Best Practices: Starting a Rescue (Part 3)

Today’s post is about further considerations when starting a rescue. It is written by Linda Sutphin of Dogs 2nd Chance Rescue of Tennessee. If you’re just joining us for the first time, you’ll find that every Tuesday and Friday through May we’ll be posted one section of our upcoming best practices manual for which rescuers can provide feedback.

Today’s Post Covers: Starting a Rescue, Key Considerations

  • I. Time Commitment
  • II. Financial commitment
  • III. Emotional commitment
  • IV. Structure

Starting and maintaining a Rescue Group is a full time job. The majority of Southern Rescues consist of volunteers that work full time, paying jobs. So basically you are working two full time jobs. There is computer work, working with the animals, daily maintenance, vet visits, networking, and much more. If you can not commit a great amount of your off work time to the animals, then starting a rescue is not for you. Volunteering and fostering for an established Rescue Group consumes much of your off time, but not nearly as much time as running a Rescue. I would advise to first volunteer/foster with an established rescue group. There you will gain valuable experience and discover if you are willing to commit to the time involved and make the necessary sacrifices.

One major concern to most Rescue Groups is finances. Even established 501[c]3 animal rescues have never ending Vet bills. If you do not plan to spay/neuter the animal before adoption, then you are adding to the overpopulation problem. In our rescue, which takes all breeds and mixes, we take care of routine procedures such as vaccines, heartworm testing, fecal/de-worming and spay/neuter upon accepting the animal unless there are medical conditions preventing any procedure. We also treat for heartworms, which is very prevalent in the South. We also cover the costs of any medical issues such Demodex, that is easy to treat to orthopedic surgery, amputations etc. These procedures can be very expensive. Just the basic medical care of a rescued dog is costly. These are expenses that most likely you will have to cover out of pocket at first. Some Veterinarians may give their clients a small discount occasionally. But few Veterinarians discount their services. The ones that do, normally only deal with established rescues. This is a major consideration. You need to establish an adoption fee that will at least cover the basic services. Donations will help to cover the non basic procedures.  To succeed you must have a Veterinarian willing to work with you and discount services. We are fortunate to have one that is very caring and rescue friendly also.

Once you are established and doing well finding the animals loving new homes, and your finances are in order, you should consider the pros and cons of becoming a 501[c]3 public charity. The filing fee is expensive and some rescues feel the money can be spent much better on the animals. But many rescue groups feel the pros out weigh the cons. There are grants available to cover the costs of preparing and filing for non profit status. These can be found by doing a little research, or emailing me. Another option to avoid the expense of a 501[c]3 is to become an affiliate of a rescue that already has the non profit status. More on the 501[c]3 will be covered later, I believe. Most states have some sort of registration fee to solicit donations and to incorporate as a non profit. Each state is different, so you must do research on your states regulations and start up costs. An animal rescue is a Non Profit business and must be treated as such to succeed.

Rescuing and fostering stirs up many emotions. You will feel anger, shock, sadness  and disbelief in the way some animals are treated. You will feel sorrow when a puppy does not make it or a senior must be sent to doggie heaven to stop the pain and suffering.

You will also feel amazement, happiness, pride and much more.

It is a wonderful feeling to see your foster meet his future parent and things “click”, love at first site. Fostering is very rewarding, knowing you had a special part in finding a loving dog a wonderful new home. Our foster families make it possible for dogs who would not otherwise be adopted, to find new homes.

Sometimes it is hard to give up a dog you have fostered. You may worry about getting too attached to your foster. We have found it much easier to give up a dog when you KNOW that you have helped it find a wonderful, loving home and that you are giving it up because that was YOUR role in its’ life. It can be a bittersweet, happy experience that gives you the satisfaction of knowing you have helped save one animal and now can make room for another.

Each time you open your heart and home to a new foster it helps us save one more animal!

