depending on the size of the cafe. You should also establish an account with a local veterinarian to provide any necessary health exams or treatments for the cats.

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Obtain 501 Nonprofit Status

Incorporation has several important benefits. It limits personal liability, lends credibility to your work, and enhances the status of the animals under your care. Once your group obtains 501 nonprofit status from the IRS, donations to your work will be tax-deductible, which encourages larger gifts.

Additionally, incorporating and obtaining your tax-exempt status becomes essential as your group grows. Failure to comply with IRS tax codes and state laws relating to charitable donations can create serious problems for your group.

What to do first. Youll want to start by registering the corporate name and gathering the necessary paperwork. Name registration and incorporation paperwork is usually available from your Secretary of State or Corporation Commission. Forms for filing your 501 application are available from the Internal Revenue Service. You may also need to file with your state for a certificate to solicit donations and for sales tax exemption. This is often done through the Attorney Generals office.

Where to call. You can call your State House to get the phone number for your Secretary of State and Attorney Generals office. Ask for information on:

  • Registering the corporate name
  • Any other regulations that apply to charitable nonprofit organizations

You can also call the IRS at 800-TAX FORM or visit its website at

Whats in a name?

Try to select a name that is:

  • Distinctive
  • Common
  • Similar to another organization

Donation Collection For Animal Rescue Businesses

Weve mentioned fundraising several times already, and thats because its essential to keeping your rescue open and ready to save animals in need. Donations are likely to represent a large majority, if not all, of your funding. They help cover costs for food, bedding, vet care, etc.

Getting donors to help your rescue with money and supplies should be your first concern after animal care. Otherwise, youll either have to dip into your personal funds or limit the number of animals in your care.

Just so you know

Raise donations online with JotForms animal shelter forms that integrate with 30+ payment gateways, including Square and PayPal.

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Resources To Help Women In Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. Weve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Guides
  • Support

If youre a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

File For Nonprofit Status

How to Start a Dog Rescue

This is done by filing for tax-exempt status under section 501 of the Internal Revenue Service tax code, which can be done on the IRS website through Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code or the simplified Form 1023-EZ. To qualify, the corporation “must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes” as set forth in the tax code, section 501.

Also, check with your Secretary of State to see if you need to file anything with the state. If you prefer, have your attorney prepare these papers for you.

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How To Teach People About Feral Cats:

  • Offer classes on feral cat issues. Sample topics include humane trapping, socializing feral kittens, and medical issues. Ask experienced caregivers to lead the classes and provide them with space.
  • Advertise by telephone tree, flyers in local veterinary offices, and free announcements in newspaper calendar sections.
  • In February 2001, The San Francisco SPCA released a comprehensive feral cat video series. You can play the videos for groups of people or loan them out to caregivers.
  • Save staff time by setting up a voicemail line to answer frequently asked questions. Topics could include guidelines for your program, instructions on how to use a humane trap, and what to do if you find kittens. Voicemail is relatively inexpensive and there are even free voicemail providers. If you can’t return calls the same day, be sure to let people know in your outgoing message.
  • Create fact sheets on various aspects of feral cat care. Send them out and post them on your website. Instead of writing your own, you may also be able to get permission to use another organization’s fact sheets. See Resources section.


Some feral cat programs include an adoption component, some do not. It depends on what is right for you and your community.

Is A Dog Rescue Right For You

Before we start talking about how to start a dog rescue and the steps involved in setting it up, you have to consider whether this venture is for you. This is important because starting a dog rescue is a commitment and not something that you can back out of midway if you realize its not what you thought it would be.

It comes with certain responsibilities. By the time you launch your dog rescue organization, you have committed to helping the dogs you take in and future pet owners looking to save animals, and its your responsibility to make sure that those dogs are cared for properly and pet owners receive the necessary guidance, whether that means that rescue pets stay in your care for three weeks or three years.

Here’s what should you consider before looking into how to start a dog rescue and when trying to determine whether running a rescue organization is for you:

Funding. Do you have the financial resources needed to begin and fund a rescue organization? It’s true that most rescue organizations run on donations for a large part, but if those donations are few, are you going to be able to provide for the needs of your rescue and your rescue inhabitants, or find means to fund it?

Legalities. Do you have the space needed to run a safe, sanitary, and lawful animal rescue organization? Depending on where you live and where your dog rescue is located, different laws exist to govern the property and zoning requirements and limitations on building specific businesses.

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Define The Corporation’s Policies

In addition to what animals you will focus on helping, there are other factors to consider, such as:

  • Whether the organization will be no-kill
  • How many animals you’ll take in
  • When/if to turn away animals
  • Whether to neuter and spay animals
  • How to determine whether a potential adopter can care for an animal
  • If it’s ever acceptable to euthanize an animal and, if so, under what circumstances

Make sure that all key players have a copy of the corporation’s policies.

Once you have these steps out of the way, you can focus on the first activities of your newly formed nonprofit, including holding your first meeting, fundraising, training personnel, and getting your name out to the public. While starting a nonprofit rescue may seem like a handful, you can reduce the amount of work and stress by having experienced and reliable volunteers and employees on board before you open your doors.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

Ready to form a nonprofit?

How To Get Free Cat Food:

Rapper quits to start cat rescue | Humankind
  • Hold cat food drives – ask your members to donate to the feral cat cause.
  • Approach local pet supply stores and ask if you can set up a bin for customers to donate cat food purchased at the store.
  • Ask grocery stores, pet supply companies, and pet food manufacturers for donations. One group was able to get ten pallets of pet food donated by a distributor. All the group had to do was supply a truck to pick it up.
  • Check with your local community food bank. If they receive more pet food donations than they need, they may be willing to share the extra with your organization.

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