Best Practices: Starting a Rescue

This is the fourth post in our Rescue Best Practices Manual inquiry series, in which we are working with 20+ upstanding, reputable rescues to create a best practices manual for private animal rescue organizations.

Today we explore why someone would start a rescue, and what competencies a person who starts a rescue needs.

Thank you to Nebraska Border Collie Rescue for helping us get started about what it takes to start a rescue. Here are President Karen Battreall’s thoughts:

Considerations when starting a rescue

When starting a rescue you need to consider many things.  Do you have the space to house the dogs?  Do you have the finances to support them and do you have the time required to care for them, recruit volunteers and do the necessary paperwork.

You should start by getting your organization incorporated and then your 501c3.  Depending on the state you have your rescue, you may need to get a license.

Put up a website to showcase your adoptable dogs.  Talk to your vet and see if you can get a discount on their services.

Set up a time to go to various pet stores like Petsmart and Petco and set up a table.  This will give you the exposure you need to recruit volunteers and potential adopters.

Start pulling dogs in danger from your local shelter.  Be careful not to over extend yourself in this area.  To often a rescue becomes a collector.  You must condition yourself to understanding YOU CAN’T SAVE THEM ALL.

Why start a rescue?

That is a good question.   We started NBCR when we saw many border collies being put down simply because they were acting like border collies.  We believed that someone familiar with the breed should be working with the dogs and finding appropriate homes for them

We also felt that the public needed to be better educated on the breed.   Since the movie Babe many people were buying border collie puppies without a clue as to their needs.  Rescue could not only save dogs from being euthanized but also teach the new owners how to work with their dogs.

Necessary skills and competencies

I believe a person starting or running a rescue should have considerable knowledge of dog behavior and especially a great understanding of the breed they are working with.  Loving dogs and wanting to save them isn’t enough.  I think a background in working with dogs is important.  Management skills help and you should be able to communicate well with people.  And you need common sense.

I would like to see more people in rescue who actually train their dogs in the area the dog was intended to work in.   This would at least give them some insight into how the dog thinks.  Of course the toys and non sporting breeds would not be trained for work but they could train them in obedience.

In our organization we encourage our volunteers to attend herding trials and if possible, work their dogs on livestock.  We have volunteered to help at the National Cattle Dog Finals and the Nebraska State Fair herding trials.  We have regular meetings to discuss training procedures.  We want our volunteers to understand the breed they are working with.  Some of our volunteers have become proficient working with livestock as a result of their training.

We also encourage fosters to train their dogs in obedience and agility.  We have members who volunteer to help at agility trails, setting up courses, timing and scribing.

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9 Responses to Best Practices: Starting a Rescue

  1. Kristine says:

    Thanks for this excellent break-down. I think a lot of people want to help dogs in this way but there is a lot that goes into running a rescue. It’s not as simple as finding a bunch of dogs. In order to do it properly with the animals’ welfare in mind, it takes a lot of work. It’s probably not a bad idea to help out with an already organized rescue first, do some fostering, network within the community for ideas and information. One can never have too much of that, right?

  2. I suggest looking at the rescues that already exist in your area. Maybe there is a specific area where there is a huge need, like stray cat rescue, or big black dog rescue. Of course, the founder of a rescue has to be seriously invested in the rescue they start, so they have to follow their own heart, too, but there’s a lot of need and it makes sense to offer your help where there is a desperate need.

    I would encourage someone thinking about starting a rescue to really consider the amount of work it will be up front. Presuming you’re not starting with a solid group of dependable, capable volunteers, most everything will be the founder’s responsibility at first. If you’re not organized, you may want to recruit a decent treasurer early on to help keep records in line. If you know you’re not a people person and you do better with animals, consider finding someone who understands that and can help recruit and manage volunteers. It’s important to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses because it will help you make the best choices you can and help your rescue be successful. It’s also more fun and will help keep you sane if you have a few solid rescue buddies you can rely on and talk to.

  3. Vicky Mazyn says:

    When we started. we had several people who had been in rescue for years. We did not agree with some of the politics that were going on in the ones we were working with. We started working on it 6 months before we actually did it and it still took 8 months to get our 501(c)3. We started with 1 person who had been a director and founder of another rescue, a vet tech, someone who understood fundraising and grants and someone with legal and bookkeeping skills. Without all of these issues covered, we could not be where we are today.

