How to Start a Pet Shelter

Every year, about 3.2 million dogs and cats are adopted. Most of these adoptions are done through non-profit pet shelters. It’s possible to run pet shelters as for-profit businesses, though.

For-profit pet shelters take in unwanted pets and pets that people can’t care for. Shelters provide veterinary care for these pets. Then, they find new owners who will adopt the pets.

Learn how to start your own Pet Shelter and whether it is the right fit for you.

Ready to form your LLC? Check out the Top LLC Formation Services.

Start a pet shelter by following these 10 steps:

  1. Plan your Pet Shelter
  2. Form your Pet Shelter into a Legal Entity
  3. Register your Pet Shelter for Taxes
  4. Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
  5. Set up Accounting for your Pet Shelter
  6. Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Pet Shelter
  7. Get Pet Shelter Insurance
  8. Define your Pet Shelter Brand
  9. Create your Pet Shelter Website
  10. Set up your Business Phone System

We have put together this simple guide to starting your pet shelter. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.

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:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Pet Shelter Name Generator

If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.

When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:

  • Your state's business records
  • Federal and state trademark records
  • Social media platforms
  • Web domain availability.

It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.

Want some help naming your pet shelter?

Business Name Generator

What are the costs involved in opening a pet shelter?

The startup costs of opening a pet shelter business are fairly low. Business owners need:

  • a space to house pets
  • access to veterinary care for pets
  • food and water for pets

Business owners can keep the cost of space low by remodeling their home to house pets. For instance, cats can be kept in a basement. Dogs can be put in pens and dog houses that are outdoors. Alternatively, business owners can lease space in a low-rent district that has little commercial value.

Non-profit pet shelters often partner with vets who provide free or low-cost medical care. Vets may be less willing to offer free services to a for-profit business. For-profit shelters might still be able to get low-cost vet care, though. Some vets might even be willing to offer all the veterinary care pets need in exchange for a percentage of each adoption fee.

When starting out, business owners might be able to get food at discounted prices from a local pet store. A pet store that believes in a shelter’s work may be willing to offer a discount on bulk food orders to help the shelter succeed.

What are the ongoing expenses for a pet shelter?

The ongoing costs of running a pet shelter business are manageable. They include:

  • buying food for pets
  • paying for space to keep pets
  • paying for veterinary care pets need

Who is the target market?

A pet shelter business’ ideal customer is someone who loves animals. Such a person may want to adopt a pet, and they might be willing to pay a sizable fee to do so.

How does a pet shelter make money?

A for-profit pet shelter business can make money when pets are dropped off and when they’re donated.

For instance, Mike Arms requests a payment when a puppy is dropped off. He also charges a fee to adopt a puppy. (If people won’t pay the drop-off fee, Arms will still take a pet.)

How much can you charge customers?

A pet shelter may charge ask for a few hundred dollars when a pet is dropped off and when it’s adopted. Arms requests $200 when a dog is dropped off. The amount increases to $2,000 for dogs over seven years old. He also charges $399 to adopt a puppy. His adoption fee is determined by the market.

How much profit can a pet shelter make?

A pet shelter business’ profitability isn’t widely known, because most shelters are run as non-profits. Non-profit shelters often employ a director, vet tech and other staff. A for-profit business can earn enough to pay for a team’s salaries, which often total six-figure sums, and still provide a profit.

How can you make your business more profitable?

A pet shelter business can increase its revenue by adding a pet store or vet office to its services. People who adopt pets need veterinary care and supplies for their pets. Thus, these are both natural businesses to add to a pet shelter.

Want a more guided approach? Access TRUiC's free Small Business Startup Guide - a step-by-step course for turning your business idea into reality. Get started today!

STEP 2: Form a legal entity

The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your pet shelter is sued.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

You can form an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.

Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

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

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

You can acquire your EIN through the IRS website. If you would like to learn more about EINs, read our article, What is an EIN?

There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

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.

Open a business bank account

Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:

  • Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • Makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.

Get a business credit card

Getting a business credit card helps you:

  • Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.

Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from BILL and build your business credit quickly.

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.

Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.

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.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate an animal shelter. 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.

Certificate of Occupancy

An animal shelter is generally run out of a storefront. 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.
    • 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  will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

STEP 7: Get business insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.

Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.

FInd out what types of insurance your Pet Shelter needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Pet Shelter.

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.

If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.

Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.

If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.

How to promote & market a pet shelter

A pet shelter business should be advertised where pet-lovers are likely to be. Vet offices, events and pet stores are good places to post flyers. Targeted ads on social media can also be effective ways to market a pet shelter.

How to keep customers coming back

A pet shelter business can distinguish itself by specializing in a particular type or breed of animal. Although a non-profit, the North Texas Scottie Rescue does this. The rescue only takes in Scottish terriers.

By specializing in a particular breed, a pet shelter will attract people who want that type of animal. These prospective adopters may be willing to pay a premiums fee so they get the exact breed they want. A pet shelter might be able to charge less than a breeder, creating a win-win scenario.

STEP 9: Create your business website

After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.

While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.

Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:

  • All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
  • Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
  • Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.

Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.

Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.

STEP 10: Set up your business phone system

Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.

There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.

Recommended Business Phone Service: is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.

Is this Business Right For You?

Anyone who loves pets and has good business sense might enjoy running a pet shelter business. A heart for animals is needed because these businesses focus on helping pets. Business acumen helps owners transform a traditionally non-profit model into a for-profit business.

Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

Entrepreneurship Quiz

What happens during a typical day at a pet shelter?

Business owners spend time taking in pets and caring for them. Caring for pets involves feeding them, getting them veterinary care, brushing them, cleaning their cages and playing with them.

Owners also work to get pets adopted. This involves going to events, promoting adoptable pets and interviewing potential adoptees.

During slow times, business owners pay bills, manage volunteers and employees, and promote their business.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful pet shelter?

Business owners must know how to care for pets and how to run a business.

There are many resources on how to care for animals and run shelters:

There are also several books on running pet shelters. The Ripple Effect, Every Nose Counts and Justice for Cats discuss different aspects of running shelters.

Business owners who don’t have a background in business may want to take a course in business. Many community colleges offer business courses. There are also online classes. Coursera has many classes on different aspects of business. Open Culture maintains a list of classes that are free.

What is the growth potential for a pet shelter?

Most pet shelter businesses serve a local area. For example, Aspen Animal Shelter operates in the Aspen, Colorado area. Staying local helps a business owner network with vets and pet lovers in the region.

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Take the Next Step

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.

Learn from other business owners

Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.

Resources to Help Women in Business

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

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re 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.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a pet shelter?

Business owners who want to open a for-profit pet shelter must believe in their business. Most people expect shelters to work as non-profit organizations. Business owners have to be able to explain that pets have value -- and people should be willing to pay for that value. If they can’t explain this, owners will struggle to justify their higher fees.

How and when to build a team

A pet shelter business can be run by one person. The work is easier when divided among several people, though. Many shelters have a team of volunteers when they open. Volunteers might help by:

  • feeding pets
  • brushing pets
  • cleaning bowls and cages
  • playing with pets
  • fostering pets
  • interviewing adopters

As a business’ income grows, employees can be hired to do a lot of the work volunteers do.

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