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How to Start a Cat Rescue

| Updated September 26, 2017

Things You'll Need

  • Mission statement

  • Board of directors

  • Registered 501(c)(3) status

  • Sources of funding

  • Relationship with a veterinarian

  • Website

  • Policies and procedures for fosters

  • Volunteer handbook and volunteers

You love cats, and you want to help those in need. But starting a cat rescue takes more than a love of everything feline. To operate a rescue successfully, you’ll need business savvy and good organizational, accounting and marketing skills. You should be good at fundraising and know how to network effectively too.

Think about your community’s needs. You might be able to do more good by volunteering or fostering cats for an existing cat rescue.

Join rescue email lists and talk with other cat rescuers. Knowing what’s involved in running a cat rescue will help you decide whether you want to start one of your own.

Write a mission statement. Do you want to concentrate on trap/neuter/return? Will you rescue cats from kill shelters? Do you plan on having a network of foster homes or do you dream of opening a cat shelter? Knowing your mission and putting it in writing will help you stay focused and avoid burnout.

Invite people you know and trust to join your board of directors. They should be committed to your mission, enthusiastic and have the community connections necessary to help you with fundraising. Try to include an accountant, experienced grant writer and veterinarian or veterinary technician.

Register with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The forms you’ll need are on the IRS’s website. As a registered nonprofit, you’ll be able to apply for grants, and your donors will receive a tax deduction when they contribute to your cat rescue.

Investigate sources of funding. Ask local businesses to partner with you and research charitable foundations that give grants to groups with missions similar to yours.

Establish a relationship with a veterinarian who will give you a rescue discount and advise you on medical issues.

Create a website where you can list your adoption and intake policies and post your cats for adoption. Also register with such pet adoption websites as Petfinder.com and Adoptapet.com.

Establish policies and procedures for people who will foster cats for you.

Write a volunteer handbook and prepare a press release to use when recruiting volunteers and fosters. Also post your volunteer opportunities on such websites as VolunteerMatch.com. You’ll need volunteers to assist at adoption and fundraising events, photograph cats and post their pictures and stories online and write grant proposals. If you’re planning to have a shelter, you’ll also need volunteers to care for the cats.


  • Become a cat expert. Learn everything you can about cats’ physical and emotional needs. Always be diplomatic. Showing your anger with a person who wants to give up a cat will not help the cat and can sometimes make things worse. Recognize your limitations. Taking in more cats than your space and budget allow can harm the cats and could lead to legal problems for you.