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What to Consider If You Want to Start a Reptile Rescue or Sanctuary

What to Consider If You Want to Start a Reptile Rescue or Sanctuary


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I'm an avid herpetoculturist. I hope to pursue a career in herpetology and eventually start my own online reptile business.

Do You Want to Start a Rescue for the Right Reasons?

So many reptile lovers ponder the idea of starting their own reptile rescue. Unfortunately, many of those people are ill-prepared, oblivious to the amount of time and money involved, or, in the worst cases, just want free animals.

If you are just interested in "rescuing" reptiles to sell them for profit or to get free animals, you are very much in the wrong. You aren't helping animals that are really in need of help. You are merely thinking of "rescuing" for selfish reasons. If you genuinely want to help reptiles and eventually see them placed in loving, knowledgeable homes, please keep reading!

How You Can Help?

If you really want to help reptiles and the reptile community, consider waiting to start a rescue! There are many other ways to help reptiles in need until you are fully prepared to open your own rescue:

  • Get in touch with other rescues and organizations. You can foster reptiles or even help transport them to foster homes.
  • Donations are always gladly welcomed. You can donate not only money but also supplies, food, etc.
  • Of course, volunteering is an excellent way to help as well.
  • I would recommend always continuing to gain more knowledge about reptiles in general. Keep in touch with reptile forums and chat groups. Read as much as you can, and if you have a question, ask it!
  • Speak with people who run rescues already and really gain an understanding for how much work goes into running a rescue.

Important Things to Think About

If you've decided to take the plunge into starting your own rescue, you'll need to think about a few things:

1. Where Will the Money Come From?

Reptiles are expensive and costly to keep. Even the largest reptiles rescues greatly rely on their own money, donations, and adoption fees to keep going. Most of these fees don't even cover half of what they spend! Here are a few things you'll regularly be spending money on:

  • Caging
  • Food
  • Gas money for driving to pick up animals, deliver and visits to the vet
  • Veterinarian visits
  • Supplementation
  • Medications
  • Proper handling equipment (gloves, snakes hooks, bags, etc)
  • Electricity is a big one that many people don't think about
  • Cage supplies and furnishings
  • Cleaning supplies

2. Where Do You Live, and What Space Requirements Do You Need?

If you live in a rented house or apartments, your landlord will not likely be pleased with you keeping so many reptiles. You'll need to first check with them, and don't assume that they won't find out. If you live in a smaller house or apartment, where will you be keeping these reptiles? Even if you only rescue smaller reptiles, any reptile owner knows how bulky cages can be. If you rescue larger reptiles (which are usually the most popular rescues), those cages are larger than most people's furniture!

The reason I mention your own home and not a store is because many reptile rescues start out in their own homes. If you really start rescuing large animals or many animals, you may very well be forced to rent a store. If so, add rent and insurance onto the above costs. Another way to help with space is to start a network of knowledgeable, trustworthy foster homes!

3. What About Liability, Licenses, and Permits?

Liability issues in one that many people don't think about. For example, lets say you just rescued an ornery Burmese Python. What will you do if she escapes and injures someone? You'll be held directly responsible. As for permits and licenses; they'll depend on where you live, the size of your rescue, and sometimes even the reptiles you are rescuing. You need to look into all legal aspects, business permits, etc.

4. How Do You Make Your Rescue Legal?

It is absolutely essential that you, as an organization, are established as a legal entity. Did you know that it is illegal to ask the public for donations if you are not established as a legal entity? Some rescues groups are considered as an incorporated association. This simply means that a group of members are all working towards the same goal. Many already established rescues will recommend meeting with a lawyer just to be sure every base is covered and what you are doing is legal. Be sure that your rescue is documented and has been certified.

5. What Will You Do When (Not If) You Acquire a Sick Rescue?

Veterinarian care is by far the most expensive cost when it comes to rescuing reptiles. Medical bills quickly add up, and is the biggest reason why rescues don't last long. Its hard enough to find an experienced exotics vet, let alone a veterinarian hospital that is sympathetic enough to offer discounted prices, payments plans, etc.

