Starting a Cat Sanctuary Takes Planning

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SARA Sanctuary Gives Advice for Starting an Animal Sanctuary

While visiting with the various cat and animal rescue groups and sanctuaries, I thought about the effort and dedication these wonderful people have put forth to become established and successful. There were groups that served one particular breed of cat, and those that would take in any kitty -- even those with serious health issues. These folks give their every waking hour (and many sleep hours) to caring for kitties facing certain death if not for rescue organizations.

How do these groups get started? How do they become so successful at saving lives and helping re-home the orphans? The folks at Society for Animal Rescue and Adoption (SARA) Sanctuary, in Seguin, Texas, gave me some hints and I’d like to share them with you. You can read their guide to starting an animal sanctuary online, but I’ll give you a quick peak at what they have to say.

SARA Sanctuary stresses that the business side of the operation be intact and running before you take in even one animal. Now, that makes good sense -- especially in the economy we’re facing now. The guidelines explain how you need to learn about all your local zoning laws and adhere to them. Become a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and gather a Board of Directors for everything from legal needs to veterinarian assistance. Finding funding is crucial to starting and maintaining an animal sanctuary, so this is one of SARA Sanctuary’s main guide points. Funding can come in the form of donor pledges, grants or your own funding. Understanding granting organizations is very important to SARA Sanctuary, and they also stress that the sanctuary quickly becomes a full-time job, so do not rely on yourself (or just one person) to both work a 40-hour-a-week job and to run the sanctuary.

You will rely on volunteers and need to get the word out about fundraising events and adoption days, so find and utilize the talents of local media folks. Researching local news outlets and meeting local media people can help you get into their promotion loop. Most media outlets want to help their communities and send special marketing teams to non-profit fundraising events and adoption days. SARA Sanctuary folks suggest you start small, with your own local community, then reach out to the larger city media in your state if you expect to work with animals from several cities.

A website is a given. No business can survive today’s technology-driven lifestyle without a link to the global picture, and every rescue group and animal sanctuary needs a great website. SARA Sanctuary has tips for ensuring your website looks professional and serves the organization’s needs. This is a good job for a volunteer, but be warned: your website cannot be someone’s experiment. You need a professional who can give your group a polished look and feel, plus make the site easy to maintain.

You will need to feed all those hungry babies, so finding a continuous source of food is critical. Whether through donations from supermarkets, veterinarians or a sponsor, a food source is one of the first things you must secure.

Other tips the SARA Sanctuary site gives are to free up the Director’s time from the grunt work. This seems quite important, as the Director of any organization is the person who is constantly on stage, and cannot be cleaning kitty litter all day and also do their job in an efficient and effective manner. Interns and volunteers can take up the grunt work load, with the Director’s time then made free to keep the funding sources rolling.

SARA Sanctuary’s advice column includes one very smart piece about finding a niche market. We think of this when marketing a product, but finding a niche as a much-needed animal sanctuary can be the difference between being the eighth Himalayan rescue group in a 10-mile radius, or being the only Siamese rescue group in a 100-mile radius. Do your homework first and find all the rescue groups in your community; then search out what is lacking and fill that void.

The great work SARA Sanctuary has done over the years has come through very hard work, much effort put into planning and smart use of resources. Take a look at their website, learn about their Sanctuary and if you’re thinking about creating your own rescue group or sanctuary, be sure to read their advice at

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