How to Start a Dog Rescue: Making Your Own Shelter

A dog in a shelter waits to be adopted by a new family.

Ready to make a greater difference for dogs in need?

Maybe you’re dissatisfied with the shelters currently in your community. Or you’re looking to turn your passion for dogs into a profession. Perhaps you’d just like to do your part and raise awareness for animal advocacy.

Whatever the reason, starting a rescue is an honorable endeavor, and the emotional satisfaction will certainly be worth the effort.

Like all business endeavors, however, it is important to temper enthusiasm and passion with careful planning and realism. This guide will help prospective rescue owners know what to expect and where to begin.

5 Steps to Open a Dog Rescue

Before you start, it’s important to examine your motivation for starting a shelter. Is this something you have the time and energy for?

Wanting to help dogs is a wonderful thing, but sheer passion is not enough to make a successful shelter. It requires considerable hard work and dedication. It will also be emotionally draining — a lot of dogs need help, but unfortunately, not all of them will receive it.

By no means is this an attempt to dissuade you from starting a rescue — just a gentle reminder that it will be a lot of hard, but rewarding work.

Think you’re ready? Here’s how to get started:

Research and Plan

Talk to people with experience in the field. Volunteers and administrators at other shelters can provide valuable information on local homeless dog populations, and what animal care resources are lacking in the area. They can also point you in the direction of other like-minded people or organizations to begin building a network of funds, guidance, and support.

Veterinarians, local animal control, and kennels are all great places to gain insight into your community’s needs. Take notes and collect important contact information. If you can, do some volunteer work yourself at an animal shelter to better understand the day-to-day needs of these organizations.


Dog rescues require work even before they open. You’ll need a dedicated group of volunteers. Hopefully, you’ve made a few valuable connections during the research process.

If you think you’ll need more people power, reach out to others in your community. Post listings in local coffee shops, vet offices, newspapers, and online classifieds — anywhere you can think of to generate your volunteer base.

Find a Location

If you’ve already got a place in mind, make sure it conforms to local zoning regulations for animal shelters. If you don’t have a place yet, contact a commercial real estate agent or look online.

Keep in mind the unique needs of an animal shelter. If there’s a building already on site, can it be converted for your purposes, or will you need to tear it down and start over? Alternatively, some rescues rely on a network of homes to house their dogs.

Create a Name, Logo, and Mission Statement

This is the fun part! Brainstorm names and logo ideas with your partners and volunteers, and vote on your favorites. It’s also important to craft a mission statement as a group. Your mission statement should be concise, positive, and inspiring.


Apply for grants and fundraise to get the start-up capital you need to begin your shelter. Contact an attorney or accountant to help you file for non-profit status. This will encourage donations, since donors will be able to write their contributions off on their taxes. It will also allow you to fundraise tax-free.

As you might guess, this is only the beginning. The more people you get in touch with, the more momentum you will generate towards reaching your goal.

If this sounds a little overwhelming, don’t be afraid to start slow and small. Volunteering at animal shelters and fostering rescues are two great ways to begin connecting with the right people and learning the right skills.

And remember, you don’t need to start a huge shelter. Even small organizations can make a big difference.

How are you involved with a dog rescue organization? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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