The good emotions out weigh the bad

After doing all of the above and you still want to start a rescue, you must have help. Trust me, you need it. I started as one person saving one dog at a time. That is fine as long as you keep it that way, a one person show. But once rescuing gets in your blood, you will expand and need to recruit volunteers. When this happens it is time to establish different jobs for different people. You can not be the super person wearing all different hats. I suggest electing at least three officers. That is the minimum number for a board of directors. You must have a board to file for 501[c]3 status.

My suggestions are to divide jobs according to experience and where people excel. I finally quit wearing so many hats and allowed our wonderful officers and volunteers to experience more of the responsibility.

We now have:

  • President –  Gives guidance and works with all the different coordinators, makes final decision on matters when necessary, helps in all aspects of the rescue
  • Treasurer – in charge of all financial matters, paying the bills, ordering medicine working with the accountant, etc.  You  NEED a hopefully volunteer at first, bookkeeper or accountant to help keep your records straight and help with necessary state and federal filings.
  • Vice President –  fills in for President and helps in all aspects of the rescue when and where needed.
  • Secretary – takes notes at meetings, records names and addresses of donors, sends thank you cards and tax receipts, basically any office type work.
  • Adoption coordinator – He reviews applications, speaks with potential adopters, checks references, basically screens applicants before connecting them with the foster. Makes final decision with the foster parent to approve or disapprove the adoption. Coordinates meeting of the dogs with potential adopters if local and coordinates transport if adopters are out of the area. Very important position.
  • Meet and Greet event coordinator –  this is what we call our adoption events since we do not adopt straight from events. Coordinator schedules and promotes events, sets up and takes down tables, promotion items, etc. She is the one to “go to” person with questions and needed guidance
  • Microchip event coordinator – this is a major fundraiser and benefits the animal loving public. She is responsible for scheduling, promoting, setting up and taking down tables, displays ,etc. Turns money into treasurer.
  • Foster coordinator – maintains list of fosters, their dogs, dates preventatives and vaccines need to be given, distributes preventatives. contacts all fosters to attend events, etc
  • Volunteer coordinator – recruits volunteers, maintains list and contacts volunteers to attend events
  • Marketing and promotion coordinator coming soon [we hope]

Officers, coordinators, committee chairman or whatever you call the “in charge” people help to maintain order. Certain people are responsible for certain jobs and if you all work together, duplicate emails, phone calls, etc will be avoided.

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8 Responses to Best Practices: Starting a Rescue (Part 3)

  1. For 501(c)3 status you need 3 Officers named in the documentation. In Legacy’s case, two of these names are simply that, names on paper. My husband, my sister and myself hold those spots but the other two are not directly involved in the day to day rescue operations. LBR does not have an acting “Board” per se, and likely never will. LBR’s rapid growth over our 7 years has made us take a different approach than some rescues (we currently have 214 volunteers). What we do have is Committees. LBR’s committee structure is as follows:

    Management Committee – Consists of 6-7 core volunteers that manage the day to day operations of LBR. Each Management Committee member chairs another one of the committees below as well. You need CORE volunteers for a management team. Volunteers that understand every aspect of the rescue operations.

    Shelter Committee – Intake. Works directly with the area shelters and owners having to relinquish animals. This is a very emotional job in rescue, and you need level headed volunteers to cover it.

    Foster Committee – These volunteers are directly responsible for working with the shelter committee to place the BIN’s (BIN=Boxer In Need) into foster care. You need infinite patience for this one, and you need to be prepared for lots of phone calls and begging. You Foster Comm volunteers need to work closely with Shelter comm so they can be as educated as possible when placing BIN’s into a prospective foster home. Making the best foster home match possible, usually with very limited information on a BIN, is crucial. Otherwise you end up with a bad match and a dog needing to be moved from a foster home, which is, frankly, our biggest fire drill at LBR. No matter how hard you try, you will have foster homes that will not keep their commitment to foster, you need to be prepared for that. You also need to have a Foster Contract for all foster homes, and I am sure this will be discussed further along in the book.

    Vet Committee – Responsible for all vetting decisions and records. Responsible for making all vet appts at our 9 area vet clinics.