A good, reliable vet is going to be one of the most important assets to your rescue. You will get sicks animals that need treatment, and you'll need a veterinarian who knows what they are doing. If you try starting a rescue without a veterinarian that is available, you and the animals will quickly suffer.

6. What About the (Not-So) Minor Details?

  • You're going to need volunteers. One person in charge of rescuing a large number of reptiles will not be able to do it alone. Volunteers will be a god-send for you and are the backbone of any rescue.
  • Whenever you work with any animal that is capable of inflicting harm upon you, you'll need first aid kits for both you and the animals. This is a very important item to have at your rescue.
  • Consider fire prevention and suppression! It amazes me how many budding reptile keepers and rescues don't understand how important it is to use fire detection (smoke alarms for example), and have fire suppression (extinguishers) on hand. You're going to have numerous lights, heat mats, etc that can possibly malfunction. Think about it.
  • Quarantine areas will be a must to prevent spread of contagious diseases and parasites.
  • How the heck are you going to go about placing animals when only a select few are knowledgeable about and want to keep them? We all know how many kids want reptiles as an ego boost, and all of those reptile (especially snake) haters out there.
  • Advertising costs to help find homes are going to be expensive. If you plan on going to conventions and reptile shows (which is great!), how will you pay to set up a booth, drive there, etc.
  • Keep in mind that certain species of reptiles need very specialized care, enclosures, and diets. Enclosures get expensive, and the proper diet can be hard to get.
  • And lastly, if you decide to start a rescue, you'll have no life! Okay, maybe not that extreme. Running a rescue takes so much time that you'll very likely go through phases of regret. You can't take a break from a rescue. You very likely won't be able to go on vacations. Nearly all of your time will be directed towards your organizations, the reptiles and all of the time, money and care that goes into them.

Mellon on April 04, 2017:

My lizard has a swollen toe. What does that mean?

Burnfinl on January 09, 2017:

Hello my name is Linda the city I live in had a pond. I started going to the pond after my home burnt down. One day while sitting by the pond a turtle swam over to my that is when I noticed a hook in her mouth. I took her to the vet and they responded very badly because of the moss on her back and when I asked if I could Check on her they said no she is a wild and they can't give me any info. After that I started going to the pond and watching for the turtle's with the hooks in there mouths. For 5 years I have taking care of the turtle's. Paying for everything out of my money. I called the reptile rescue in our area when one was in bad shape and I never received a call back. The thing I did wrong was mentioning it was a water turtle. I got close to the turtle's now they are talking about draining the pond and I was worried about what would come from it so I took a large amount home. At this time I have 32 and take care of all the sick turtle's around me because no one wants to help with the sliders.

Christopher labor on February 23, 2014:

Thank u very much for the information provided I'm a try animal lover but more fond of the reptiles. Heath and wellness are my top goal for all critters under my care I know it will take time and dedication but even a small scale rescue can be beneficial I know I can't save them all but for those I can it makes the world of difference


Have you always had a soft heart for animals? Do you feel passionate about raising awareness for animal advocacy? Are you the friend that is always saving injured animals or helping others find their four-legged “perfect match”? If you answered yes to any of these questions, starting an animal rescue may be the business venture that best suits you.

Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

What happens during a typical day at an animal rescue business?

