Animal rescue organizations vary greatly in scope and size. Individuals operate some animal rescue shelters, housing one to two pets in their home at a time. At the other end of the spectrum are large organizations with paid employees and many volunteers; they house many animals in shelters. Starting an animal rescue organization is relatively easy. After all, you're rescuing an animal when you take that first stray into your home, caring for the animal until an adopter can be found. Keeping the rescue operation going is the difficult part. As a first step, consider how many animals you can help, given your facility, the number of people available to care for the animals and your budget.
Create a team. Animal rescue is hard work, and animal care is a 365-day-a-year job. If you can't have paid employees, ensure that you have enough volunteers to meet the needs of the animals and do other work, such as fundraising and adoptions.
Research the needs of your community. Find out what types of shelters and rescue organizations already exist and what types of animals aren’t being served or are being under-served. For example, some communities have multiple resources for homeless dogs but no one to work for homeless cats.
Meet with your team to determine what type of rescue operation you will be. Will you focus on only one species of animal? Will your focus be on only one breed? Or will you accept any homeless animal? Some rescue groups concentrate on special-needs pets, senior pets, puppies and kittens. Use the research you did on the community to help set the focus of your animal rescue effort.
Decide as a team where you will house the animals. Developing a network of foster homes is a good way to start, especially if you don't have the funding or expertise to open a shelter.
Develop as a team the mission statement of your organization.
File paperwork to become incorporated and to become a non-profit animal rescue organization. The process for doing this varies from state to state. In most states, the secretary of state’s office is the place to begin.
Establish protocol. This will include requirements for fostering animals or for animals accepted into the shelter. You will also need to develop policies for adoption, euthanasia, temperament testing and more.
Develop a budget. It must include funding for feeding, cleaning and veterinary care. Figure in costs for vaccinations, spaying an neutering, cages and kennels, collars, leashes, tags, office supplies, staff salaries and publicity.
Begin fundraising and promote your animal rescue organization. Develop a website, submit press releases to local media and set up informational booths/adoption events at local pet stores.