    Applications Committee – Responsible for processing applications.

    Welcome/Volunteer Committee – Responsible for helping new volunteers learn the ropes at LBR and for coordinating Volunteer Orientation meetings.

    Fundraising Committee – Responsible for organizing fundraising events.

  2. I love how the Emotions part was written by Linda…it’s easy to sense her passion for rescue when reading that. Yes, we get angry, cry, rant and rave over how some people can live with themselves after the disgraceful way they treat the dogs. I’ve lost many nights sleep over it myself. But the good emotions do outweigh the bad. When people ask me how I can let a dog go I explain I don’t see it that way. I LOVE rescue & each time I take in a new foster dog, I bathe & feed them, fix their boo-boo’s, love them, pet them, teach them that not all people are horrible. But what they give me in return is immeasurable!! My true passion is fostering senior dogs, so I have dealt with loss more frequently than some. I have held their paws as they go to sleep many times. I cry, my heart aches but I remind myself that even if they only 1 day, 1 month or more, that was more than they would’ve had if not for rescue.
    Time? Who has extra time when in rescue? Extra time goes to the dogs!! Most of my fun outside of my FT paying job revolves around the dogs, my own & my fosters. My rescue friends are my best friends. We spend time at Meet N Greets, talking & supporting each other thru difficult situations, we work together to raise money for vet care, we hold each others hands when we have to let a dog rest. I remember the first time my mom went to a Meet N Greet with me. She said “all of these dogs are rescued”? She could not believe the magnitude but was amazed at what wonderful, selfless people come together for the good of the dogs.
    Financial for rescues is a constant battle. With the economy, the Weim Rescue, & others I’m sure, have seen dogs come in worse off than ever. Lack of vetting, deformities because necessary surgery was not done, malnutrition, heartworm, cancer…we’ve always seen these but the last few years it seems that more come in worse shape. Even owner surrenders are giving up dogs they couldnt afford to vet. On top of vet care, there are those misc expenses like gas for transports, fees for events, etc. In CO, I feel pretty lucky that we have a large network of high quality vets that are very rescue friendly and offer us very good discounts, even donated medication and services. My own vet offers the group a 20% discount, does not charge OV’s, and has even come to my house in the middle of the night to treat very ill dogs at no charge. I realize that’s not the norm so I feel extremely lucky to have found her. I’ve searched and found several groups that offer grants for emergency care but most offer to private adopters not rescues. I coordinate the events for MHWR & am constantly trying to motivate volunteers to attend events, recruit their friends & family and find fun ways to raise money. If anyone has good ideas let me know as I seem to be running out!!
    As far as structure, I’ve worked with a few rescues & although each has some kind of structure, each has been a bit different. We are a small group & have a Rescue Director, who oversees the entirety & makes the difficult decisions(along with the committee’s input); we have an Adoption Coordinator, Foster Home Coord, Volunteer Coord, Vet Record Coordinator, Intake & Event Coordinator. But the group is growing so we’re in the midst of some growing pains as we develop new roles & recruit new volunteers to fill those roles. The one thing I would not recommend to anyone starting a rescue is don’t try to run it on your own! Volunteering with a rescue before starting your own is key because you will gain experience in all areas of rescue and you will build a network across the country that will help you be successful.
    Linda, I would love to know more about the grants available to apply for non profit!

  3. I also liked Linda’s comments on the emotions involved. It’s a very emotional business, but in many cases, the good outweighs the bad in the end. 🙂 Lives are saved.

    I also liked Shereen’s comments on the social side of rescue groups. LBR is a very close knit group of people, and the support for our volunteers from others is fantastic. Many of us have become close friends, and we utilize that social advantage to gain new volunteers. We have at least one “all volunteer” get together per year (with 200+ volunteers that gets harder and harder each year) without dogs, and we work in Happy Hour socials throughout the year as well. AND, because we do think rescue should be fun, 3 years ago we started doing what we refer to as the “Boxer Rescuers Unleashed” cruises. About 30 of us go each winter. It’s a total blast, and with today’s technology, we manage to stay connected to the rest of the group while we’re away.

