7 Things I Learned About Starting an Animal Sanctuary

4. Anticipate Medical Emergencies

Before taking in any animal, especially those beyond cats and dogs, make sure you have budgeted enough for medical needs and consider your proximity to specialized veterinary care. We are lucky to live relatively close to a major veterinary medical school, as well as a specialty veterinary hospital with, in our case, a traveling farm animal veterinarian. For companion animals or exotics, you might need access to board-certified specialists.

Then consider your ability to transport any animals should they need hospital care. For example, our 1-year-old pig, Ruby, who weighed several hundred pounds, suddenly became blind and sick. We did not anticipate an illness in such a young animal, and finding transportation for her in an emergency situation was difficult. This was extremely stressful considering her size and the urgency of her condition. With smaller animals, like dogs, cats or exotics, you may need to make sure you have appropriately sized carriers on hand and that they have been adequately trained and handled for safe and stress-free transport.

5. It Takes Money

When caring for animals, particularly when they have special medical needs (which may be why you have them in the first place) or simply because you are caring for a large number of animals, you need to make sure you have enough resources. Medical emergencies, facility maintenance and repairs, in addition to daily operation costs (e.g., water, electricity, food, bedding, etc.) can quickly add up.

We are not currently a nonprofit organization; although, we may explore this in the future. For us, operating under a board of directors would have added another level of complexity to our enterprise; although, it does allow you to solicit more funding and donations other than the random gifts of kind people. Anyone thinking of starting a sanctuary should consult with relevant financial advisors to see which scenario makes the most sense for you and your goals.

Whether or not you can fundraise, however, it’s important to set money aside for unexpected events. You don’t want to get into a situation where your bills are higher than your income or donations, or your animal care decisions are limited by your funds and not what’s best for the animals.

6. It Takes Time

Consider your lifestyle and daily commitments as they are now and add at least one hour of work to the beginning and end of your day — every day, even if it’s a holiday or during a blizzard or on a 100+ degree day. Depending upon the types of animals you have, each stall, cage, enclosure or litter box might need to be cleaned daily. Providing food, water and socialization takes time. For our family, even a day trip can be tricky. If we get home at midnight, all our animals still need to be cared for. In addition, you might learn that other family members, like your children, are not really as interested in helping with barn chores as you had hoped (or are too young to do so safely). Also realize you are in this for the long haul. If you are committed to keeping an animal for life, then that time will be measured in years.

7. Finding Help Can Be Hard

We have been fortunate to have caretakers (who are also veterinary technicians) who are willing to stay on-site and handle morning and evening care-taking tasks. However, it is not easy to line up people who share your respect and care for animals, and are strong, reliable, thorough and available to care for them when you need them. We have had several offers from people who “love animals,” but it takes quite a lot to manage, for instance, four large pigs who are lovable yet large and powerful. It’s the same concern with dogs, cats and exotics.

These considerations are by no means exhaustive, nor are they meant to dissuade anyone from starting their own rescue. Taking in animals and watching them thrive in their forever home is extremely fulfilling. They each have their own sad stories from before they came to us, and we are proud that we have such a positive impact upon their lives. Starting an animal sanctuary can be extremely fulfilling — just make sure you know what you are getting into before you take the leap!

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