The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Dog Rescue Group

It’s a labor of love, but it’s totally worth it.

Figure out your community’s needs before starting up your own rescue group. By: stonnie

Nearly 4 million dogs enter animal shelters in the United States each year.

That’s a big number, and knowing there are so many loving animals out there without proper homes or attention is heartbreaking. There are tons of ways to help and care for those dogs in need. You can foster, adopt or simply support an organization dedicated to serving them.

But what if you want to do more?

Doing More for Dogs in Need

When helping a single dog or simply giving financial assistance isn’t enough, there’s another path you can take, albeit a big one.

If you’re truly dedicated to helping the countless dogs in need, why not start a dog rescue group of your own? Just think of the difference you can make in so many dogs’ lives.

If you know this is your calling and passion, keep reading to learn how to take the first steps toward opening a rescue group in your community.

First Steps

Before you start scoping out locations or buildings for your rescue group, you need to do a lot of planning and brainstorming.

While the word “nonprofit” means you won’t be in business for the money, at its core, any successful organization takes just as much business savvy to get up and running.

Not only will you need a detailed business plan with a lot of outside help, but also you’ll need to handle things like:

  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Networking
  • Legal needs
  • And more

Before you dive into that work, however, you’ll need to start with a fair amount of field research. After all, while you might have a goal of starting a rescue group, your community might not actually need the kind of rescue you’re dreaming up.

The best thing you can do before going all-in is head to nearby shelters and groups. Talk with people already working in the sector. What needs are they meeting, and where are they lacking?

Decide whether there’s a true need for another rescue group in your area. By opening your own, you could actually be pulling from another group’s resources, which could hurt you both in the long run.

If there’s a clear demand, though (or if certain needs just aren’t being met), and opening another organization could help, your idea might be the perfect solution for your community.

How would you handle donations to your organization? By: Myriams-Fotos

Choose Your Model

Rescue groups come in many different shapes and forms.

Working out of a building adds an entirely new facet to running any type of organization, nonprofit or not. The overhead, supplies and staffing needs just scrape the surface of the kind of costs you’ll incur. Unless you have significant funding, you may want to consider taking a different route.

Many groups operate out of homes, for example, where a network of volunteers might house each rescue dog until they’re placed in a forever home. While this might mean a smaller capacity, it could be a far more viable option.

Volunteer First

Regardless of which rescue model you choose, you need to understand exactly what goes on behind the curtains of your local dog rescues.

Start by volunteering at nearby organizations. Get as much hands-on experience as you can in every role available. The more you understand the needs of both the organization and dogs, the better you’ll be able to serve your community’s pets in the future.

Seek out both shelters and rescue groups in your area. Shelters are typically run by the government and so will operate a bit differently. Rescue groups, on the other hand, are supported mostly through private funding and volunteer work. You can learn a lot from both.

A great tool for finding volunteer opportunities near you is the search feature on

Build a Team

To found and run a successful rescue group, you’ll need a team of experts behind you. Plan on becoming partners with experts who have experience in:

  • Accounting
  • Fundraising and grant writing
  • Volunteer management
  • Business management
  • Veterinary care
  • Law
  • Marketing
  • Community outreach

Consider forming a board of people who can contribute these relevant skills. Not only that, each person should have a strong sense of community. They should be willing and excited to build relationships and grow the rescue group.

Since you’ll need significant funding throughout the life of the organization, it’s also wise to build a team of people able to financially support it in some way, whether that’s through their own funding or by cultivating outside donors.

Lay the Groundwork

If you’re opening a rescue group at a physical location, start scoping out spaces. Employ the help of a real estate agent who can help you find the right location that suits all your needs. You’ll need to consider zoning regulations in your area and also decide which existing properties are capable of handling your type of work.

In addition, decide which type of rescue group you want to become. Will you accept all animals? Will it be a no-kill shelter (where not all animals are taken in)?

There are many options, and the decision should be based on your desires as well as your community’s needs. Also, consider establishing nonprofit status for your group. Doing so means donations or support from the community are tax-deductible. Businesses or large donors typically look for organizations with nonprofit status for that reason.

Form Your Mission and Vision Statements

A mission and vision statement are at the core of every nonprofit. At first, they might seem hard to differentiate, but the 2 statements serve 2 different purposes.

Your mission statement should be short, concise and direct. For example, your rescue group’s mission might be: “To reduce the number of stray dogs in Dallas, Texas, by rehabilitating, fostering and housing them.”

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Kristen Youngs

View posts by Kristen Youngs
Kristen Youngs is a freelance writer and travel junkie. When she's not out exploring other countries, she spends most of her time teaching others how to work remotely while her pit bull, Annabelle, lounges alongside. She's also an advocate for dogs like hers and aims to spread awareness everywhere she goes.

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