How to Start a Rescue Group in 4 (relatively easy) Steps

How to Start a Rescue in 4 Easy Steps

The usual disclaimer: This information is provided for educational use and an attorney should always be consulted. Each state has their own guidelines and you want to do everything right the first time.

1. File for incorporation. You will need to contact your state's (or the state you want to file in) Department of Commerce. Many states have the forms available on-line. For instance, the url for forms regarding incorporating in MI is

Make it easy on yourself - do a search for "department of commerce in *your state*." Or call your state's Department of Commerce.

Why incorporate you ask? Ability to request grants, to gain non-profit status to obtain donations, limited liability, and most of all - you will be organized and know your mission statement. You will then be able to get other people on your board so they can help make decisions and set policies. Don't be crazy, share the work!

2. File for non-profit status with the IRS. Once you receive your incorporation acceptance, you can go to

and obtain form 1023, Recognition for Exemption Under Section 501 (c)(3).

Fill it out, send it in and be on your way. You are asking for an advanced ruling if you are just starting out. You will also be able to apply for an EIN - Employee Identification Number.

Why are you doing this again? Ability to obtain grants, accept donations (and people should be able to deduct the donations on their taxes, making them more likely to donate), and you should be able to deduct some of the costs of doing rescue on your federal taxes, so you have less of chance of going broke.

3. Organize your group.

Now that you are a functioning incorporated rescue organization, you will need a president, vice-president, treasurer, and a board of directors. (Some states allow one person to be all of these in the case of a one-person rescue group. Others don't. You'll find out this information when you receive the papers for incorporation).

What you need now, in addition to the other volunteers (begging and pleading usually work for most people), are the by-laws, a mission statement, a policy and procedure manual and "Robert's Rules of Order" to help conduct meetings.

I know, the bylaws and policy manual sound like too much fun. You can find generic by-laws at any office supply store library.

4. Get your paperwork in order.

Contracts, release and surrender forms, adoption contracts, foster home agreements, etc. Sound awful? C'mon, you've come this far already - and I know someone who has made it easy for you!

"Legal Forms and Agreements: Special Edition for Dog and Cat Shelters and Rescue Groups," by M. Ellen Dixon, Esq. Call 610-239-0357.

And you'll need a temperament test so you can safely place each dog with confidence. will send rescues a package of booklets just for this purpose - they are written by Sue Sternberg. You can also contact her for more information and advice -

Sue is pretty nice and helpful, doesn't food-guard and will usually give a warning growl if you make her angry.

See, that was relatively painless, wasn't it? Just a lot of paperwork.

Now you can get out there and start helping those homeless Great Danes!

Well, sit down first and take a nice, deep breath!

Thank you!

Sandra Suarez