How to Start an Animal Rescue Business

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Our guide on starting an animal rescue business covers all the essential information to help you decide if this business is a good match for you. Learn about the day-to-day activities of an animal rescue business owner, the typical target market, growth potential, startup costs, legal considerations, and more!

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Start an animal rescue business by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your animal rescue business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the initial costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your animal rescue business is sued. Consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

STEP 8: Define your brand.

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Business Overview

Animal rescues do incredibly important work within their communities. They free animals from abusive situations and help liberate stray pets that have been cast out onto the streets. They educate consumers in the region and work to properly place animals with new, loving homes. Rescues are dedicated to ensuring no healthy animal is euthanized and that the sick and wounded receive the treatment they deserve. Every animal rescue’s mission is to ensure those without a voice are heard.

Who is this business right for?

Have you always had a soft heart for animals? Do you feel passionate about raising awareness for animal advocacy? Are you the friend that is always saving injured animals or helping others find their four-legged “perfect match”? If you answered yes to any of these questions, starting an animal rescue may be the business venture that best suits you.

What happens during a typical day at an animal rescue business?

The specifics of your day-to-day routine will vary, depending upon what types of animals you rescue, the condition they are in upon intake, and the adoption process your rescue implements. Your daily tasks will include, but are not limited to:

  • Visit shelters within the community to identify animals in need. Communicate with shelter volunteers regarding each animal’s specific needs and fill out necessary paperwork for release.
  • Work with local veterinarians to ensure each new rescue animal receives a complete evaluation, as well as any necessary treatment.
  • Plan and host adoption events in the rescue’s region. This is a great way for the rescue to gain exposure and for animals and potential adopters to meet.
  • Perform home visits to ensure animals are being adopted out to qualified adopters. Many rescues require that each potential adopter fill out an application that includes references and current veterinarian information. All information must be verified.
  • Plan and host fundraising events. Many rescues rely heavily on volunteers and donations, funneling a majority of their earnings back into helping animals.
  • Check on rescue animals that are currently up for adoption. Provide medical care, transport, feed, and clean cages.
  • Network with other animal advocates in the community. These relationships are critical to your business’ survival. An open line of communication should be maintained at all times to ensure the best care and affordable rates.

Some rescues specialize in felines and canines, while others work only with farm animals. Some rely solely on foster homes, while others have a facility that houses rescues awaiting their new home. During the planning phase of your business’ development, explore all of your options. Research to determine what is most critically needed in your community. Once you have defined the parameters of your organization, you can begin to develop a business plan around that, reaching out to those that are most equipped to assist you in your endeavor.

What is the target market?

Your direct target market is any individual and/or family that is looking to adopt the types of animals you rescue. In this industry, you must also appeal to those interested in animal advocacy on a deeper level. Animal rescue is a community effort; it is your job as the rescue leader to ensure you and your staff work to attract individuals and businesses that support your cause.

How does an animal rescue business make money?

Animal rescues charge a fee for each animal they place in a new home.

What is the growth potential for an animal rescue business?

According to a recent IBIS World report, annual revenues from this industry have grown to over $600 million. Six to eight million dogs and cats are rescued in the United States each year. These numbers do not account for the various other animals rescued annually. Awareness regarding abuse, neglect, and euthanasia continues to rise, solidifying this industry’s expected growth over the next decade.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful animal rescue business?

Building a successful animal rescue requires patience, people and animal skills, and a genuine passion for animal advocacy. Since your success will rely heavily fundraising, volunteers, and the rescue’s notoriety in the community, it’s important that your team possess strong fundraising and networking skills.

While the animal rescue industry is an honorable career, it is important to remember that this is a business. Therefore, knowledge in business administration and bookkeeping is also recommended. Aspiring rescue owners are urged to volunteer at local shelters prior to taking on this responsibility. This will provide invaluable information regarding how a successful rescue operates. It will also help prepare you for the disappointment that comes with working in this industry. Not every animal can be saved and animals will be lost along the way. For the sake of all animals that come both before and after, owners must keep a clear and level head, channeling all energy into the positive work you do.

What are the costs involved in opening an animal rescue business?

To keep costs at a minimum, many rescues choose to forego a housing facility. They rely on foster volunteers to house each rescued animal and host fundraising events at local businesses. Rescues provide all medical care, medicine, and food. As the rescue begins to grow, it may be necessary to open a small office where staff can handle administrative duties. Administrative staff, veterinarians, and other medical care providers will comprise the largest portion of your budget.