The specifics of your day-to-day routine will vary, depending upon what types of animals you rescue, the condition they are in upon intake, and the adoption process your rescue implements. Your daily tasks will include, but are not limited to:

  • Visit shelters within the community to identify animals in need. Communicate with shelter volunteers regarding each animal’s specific needs and fill out necessary paperwork for release.
  • Work with local veterinarians to ensure each new rescue animal receives a complete evaluation, as well as any necessary treatment.
  • Plan and host adoption events in the rescue’s region. This is a great way for the rescue to gain exposure and for animals and potential adopters to meet.
  • Perform home visits to ensure animals are being adopted out to qualified adopters. Many rescues require that each potential adopter fill out an application that includes references and current veterinarian information. All information must be verified.
  • Plan and host fundraising events. Many rescues rely heavily on volunteers and donations, funneling a majority of their earnings back into helping animals.
  • Check on rescue animals that are currently up for adoption. Provide medical care, transport, feed, and clean cages.
  • Network with other animal advocates in the community. These relationships are critical to your business’ survival. An open line of communication should be maintained at all times to ensure the best care and affordable rates.

Some rescues specialize in felines and canines, while others work only with farm animals. Some rely solely on foster homes, while others have a facility that houses rescues awaiting their new home. During the planning phase of your business’ development, explore all of your options. Research to determine what is most critically needed in your community. Once you have defined the parameters of your organization, you can begin to develop a business plan around that, reaching out to those that are most equipped to assist you in your endeavor.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful animal rescue business?

Building a successful animal rescue requires patience, people and animal skills, and a genuine passion for animal advocacy. Since your success will rely heavily fundraising, volunteers, and the rescue’s notoriety in the community, it’s important that your team possess strong fundraising and networking skills.

While the animal rescue industry is an honorable career, it is important to remember that this is a business. Therefore, knowledge in business administration and bookkeeping is also recommended. Aspiring rescue owners are urged to volunteer at local shelters prior to taking on this responsibility. This will provide invaluable information regarding how a successful rescue operates. It will also help prepare you for the disappointment that comes with working in this industry. Not every animal can be saved and animals will be lost along the way. For the sake of all animals that come both before and after, owners must keep a clear and level head, channeling all energy into the positive work you do.

What is the growth potential for an animal rescue business?

According to a recent IBIS World report, annual revenues from this industry have grown to over $600 million. Six to eight million dogs and cats are rescued in the United States each year. These numbers do not account for the various other animals rescued annually. Awareness regarding abuse, neglect, and euthanasia continues to rise, solidifying this industry’s expected growth over the next decade.

Not sure if an animal rescue business is right for you? Try our free Business Idea Generator and find your perfect idea.

TRUiC's YouTube Channel

For fun informative videos about starting a business visit the TRUiC YouTube Channel or subscribe below to view later.


Choosing your first reptile: some species to look for

Reptiles are easier to keep than ever, with special equipment available in almost any pet store. This ease of entry, however, means that beginners can end up in over their head.

There are species that provide a rewarding introduction to these fascinating creatures. There are others to steer away from.

The leopard gecko is a cute little lizard that’s easy to care for. These desert natives don’t need extra humidity except when shedding, but also don’t need much extra heat just provide a heated basking area.

Leopard geckos eat live insects that are readily available, such as crickets, mealworms and waxworms. “Pretty much any pet store is going to have those,” says Bonnie Keller, who has over 19 years’ experience in pet reptile rescue.

You won’t need the special UVB light bulbs that many species require. “Leopard geckos are nocturnal, so don’t need synthetic sunlight,” says Jesse Rothacker. His rescue, Forgotten Friend Reptile Sanctuary, often takes in animals that are unhealthy due to improper lighting, so it’s good to start with a species where that’s not an issue.

Finally, leopard geckos are captive bred. Avoid buying wild caught reptiles both for conservation reasons and because they’re less likely to have diseases and parasites.

Corn snakes are great for beginners. Native to the U.S., they’re suited to our environment.

“It’s a very hardy snake, and it’s a snake that’s friendly for handling,” says Rothacker.

Widely bred for the pet trade, they come in a range of colors. “If you want a pink snake, you can get a pink corn snake,” says Keller.

Feeding is easy, if you can get over the ick factor: Snakes need to eat whole prey. This is non-negotiable.