  4. Vicky Mazyn says:

    It also helps if you have someone with good computer skills. You will need applications, contracts, release of strays, release of owner dogs, vet check and home check forms.

  5. Do you see more rescues failing or succeeding? Is there a critical first year to get through like many say about start-up businesses? If you make it through your first year, are you destined to succeed?

  6. I think NBCR did a great write up on this, but feel the need to share my experiences as well. LBR started with 4 volunteers, 2 dogs, $2K in the bank and a BIG dream.

    As stated, the first step in filing Articles of Incorporation (AOI) with your state as a Non-Profit Corporation. You will likely need a set of written Bylaws as well for your organization (we did in Texas). To file for 501(c)3 status, you will need to first be Incorporated in your state, and you will need at least 3 Directors named in your 501(c)3 application. If you know a dog friendly attorney, I recommend you seek their assistance with AOI and Bylaws, if not, reach out to area rescue groups. I’ve let many new groups review ours to assist them in their start up efforts.

    I agree that a rescue HAS to know their limits, and they have to know them up front. They need to know how many animals they can handle both physically and financially. Financial debt is the number one downfall of start up rescues. You need to have the room for them, and foster parents should be given a limit of the number of dogs allowed in their home at one time, whether that limit is self imposed or imposed by the rescue management team. The President of the rescue, and the management team (be that a Board of Directors, or a simple Team put together to manage the rescues resources), need to know those limits and be willing and capable enough to enforce them. In LBR’s case, we do not have an actual Board of Directors, and likely never will. I am the President and I have a team of 5 committed, core volunteers that act as our Management Committee.

    You cannot save them all. Truer words were never spoken. I have seen many start up rescues end up as hoarders and worse. Know your limits and know them well.

    I volunteered with a rescue for approximately one year before starting LBR. I wasn’t that experienced, and I am certainly not a master trainer of boxers. But I had lived through Hammer’s adolescence (and anyone that’s gone through that, knows what I am referring to), and I knew that I would never own another breed. By the time I started LBR, I had only been a boxer owner for about two years. So, while I agree you need to know your breed well, I don’t think it takes a master trainer of that breed to run a rescue. We have volunteers in our group that are way more experienced in the training and behavioral aspects than I am. My boxers rule the roost at my house, and my husband is the trainer and commander at home, Mom provides the love. LOL!

    What I found, my first year in rescue, was that rescues tend to lack the human element. Dog rescuers are dog people, they’re generally not “people” people, and I think it’s VERY important to our mission that that changes.

    If you want quality volunteers, supporters and adopters, you have to know how to handle people. Even people you wouldn’t adopt a dead snake to need to be handled kindly. Bad PR, even if it’s coming from someone you declined to adopt to for very valid reasons, is still bad PR. When LBR gets into a “pissing match” with someone angry over rejection, we take the high road (even though in our minds we’d like to rid the world of their gene pool). We simply state that “while we feel you love your animals, and care for them in a manner that best suits you, you do not share the pet care philosophy that we do here at LBR”. That usually ends the rhetoric so we can move on. Don’t look down on people, educate them, to the best of your ability. I know that isn’t always possible, but sometimes it works and that’s a small battle won.

    Where people skills help the most is with your volunteers and supporters. You have to trust and respect your volunteers. If you do not, you won’t keep them. LBR has one of the largest volunteer bases in North Texas, with over 200 volunteers.

    I recently had to deal with a boxer rescue in another state. I was speaking to the President on the phone one night and she asked how many foster homes we had. When I said about 60-70, she was floored. Then she said “How do you do that? We have THREE and they all SUCK!” I kid you not, that was her exact words. I was appalled. Really, you’re talking to a complete stranger lady and the first view I have of this rescue now is that the President is a person that cares nothing for the volunteers donating THEIR time to her mission.

    I’m very much a dog person, but I am also very much a people person. When asked what the number one thing needed for getting and maintaining volunteers is, my response is simple. Empower your volunteers. I am asked to speak with other groups on occasion because of LBR’s success in such a short timespan, and it’s funny, but most ruling entities are speechless when I say these 3 words. Let’s face it, most people with the drive to start a rescue are going to be, at least a bit, controlling. I know I am a class A control freak, BUT, when it comes to LBR, I have to let it go. I have to empower my volunteers to help me run LBR as it should be. Guide them yes, control them no.

