How to Start a No Kill Animal Shelter

By Tara Green

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Legal skills Start-up funds Space to house animals Veterinary contacts

Determine the scope of your shelter. Will you house multiple types of animals or devote your efforts to one specific type? While caring for many types of animals may sound like a wonderful goal, remember you will need separate spaces to house cats and dogs.

Initiate the process of making your shelter a nonprofit organization. Nonprofit status will enable the shelter to receive donations of cash, goods (such as pet food) and services, including veterinary care. Unless you have legal skills and experience in the nonprofit world, you will want to hire a lawyer to help you navigate the regulations both the federal and state authorities have in regard to nonprofit organizations. Expect the process to take six to 18 months and to cost a minimum of $1,000 (exclusive of legal fees.)

Locate a space to house the animals. You will need to take zoning regulations into consideration as well as the specifics relating to a safe, comfortable home for animals. Think realistically about space requirements for animals—how many animals can you care for? What accommodations will you make for quarantining sick and newborn animals from the general population? Where will you store food, litter (if caring for cats) and bedding supplies? If you shelter dogs, where can they exercise?

Begin building a network of supporters. Through personal contacts, online animal lover forums, and any existing local networks such as animal rescue, begin finding people interested in supporting you through donated goods, services or cash. You will want to have a good relationship with at least one veterinary clinic willing to provide services to your shelter for a discount. Also, your shelter will need people to feed and clean up after the animals as well as provide them with loving attention.

Launch your fundraising campaign. You will either need to wait until your organization has official nonprofit status or find an existing nonprofit with similar goals to yours willing to serve as an umbrella organization under whose aegis you can seek foundation grant money and/or offer individual donors the opportunity to write-off donations to you on their taxes. Finding potential donors who support your goals requires a period of researching foundations as well as creating a public profile to gain support from individual animal lovers.

Create an adoption policy and adoption form. What criteria will you use to determine what constitutes a worthy adopter for your animals? What will you require of people who want to take an animal home, and what guarantees or safeguards will your shelter offer in return?

Open your shelter with a publicity campaign designed to bring in people who will genuinely love and care for animals. Although you want to make people aware your shelter exists, many shelters prefer not to publicize their exact location but give it discreetly to interested adopters who have made telephone contact. If you do not have money for advertisement, put up flyers at veterinary offices and pet supply stores.

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