“There is no Purina snake chow,” says Keller. “There are no vegetarian snakes.”

You can buy frozen mice at a pet store. Thaw them in a cup of warm water — snakes prefer their food warm — and you’re ready to go.

Even the reptile-wary tend to like turtles, but Keller is blunt: “They’re cute and they have a lot of personality, but they’re a terrible pet.”

Water turtles need a large tank with good filtering and frequent water changes. Avoid red-eared sliders, which are sold inexpensively as babies — and frequently get dumped on rescues.

“It’s not a bad pet if you understand that you need to spend a thousand dollars for the setup — the tank, the lights, the filters,” Rothacker says. “And they’re not going to stay the size of a quarter — they’re going to be the size of a dinner plate, they swim in their own toilet, and they’re going to live 50-plus years.”

So how about a tortoise? They’re complicated too. They need strong UVB light, which is tricky to provide indoors. Without it, says Keller, “their shells grow in strange shapes, their nervous system does not function properly. It takes years to see the effect, but by the time you’ve noticed it you’ve significantly shortened the lifespan of your pet.”

Keller only recommends tortoises for warm climates where they can live year-round outside. Rothacker is a little less strict, but agrees they need to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Many tortoises also get way too big. That baby sulcata tortoise may be the size of a golf ball, but it’s the third largest tortoise species in the world. “They can actually dig under the foundation of your home,” says Keller. “If you keep them inside, they can go right through drywall.”

If you’re determined, consider a Greek, Mediterranean or Russian tortoise. “It may still live 100 years but at least it’s going to be an appropriate size,” says Rothacker. However, it can be hard to find one that isn’t wild-caught. Avoid our native box turtles — they will also likely be taken out of the wild, and are a protected species.

Rothacker says that one of the top reasons people surrender reptiles is that they’ve gotten too big. The iguana is a common example.

“It goes from needing a tank to needing its own bedroom,” he says.

Iguanas also can be aggressive and can hurt you, and not just with their strong bite. “They have not only very large talons, but also a ridge going down their back that is like a serrated knife on their tail that can cut right down to the bone,” says Keller.

Most people have the sense not to get the truly giant snakes, but Rothacker says red-tailed boas are commonly surrendered because they’ve gotten too large: about 12 inches when you get one, it’ll grow to 8 or 12 feet.

Before getting a reptile, make sure you have a vet in your area that treats them. Keller says the care sheets at the big pet stores are generally of good quality now, but you’ll get excellent advice if you adopt from a rescue group.

In addition to temperature, humidity and lighting requirements, remember that reptiles have behavioral needs too. Provide an appropriate habitat with opportunities to move and explore. Leopard geckos need hide boxes, and you can buy a kind of sticky sand that will allow them to dig their own burrows. Corn snakes like to climb, so they benefit from vertical space and branches.

And remember to change it up once in a while.

“At Christmas, we take some pine branches off our tree and put them into our snake enclosures,” says Rothacker. “It doesn’t take much, but put a new branch or rock in there and you’ll really see them exploring these things.”

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.


Starting a 501(c)(3) Animal Rescue

If you’ve been rescuing unwanted pets on your own but want to do more, consider starting a nonprofit animal rescue. If your nonprofit organization receives IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service, donor contributions become tax-deductible and you can apply for grants from various foundations and government agencies. More donations from more sources means that means you can help more animals find loving homes.

