Before You Start a Sanctuary

How do I start a sanctuary?

People who are passionate and proactive in their love for animals sometimes express a desire to start a sanctuary of their own. Although sanctuaries are an integral part of animal protection, and while operating a sanctuary can be very fulfilling, it is also an extremely complex and labor-intensive endeavor. It is not an exaggeration to say that operating a sanctuary is a twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week, year-round job. Failure rates of new sanctuaries are astronomical, resulting in even less stability for the animals and damage to the public opinion of sanctuaries as a whole. And, ironically, the founder of the sanctuary ends up having the least amount of direct contact with the animals (link to Wildcat Sanctuary guide), typically preoccupied with administrative and financial responsibilities.

Starting a sustainable sanctuary involves significantly more than providing space and affection for animals in need:

  • Sanctuaries require funding, which entails devising a diverse fundraising strategy and a multi-year budget, as well as continuous budget management while the sanctuary is open.
  • The sanctuary also needs to be staffed with veterinarians with species-appropriate experience and other expert support staff.
  • The founder needs to assemble a supportive Board, to whom the sanctuary will report.
  • Appropriate land and infrastructure need to be acquired, and necessary facilities need to be constructed and maintained on-site.
  • And sanctuaries intrinsically involve difficult and heart-wrenching decision-making every single day, due to the realities of managing limited resources.
  • For more information, please read the Arcus’ comprehensive guide on starting a sanctuary.

Before starting your own sanctuary, consider volunteering at an established sanctuary to get a comprehensive understanding of the actual workload and responsibilities of operating a sanctuary. GFAS also offers advice on how you can help (link to “How you can help page”) animals and sanctuaries without attempting to open a new sanctuary.