Pet and animal shelters are responsible for nearly 4 million adoptions every year. While most animal shelters are non-profit, it is possible to run one for profit.
The entire point of an animal shelter is to take unwanted pets from old owners, care for them, and find them new owners. The best part of running a shelter is that you are making a difference in the lives of many people (and animals!).
Overall, you can expect to spend between $500,000 and $800,000 getting an animal shelter capable of continually supporting 30 to 50 animals off the ground.
That cost includes costs for the building and utilities, medical care, and food and water for the animals. Depending on your location, you may also have to factor in the costs of permits and licensing fees to open a registered shelter.
You can reduce these costs by renovating an existing building into a shelter rather than constructing new space.
There are a lot of things that go into running a shelter. So today, we put together this comprehensive guide on the costs to start an animal shelter.
We will cover property costs, costs of caring for animals, and any other miscellaneous costs such as licensing fees and permit fees.
- Animal Shelter Costs
- Funding an Animal Shelter
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Words
Animal Shelter Costs
Adding all the costs together, you can expect to spend a minimum of $500,000 to build and open an animal shelter.
The costs of opening an animal shelter can be split into three main categories
Medical care costs
Food and water costs
In other words, you need a space to keep the animals, medical care for sick ones, and enough food and water to feed them in the interim before adoption. We will cover each of these costs separately.
The very first thing you need to scope out when building an animal shelter is a building. Property costs will probably be the most variable cost as they can drastically change depending on where you live.
Depending on the size of the structure, you will most likely end up paying anywhere between $300,000 and $600,000 to get the building up and running. This cost of the building includes materials and labor.
You need to know the total number of animals you want to carry and how many square feet per animal you need to calculate the appropriate building size. Sticking with cats and dogs, a good rule of thumb to follow is about 30 square feet per cat and 90 square feet per dog.
So for example, if you wanted to build a shelter that can hold up to 30 dogs or cats, then you would need between 1,500 and 3,000 square feet. Keep in mind larger animals will require more space.
New construction costs on average about $200 per square foot. Additionally, soft costs (such as fees, surveys, overheads, insurance, contingency fees, site planning fees, inspections, and furniture costs will add another 20%-30%.
So you will most likely end up spending at least $500,000 to get an average shelter running from the ground up.
Instead of building new space, you can also renovate existing space. Note that renovation costs can vary significantly from $30 per square foot to over $200 per square foot.
Commercial buildings such as warehouses or retail stores make excellent candidates to renovate into animal shelters because they have a lot of space and typically have open floor plans. .
Homeowners also have the option of converting their existing houses into animal shelters. In general, you can often find cheaper options than straight-up building new space for a shelter. Either way, securing space will most likely be the most expensive part of startup costs.
You will also need to get a permit for your building. Permit requirements differ depending on your state or location.
For example, in California, you must have a commercial shelter permit to keep 8 or more animals. The process for obtaining a commercial animal permit involves an inspection and licensing fee.
In addition to the space, you also need to pay for medical care for the animals. This includes check-ups, emergency care, and ensuring the animals have their vaccinations against harmful diseases like rabies, parvo, and bordetella.
Additionally, shelter pets need vet services for spaying and neutering. Some shelters have a full-time veterinarian on staff, though most work with a local vet office and contract out vet services.
Full time vets on staff can command a salary of over $80,000 a year, so you most likely won’t have the funds to pay for a full time position.
For normal, healthy dogs, average vet care amounts to about $200 for basic checkups. You will need to get the animals inspected when you bring them to a shelter then again for routine care.
You also need to factor in costs for emergency procedures. Some animals you bring to your shelter will need surgery or may need to be euthanized due to injury or illness.
Assuming a shelter size of 30 animals, you can expect to spend no less than $5,000 per year in basic medical vet costs, likely more. It is hard to estimate medical costs in advance because you don’t know when animals will get sick or which animals brought to the shelter need extensive medical care.
Food and Water
And of course, your animals will need regular food and water while in your shelter. Food costs can vary significantly based on your location and the size of the animals in the shelter.
The average shelter dog requires 1.2 cups of food to eat per day. Assuming an average of 30 dogs, that comes out to a little bit over 13,000 cups of food per year.
A typical 30-pound bag of dog food has about 120 cups of food and has an average cost of about $50 per bag. Dividing by the total cups needed to feed 30 dogs, that comes out to a little bit over 110 bags of food and a total annual cost of a little over $5,000 for food alone.
For larger shelters that hold 70-100 dogs, you can easily spend between $15,000 and $30,000 on food every year.
Funding an Animal Shelter
Animal shelters are expensive to set up and normally do not generate much profit, so it can be difficult to get a business loan. However, there are several sources to go to to find funding to open an animal shelter.
The first option is to look for grants from various animal welfare organizations. Foundations such as the American Humane Association, Bissell Pet Foundations, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offer grants and financial programs for animal rescue shelters.
These funds can be used to buy food, medical care, toys/equipment, and other daily essentials. Another alternative is to ask for in-kind donations. Nearly 50% of American adults have donated to an animal shelter in the past year, mostly in food or volunteer work.
Volunteer work is especially important for running a shelter as volunteers can handle jobs like walking, playing, and contacting donors for fundraising.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to build an animal shelter?
It will cost a minimum of $500,000 on average to get an animal shelter off the ground and running. That cost accounts for spaces, medical costs, and food for animals.
Larger shelters capable of holding more than 70 dogs can cost above $800,000 to build and start.
How many animals does the typical shelter house?
On average, the typical shelter takes in anywhere between 30 and 60 dogs. Larger shelters can hold 100 or more dogs at once.
In most states, you must hold a dog for one to two weeks before you can put it up for adoption. Depending on your location, you can have a more or less continuous stream of animals.
Where can I get funding for an animal shelter?
You can apply for grants from several animal welfare organizations and solicit private donations through fundraisers and other activities.
Many shelters set up an annual donation list or run crowdfunding campaigns online to raise funds. Another option is to partner with another non-profit organization to receive funding.
How do animal shelters make money?
While many animal shelters receive some state or federal funding, the majority rely on donations and fundraisers to stay afloat.
Contrary to what many people think, shelters usually don’t make any money from adoption fees.
Animal shelters are far from profitable ventures, and many of them have difficulties staying afloat. However, with a little luck and looking in the right places, you can secure funding to build an animal shelter.
Moreover, running a shelter gives you the chance to make a real difference in the world and help vulnerable creatures find loving homes. That is something that you can’t really put a price on.