The decision to open an animal shelter is one that cannot be taken lightly. While your love of companion animals is probably the motivating factor, you must consider all of the business ramifications before taking the first step. The best way to do this is to research your ideas thoroughly and write your business plan. Begin with a mission statement and include your explanation for need, how you will operate the shelter, your marketing plan and a financial projection.


Base your decision to open a shelter on the demand for adoptable pets in your area. Most government-run shelters will euthanize animals if they are over-crowded, so there are usually companion animals available for rescue. Transporters routinely carry these unwanted pets to rescue groups in states where there are shortages of adoptable pets. See if there are other rescue groups in your area and determine if your community can support another. You must find an accessible location and decide on convenient operating hours. If a good location is not available, consider starting your shelter with foster caretakers, who care for the pets until adoption. Even if you do not start with a physical shelter, you might wish to have a storefront to showcase your animals.

Shelter Decisions

Your first decision is whether to have dogs and cats or just one species. If you rescue dogs, you must decide whether to accept all breeds or only certain breeds. If you decide to operate a no-kill shelter, as most shelter owners do, you must decide how many animals you can accept. When you plan your shelter, think about your space requirements. You need room to separate dogs and cats. You will need a utility room for caring for animals and washing bedding, towels and pets. You will also need a quarantine room for sick animals.


While you should have no trouble obtaining animals for adoption, you must plan how you will get them to adopting families. Collaborate with your local animal control officers, pet stores and veterinarians. Think of events such as Best Friends “Strut Your Mutt” or other community events where you can showcase your adoptable pets. Make arrangements with pet stores to hold adoption events. Connect with scout troops and other community organizations who donate time to help you spread the news about your new shelter.


Caring for animals is expensive, which is why many rescue groups start small and work from home with the help of several foster caretakers. You will have legal expenses, including licensing required by your city and state and application fees for your non-profit 501(c)3 incorporation. If you have a physical facility you will have rent, utilities and maintenance bills. The animals will need food, veterinary care and training to make them more adoptable. Most rescue groups depend heavily on volunteers, but you will have to pay the veterinarian and a trainer if you use one.


Explore how you can obtain funds from grants and donations. Talk to local pet stores about discounts or donations of food and other supplies. In addition to money from donations, you can obtain revenue from adoption fees. Estimating the cash flow coming from adoptions may be tricky, because it depends on how long it will take to find their forever homes. You should gather enough information for you to prepare a three-year financial projection.