    I believe the “Powers that Be” in any rescue should be 100% approachable by volunteers and should be willing and able to respond to their inquiries and contacts when needed. I know many groups where the “board” is unapproachable to all but it’s core volunteers, and as long as that’s the case, they won’t grow or retain quality volunteers. They may keep their core group, but there will be no expansion or growth.

    So, I believe people skills are imperative in your core management group or board.

    Just my two cents. I’ll contribute more when we reach the Volunteer section of the publication.

  7. And yes, you need to be willing to make the time commitment to run your organization and you will need the ability to “change” with your rescue as it grows. My responsibilities have certainly changed in 7 years, and I have delegated many of my initial duties (fundraising, application support, etc) to volunteers that are better suited in that role.

    I work a full time job, and even travel for work quite a lot, but I have learned to work smarter and more effectively to keep up with the rescue duties. I will share those thoughts as we reach those topics in the discussion.

    It is imperative that you have at least one core volunteer that is very computer savvy, as you will need this expertise, trust me, the majority of what we do is done through PC’s these days, and you need to be comfortable in that world.

  8. The founder of Houston Beagle Rescue wrote this:
    1) Seek out at least 2 or 3 low cost vet clinics and establish a relationship with them. Things can change rather quickly with new ownership, new policies, etc, and you don’t want to be left at the last minute without options if you were planning on using just one clinic. Meet with the manager of the clinic in person (taking him/her to lunch one day is a great idea!!) and go over their procedures and costs, and prepare a paper checklist in advance with the routine items you will want done on each new animal, and get a written price list from them so that you can prepare a budget.

    2) Resist the temptation to take in nearly every dog that is presented to you. It is a common thread with many new rescue groups that they underestimate the time, expense and problems on intake and soon find themselves overwhelmed and unable to do the right thing for the animals in their care. Follow “Murphy’s Law” and expect the worst-case-scenario so that you will have a back-up plan for such things as contagious diseases that had not been diagnosed, extraordinary care for unforseen problems such as injuries or serious illness, things that will require more experience, money and time for recovery than expected. There is almost no such thing as the “too good to be true” animal that you THINK you are getting!

    3) The motto of every rescue group should be to treat EACH animal in their care as if it were their OWN pet. It is super difficult to say “no” to intake, but nothing is worse than committing to an animal and then doing no better for that precious pet that what the former neglectful owner had been doing. No matter how many animals you take in, there are still going to be millions in this country that no one will be able to save due to the sheer volume, and even if more could be saved, there are not enough adoptive homes for all of them, sadly. A very wise saying is that animals don’t know how long they have lived, they only know how well they are living right now. They don’t understand past or future, just NOW. If you can’t get them into a good situation in a short period of time, you should not be taking on that pet. Vow that you won’t accidentally become the person from whom you had hoped to free this animal.

    4) Allow enough time and resources for fund-raising and adoption activities. Don’t get so bogged down in the daily care of the rescued animals that you are unable to perform the other tasks that figure in to a successful rescue group. If you can pay for the treatments which prepare the pets for adoption and you can take the time to work with adopters, then you can continuously make room for the ones on the list that need rescue!

    5) Be sure that you and the animals have some fun! Take them on a walk, on a car ride, cook a special treat, play some music, spoil them a bit, teach them a new trick or skill, get them a new collar, bandana, toy, chewie, just make sure that their time with you is special. There is so much difficult stuff that they have to go through to be restored to good health and good manners for their potential adopters that it can be hard to remember to enjoy the journey!

  9. Shereen says:

    Why start a rescue? why not? Well…lots to think about before taking that big responsibility on. Loving dogs is not enough to run a successful rescue.
    Why? Many reasons including love of a certain breed, a passion for shutting down puppy mills, an overall love of dogs, inspiration
    What to consider when starting a rescue?
    TIME: do you have time to commit to the dogs? the time to keep records, accounting, arrange transport, recruit volunteers, plan events, fundraising and more?
    FINANCIAL: do you have the finances to feed, house and provide quality vet care? How will you find sponsors, donators?
    EMOTIONAL COMMITTMENT: Even if you have the time and the finances, are you prepared to say no to incoming dogs when you already are full and have no foster homes available? If you take in a dog that has health problems are you prepared to make a life/death decision for the dogs welfare? Are you prepared to hear the worst of the worst stories of abuse and neglect?
    Rescue is rewarding beyond the meaning of the word but there are horror stories, stories that will break the strongest of hearts, unbelievable acts against these sweet creatures. Are you ready to hear those stories, stay positive, focused and help those you can while realizing you cannot save them all?

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