Start a pet shelter 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 guide to starting your pet shelter. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Check out our How to Start a Business page.
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 startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
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.
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
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.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
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
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 for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
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.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
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.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
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.
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.
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.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
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.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
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.
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.
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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.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
Start A Pet Shelter In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
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!
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:
- The Association of Shelter Veterinarians has information on shelter standards.
- The ASPCA has details on how to care for different pets.
- Best Friends Sanctuary has a variety of classes.
- Karen Pryor Academy has an online shelter training course.
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, DogsAspen 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.
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:
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.