Additional start up costs include:

  • Non-profit certification
  • Legal fees to ensure your rescue is set up properly
  • Insurance
  • Website
  • Computer
  • Shelter management software

Should you decide to invest in a facility to house your rescues, The Humane Society recommends ninety to one hundred square feet per dog and forty-five to fifty square feet per cat. Your space must include enough land for the animals to get out and stretch their legs, as well as several comfortable rooms for potential adopters to meet with the animals they’re considering for adoption.

While these costs can add up quickly, there are many fundraising and grant options available. Contact a local attorney to assist you in setting up your non-profit and filling out any necessary paperwork. Additionally, The Humane Society’s Animal Sheltering Program is a great resource for those exploring grant options.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

What are some insider tips for jump starting an animal rescue business?

The animal rescue industry is a very tight knit community. Experienced rescuers offer the following advice:

  • To find success in this line of work, it’s important that you start your research prior to opening the business. Talk to others within the community and ask the important questions. What animal rescue needs are not currently being met? What needs are currently met and are in danger of over saturation? How could your organization meet these needs?
  • Learn everything you can about non-profits and what it takes to manage such an operation. Consider taking a few business courses on the subject or hiring a professional.
  • If you plan to open a shelter, the animals will be reliant on you for everything from food, water, and shelter, to veterinary care, psychological needs, and training. Make sure you have the proper resources available 24/7.
  • You will be approached to take in animals often. Avoid overcrowding - every one of your rescues it at risk when there is not enough space for everyone.
  • Carefully consider and define your rescue’s euthanasia policies. Have a written policy and make sure every staff member is properly educated.
  • Click here to gain valuable insight into how to start IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
  • To remain abreast of industry developments, consider attending animal-related conferences and reading periodicals. The No-Kill Conference is highly recommended

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Growing Your Business

How to promote & market an animal rescue business

As mentioned, this work requires the support of the entire community. As part of your marketing efforts, hold a public meeting. Clearly define your organization’s goals and how you hope to give back to the community. As a non-profit, you will need to build a board of directors. Make sure every member of your board is equally as passionate about your cause and possesses the skills necessary to help further the business’ mission.

Build the foundation of your marketing and fundraising efforts by compiling a mailing list of you and your board members’ animal-loving friends. Keep in regular contact, via mail and/or email. Educate your readers on who is involved in the rescue and what your mission is. Create flyers and post them at vet clinics, pet supply stores, groomers, and local businesses. Notify the media of all community events and keep them apprised of your rescue’s accomplishments. A well-maintained website will also be critical to your businesses success.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

While every entrepreneur’s goal is to generate an income, animal rescue owners do not consider this their primary mission. With saving animals your top priority, it’s important to always keep in mind quality is more important than quantity. Never take on more than your rescue can afford to, both time-wise and financially. Every animal should receive quality care and no animal should be adopted out unless they are healthy or currently in treatment. Be open and honest about any behavioral issues and make sure that every adopter knows your rescue will accept any returned animals without any questions.

How and when to build a team

Unlike many start up businesses, an animal rescue cannot be managed by one person. Build a qualified, passionate group of individuals who are dedicated to supporting each other and the animals you are advocating. Carefully select each individual based on their skill set and what they are able to contribute to the organization’s mission.

Once you have hired your key staff members, make sure everyone is clear on the organization’s mission and policies and procedures. Both initial and ongoing training is critical.

Legal Considerations

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate an animal rescue business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Maintain Personal Asset Protection

Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
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To learn more about maintaining your LLC's corporate veil, read our guide and protect your personal assets.

Certificate of Occupancy

An animal rescue business is generally run out of a shelter or kennel. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to an animal shelter business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your animal shelter business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Earning Potential

How much can you charge customers?

Adoption fees vary according depending upon the type of animal, veterinarian costs, and region. The Animal Foundation offers the following pricing as a guideline only:

Dogs: $125 - $250

Cats: $25 - $50

Horses: $250 - $500

Birds: $10 - $200

Rabbits, hamsters, ferrets, etc: $25 - $75

Reptiles: $5 - $100

What are the ongoing expenses for an animal rescue business?

The Humane Society estimates ongoing expenses of $110,000 annually. This includes veterinary care, food, supplies, training events, legal fees, insurance, advertising, volunteer recruitment, and key staff member payroll.

How much profit can an animal rescue business make?

Animal rescues typically find the most success and funding by establishing themselves as a non-profit. Key staff is awarded a fairly significant income, defined by the number of animals saved each year. However, most funding and fees are funneled back into the business.

How can you make your business more profitable?

To generate more profit for your business, consider selling merchandise such as t-shirts, koozies, leashes, pet food, and other items adopting parents might need. If a member of your staff is educated in dog training, offering classes would also prove beneficial. Additionally, if space allows, your rescue should also consider offering grooming services.

Next Steps

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