501(c)(3)4u will assist you in every phase of obtaining IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

The following are points to consider when looking into nonprofit status:

  • Getting Started
    • Visit the IRS website for information rules regarding nonprofit organizations. Check with your state’s attorney general’s office for nonprofit organization’s reporting rules and requirements, including the number of directors a nonprofit must have in your state. Ask your secretary of state or AG’s office for information on how to form a nonprofit. You must make sure your proposed organization’s name is not already taken. If it is, you must find another, suitable name. Your group can file for nonprofit status itself, or hire 501(c)(3)4u to take care of all the paperwork and filings.
    • You must file the articles of incorporation with the state, designating an individual as a registered agent and an address for your organization. A copy of your filed articles of incorporation and a federal application for IRS 501(c)(3) tax exemption must be sent to the IRS. On both the state and federal level, you must pay any applicable filing fees. After submitting the paperwork to the IRS, it can take anywhere from two to six months or longer for your organization to receive nonprofit status.
  • Board of Directors
    • Your nonprofit organization requires a board of directors. That can be tough if you’ve been a one-man band, making decisions about rescued pets on your own. Your board makes the decision regarding the mission statement and bylaws. Your board should be made up of animal lovers with skills that go beyond pet rescue and fostering. If possible, find a veterinarian, accountant, attorney, member of the clergy or other person with presence in the community to serve on the board, along with individuals with fundraising and grant-writing experience.
  • Establishing a Volunteer Base
    • Animal rescues need volunteers . While not everyone can foster an animal, volunteers can put their particular talents to work to help the organization. You might find volunteers online through social media, local dog training facilities and breed clubs. Develop an email list or Facebook page for volunteer information and updates. Put up flyers at local animal-related businesses such as pet stores and grooming salons. Have volunteers fill out a form designating their interests, areas of expertise and availability.
  • Mission Statement and By-Laws
    • You and your board must formulate a mission statement and by-laws for your operation and for the public’s benefit. 501(c)(3)4u can help with this essential part of your application. The mission statement outlines and specifies your basic goals. For example, do you intend to rescue both dogs and cats, or focus on one species? If your rescue concentrates on one or more breeds, that’s part of your mission statement, as is the geographic area from which you rescue and adopt out animals. Your board can revise the mission statement over time if it wants to expand or change your rescue goals.
    • Your bylaws govern your organization. The bylaws include rules regarding members, meeting schedules, number of people on the board and officers and their election and terms, resignations and filling vacancies, any compensation and standing committees. They also outline the duties of board members and officers and their indemnification. Bylaws are usually adopted at the board’s initial meeting. Again, 501(c)(3)4u can help draft bylaws containing your organization’s specific needs and desires.
  • Rescue Fundraising
    • Fundraising is a constant part of running a rescue. Fortunately, methods for raising funds are endless, but you need volunteers to coordinate and run them. New rescues can start with old standbys like yard sales, bake sales, donation bins at local retailers and tables at local fairs and other events. Ask local businesses, especially those selling pet products, to sponsor your rescue or otherwise contribute. Other low-budget fundraising events for new rescues include dog walks or runs, offering sponsorship of specific pets until adoption or selling 50/50 raffle tickets. There are specific and important rules and regulations concerning a nonprofit organization operating a raffle, so be sure those are followed before any raffles are conducted.
  • Fostering and Adopting Animals
    • While volunteers can often foster animals at home, your rescue must have a policy in place regarding any compensation or reimbursement for any expenses incurred by the volunteers. As you grow, you may be able to rent a kennel or similar space to temporarily keep animals until a foster or permanent home is found. Your rescue must develop an adoption contract, which includes adoption eligibility and any requirements, such as a home visit prior to adoption approval or return of the animal if the adopter can no longer keep the pet.
  • CALL 501(c)(3)4U and let us help! We can obtain your nonprofit status quickly, efficiently and at a very reasonable cost.


Choosing your first reptile: What to consider

Wednesday

Reptiles are easier to keep than ever, with special equipment available in almost any pet store. This ease of entry, however, means that beginners can end up in over their head.

There are species that provide a rewarding introduction to these fascinating creatures. There are others to steer away from.

The leopard gecko is a cute little lizard that's easy to care for. These desert natives don't need extra humidity except when shedding, but also don't need much extra heat just provide a heated basking area.

Leopard geckos eat live insects that are readily available, such as crickets, mealworms and waxworms. "Pretty much any pet store is going to have those," says Bonnie Keller, who has over 19 years' experience in pet reptile rescue.

