So You Want To Start A Sanctuary

Rightly or wrongly, there is a growing interest in people wanting to start their own animal sanctuary.

Like other major decisions in life, the decision to open an animal rescue shouldn’t be one that is taken or made lightly.

That being said, if you do start one, it can be a both rewarding and heart breaking experience.

This guide has been put together for those who have the means, though not the knowledge to start one themselves.

Sadly, I do need to make the following disclaimer, that the information contained in this article is that only. Information, and should be used only for education purposes. It doesn’t take into account the legislation that may or may not be applicable in your jurisdiction, nor should it be considered legal advice in any way.

Buy Don’t Rent

While this one is pretty obvious, it is something that has been over looked in the past.

With suitable properties in the high six, to low seven figures, property ownership is the biggest hurdle to overcome when starting an animal rescue.

When you rent the property that your sanctuary is on, you are at the mercy of the landlord.

There are laws that protect the renter to a certain degree, in private renting situations, if you have a sanctuary, it is most likely that it will be viewed as a commercial rent, and things are totally different in that area.

Getting finance without a large amount of capital may be a challenge if thats the path that you are heading down. Banks and lending institutions are becoming more risk averse due to the fall out from the Royal Commission.

Check The Local Zoning

Due to council zoning by-laws there are limits on the number and type of animal that can be kept in a residential area.

This means, that once you have the funding sorted, you would be looking for a property in an area that is zoned “rural”.

Though, as a Queensland based animal rescue found out, just because an area is zoned rural, it doesn’t automatically mean that an animal rescue can be located there.

For example, in the Moreton Bay Regional Council area, where the “sanctuary” is located, there are certain activities that the land can be used for.

Unfortunately, as there is no planning code for an “animal rescue”, it is up to the council to decide what the “entity” closely matches.

What They Could Have Done

When there is an assessment done on the “use” of the land within a particular zone, the primary use is looked at and considered.

The property is approximately 22 hectares.

So, if 12 hectares of the property is kept for one of the purposes listed, it would be hard for the council to close the gates.

Now before you complain about half of the land being taken away from “the animals”, you need to ask yourself, which is more important.

Keeping the gates open, or having all of the land available for the sanctuary?

Have The Right Structure In Place

There seems to be some sort of unhealthy obsession with people wanting animal rescues to be a “not for profit”, as if that is some sort of magic wand.

The reality is, that all a “not for profit” status means is that if the “entity” makes a profit, it isn’t distributed to the members.

While a “not for profit” structure can be of benefit, I personally think they more of a hinderance than a help.

Being a “not for profit” means holding AGMs, being audited, maintaining paperwork, etc. And, in the early days, that can be more of a hassle than it is worth. (The obligations are requirements are different depending on whether the “entity” is registered as an “incorporated association” under state legislation, or a special purpose company, under federal).

The only benefit to having having the animal sanctuary as a “not for profit” would be to get deductible gift recipient status from the ATO. (This means that donations over $2.00 are tax deductible).

My suggestion, start as a “for profit” entity, and once the income gets into the high 6 figure mark, change to a “not for profit”.

This will help the rescue by not having to spend the limited finances on audits, or go through the pointless committee meetings, finding people to be secretary and treasurer, etc.

Get Your Funding Right

Before you open your doors, or accept your first ‘rescue’, you need to make sure you have reliable funding in place.

And I’m not talking about donations.

In the early days, relying on donations as your main source of income is a bad business model.

The same goes with relying on the founders to do it.

If the process of using the land to complying with zoning is followed, there is no reason why that use can’t be the primary funding source for the sanctuary.

Without a stable funding source in place, you will always be at the mercy of donors, and always asking for help.

It will also help to have some extra in the bank, should a medical emergency present itself.

Then Create A Budget

Once you have your funding in place, the next thing you need to do is work out your monthly budget.

You will need to work out how much on average you can spend per month. Then stick to it.

For example, having a few cows may cost you $150 per month in feed per cow.

So, if you have 10 rescued cows on your property, that is $1,500 per month in feed costs, or $18,000 per year.

Yes, feed costs will be lower with smaller residents, though they may be more likely to have medical complications, so the overall cost may not be lower.

You will also need to budget for property maintenance, insurance for visitors, volunteers, and the property, to name a few more.

Ethical Considerations

This is going to be the trickiest part about opening up an animal rescue, and one that needs to be given the most thought.

We know that people will turn up to open days, etc when they get to see the animals who are there. Though how do you do that while still respecting the rights of the residents to not be an “attraction”.

There are a few options that are being used by animal rescues in Australia.

One option you could do, is have designated walkways that can’t be strayed from, where if the animals turn up, they can be seen. If they don’t, then thats the way it is.

Though the risk with this is that if visitors on the open days don’t get to see the animals on a regular basis, they are not likely to return.

If they don’t return, they may not donate or sponsor an animal.

Another option is, you could do tours to see the animals, wherever they are, and keep walking around until you find them. The trouble with that is, that you aren’t really respecting the rights of the residents to their own life.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you are relaxing in your back yard. How would you feel if people walked in to see you, despite not answering the doorbell when they rang it?

Finally, and this is undoubtedly the most unethical option. You could take some of the smaller residents out in a van to every event you can think of. You can justify this in your own head by saying that they are doing it for the team, and that their presence lifts the profile of the “sanctuary”.

You might even go the “extra mile” by teaching one of the residents how to do tricks, using Operant conditioning. Doing this will help you to “show” people how intelligent they are, and how much you care for the animals.

Get Prepared For Heartbreak

Something that you do need to be aware of, and not ignore or dismiss is that the residents of the farm will die.

The sad reality is that the residents of the sanctuary have been genetically bred to produce ‘something’ that can be used by society.

This means their bodies may grow too fast for their heart and other organs to handle, and they could succumb to organ failure. The older they get, the more likely they are to develop complications from their “breeding”.

There is also the consideration of the environment that they are in, and the impact it will have on them.

Australia is no place for any imported species, let alone one that is intensively farmed.

As most would know, we are in a drought, so think of the impact that the heat and lack of rain will have on them.

That is without mentioning the extra costs that will be incurred due to having to buy extra feed for the residents.

Other Considerations

In addition to all of the above, there are other things that you will need to consider.

You will most likely need help to do things on the property.

So, do you have a team of volunteers, and how do you find, motivate and manage them.

Or do you hire someone on a full or part time basis. (If you do, this will be an extra expense that will need to be funded).

How will you “advertise” the animal sanctuary?

Will you do paid advertising or rely only on social media?

And, the most important consideration of all.

Will you be able to do this, quite literally, forever.

If you do decide to start your own animal rescue, it can be a rewarding venture.

Just make sure you are doing if for the right reasons.

What are your thoughts?