    We also view our events as social activities, and we’re pretty rabid, we’ll tell anyone willing to listen the stories of our special boxers. There are no shy people here at LBR.

  4. Sharon, that’s so funny! We at the Weim Rescue are a bit ummmm….”outspoken” about rescue too and love to share stories & pity the person that unknowingly tells one of us that they keep their dog outside or treat them with no respect or buy from pet shops because they WILL hear our thoughts! Sometimes we meet some unsuspecting person that has no idea rescue exists and by the end of the conversation they’re ready to volunteer to save their favorite breed!
    I guess along with the emotional part of rescue, in order to endure the heartache, we need to remember to take care of ourselves and have fun. I’m working on a bus trip to a casino for volunteers but a cruise? wow! Can I come along? We give so much of ourselves, take time from our families & friends, that many forget to reward themselves with something special whether it’s a local Yappy Hour, fun day at the dog park, hiking with rescue friends, or other.

    I don’t know about the rest of you out there but I am having a blast reading your blogs & kind of getting to know you thru this project. We all might rescue different breeds but we all have one common goal….to save dogs!

  5. I serve as board chair, president, and intake coordinator for Small Dog Rescue of Minnesota and I appreciate the nod to the difficulty of intake. I think that topic is worth expanding on.

    The intake coordinator does need to be someone who can make responsible, compassionate, difficult decisions and handle the emotions that come with that job. We receive literally 14 times as many requests for help as we do inquiries about adoption. (And that isn’t even an application, let alone an actual adoption!)

    And, you will need to be able to adequately appraise what your rescue can handle in terms of numbers of dogs, how much you can afford to spend on vetting, and what kinds of issues you are willing to take in. We get a lot of criticism from other local rescues for taking in dogs who are resource intensive – but we do. Intake involved making terrible choices sometimes because at this point in time, independent rescues can not save all the dogs who need saving.

    If your rescue is going to be taking in special needs dogs like puppy mill survivors, dogs needing behavioral training, or dogs with special medical needs, it’s important that the leadership of the group have a realistic expectation about what those dogs will need to recover and be prepared to support foster parents in healing those dogs’ emotional or physical wounds. The intake coordinator is generally the person who needs to be aware of those needs and make the judgement call about whether or not the group can provide those things at that time.

  6. Kari says:

    Maybe we need to have a section in the book about how to take care of ourselves because you are right, it can be an emotional rollercoaster! Meeting at dog parks, indoor doggy swimming pools, luncheons, and annual picnics are always great ways to meet others who are rescue people like us!

  7. We have a 7 member board with only 5 positions filled. After reading the other posts I’m wondering how you find the individuals that are willing to commit all their free time to helping. As much as I advertise and plea for help I am not getting anyone asking to help. Information on finding those people would be extremely helpful.

  8. Wow, great comments.
    I too wish we had as many helping hands as LBR. Many of us, as with most rescuers wear many hats. But I would rather have a handful of dedicated souls as to have many wishy, washy people. How many times have “new” fosters returned a dog or needs a break because, fostering is work??
    I totally agree we need a section on ourselves. Being a caregiver is hard, emotional and stressful, yet very rewarding. Most of us go 24/7 for the animals. We do need an outlet outside of rescue, but who has time or the energy??? Our lives have gone to the dogs, literally. We need to set aside time for ourselves, which is something I have not yet figured how to do.
    One section I did not explore in the article was Centralized vs Decentralized. I guess I was in such a hurry to get the post in, I forgot. Personally, I would LOVE to have a central location for all the dogs with many volunteers to help with all the “chores” But on the other hand, fostering in the homes is very beneficial for the dogs. It puts them in the middle of a home environment, with screaming kids, grouchy Grandma, chasing the cat, etc.. Home fostering gets them ready for the real world. My place is sort of a halfway house to transition from the streets to loving foster home to a forever, loving home in the “real world”

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