You won't need the special UVB light bulbs that many species require. "Leopard geckos are nocturnal, so don't need synthetic sunlight," says Jesse Rothacker. His rescue, Forgotten Friend Reptile Sanctuary, often takes in animals that are unhealthy due to improper lighting, so it's good to start with a species where that's not an issue.

Finally, leopard geckos are captive bred. Avoid buying wild-caught reptiles both for conservation reasons and because they're less likely to have diseases and parasites.

Corn snakes are great for beginners. Native to the U.S., they're suited to our environment.

"It's a very hardy snake, and it's a snake that's friendly for handling," says Rothacker.

Widely bred for the pet trade, they come in a range of colors. "If you want a pink snake, you can get a pink corn snake," says Keller.

Feeding is easy, if you can get over the ick factor: Snakes need to eat whole prey. This is non-negotiable.

"There is no Purina snake chow," says Keller. "There are no vegetarian snakes."

You can buy frozen mice at a pet store. Thaw them in a cup of warm water — snakes prefer their food warm — and you're ready to go.

Even the reptile-wary tend to like turtles, but Keller is blunt: "They're cute and they have a lot of personality, but they're a terrible pet."

Water turtles need a large tank with good filtering and frequent water changes. Avoid red-eared sliders, which are sold inexpensively as babies — and frequently get dumped on rescues.

"It's not a bad pet if you understand that you need to spend a thousand dollars for the setup — the tank, the lights, the filters," Rothacker says. "And they're not going to stay the size of a quarter — they're going to be the size of a dinner plate, they swim in their own toilet, and they're going to live 50-plus years."

So how about a tortoise? They're complicated too. They need strong UVB light, which is tricky to provide indoors. Without it, says Keller, "their shells grow in strange shapes, their nervous system does not function properly. It takes years to see the effect, but by the time you've noticed it you've significantly shortened the lifespan of your pet."

Keller only recommends tortoises for warm climates where they can live year-round outside. Rothacker is a little less strict, but agrees they need to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Many tortoises also get way too big. That baby sulcata tortoise may be the size of a golf ball, but it's the third largest tortoise species in the world. "They can actually dig under the foundation of your home," says Keller. "If you keep them inside, they can go right through drywall."

If you're determined, consider a Greek, Mediterranean or Russian tortoise. "It may still live 100 years but at least it's going to be an appropriate size," says Rothacker. However, it can be hard to find one that isn't wild-caught. Avoid our native box turtles — they will also likely be taken out of the wild, and are a protected species.

Rothacker says that one of the top reasons people surrender reptiles is that they've gotten too big. The iguana is a common example.

"It goes from needing a tank to needing its own bedroom," he says.

Iguanas also can be aggressive and can hurt you, and not just with their strong bite. "They have not only very large talons, but also a ridge going down their back that is like a serrated knife on their tail that can cut right down to the bone," says Keller.

Most people have the sense not to get the truly giant snakes, but Rothacker says red-tailed boas are commonly surrendered because they've gotten too large: about 12 inches when you get one, it'll grow to 8 or 12 feet.

Before getting a reptile, make sure you have a vet in your area that treats them. Keller says the care sheets at the big pet stores are generally of good quality, but you'll get excellent advice if you adopt from a rescue group.

In addition to temperature, humidity and lighting requirements, remember that reptiles have behavioral needs too. Provide an appropriate habitat with opportunities to move and explore. Leopard geckos need hide boxes, and you can buy a kind of sticky sand that will allow them to dig their own burrows. Corn snakes like to climb, so they benefit from vertical space and branches.

And remember to change it up once in a while.

"At Christmas, we take some pine branches off our tree and put them into our snake enclosures," says Rothacker. "It doesn't take much, but put a new branch or rock in there and you'll really see them exploring these things."


Watch the video: Tips to START your reptile BUSINESS!!


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