How Much It Cost On Average To Start An Animal Shelter

Running an animal shelter is a noble goal. Getting animals into loving homes, or providing shelter to animals who may not be able to fit into a conventional home. However, good intentions do not pay the bills. 

Typically, the average shelter costs around $500,000 to start. Costs include acquiring the property and building the shelter, fundraising and marketing, legal help, typical shelter expenses, and hiring workers. 

Acquiring the Property

How Much It Cost On Average To Start An Animal Shelter

The cost of building your shelter can depend on several factors. First is the location. Some locations are more expensive than others. While some areas have abundant and therefore cheaper, land, shelters in urban areas tend to be more expensive because the property is more expensive. Furthermore, you will have to deal with a lot more paperwork and possible community problems. A lot of people don’t want animal shelters in their neighborhoods. Dealing with locals can create costly delays.

Getting the permits, you need for the property can be a task in and of itself. You’ll have to deal with inspections to make sure your facility is up to code. The cost of the permit varies by state but is usually around $80.

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Building Your Shelter

Another big expense for building your shelter is the building itself. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a shelter that can be easily refurbished like a warehouse. If you’re really lucky, you can acquire a pre-existing shelter or something that can be easily converted into a shelter. However, there’s a good chance you’ll have to do a lot of major refurbishing or even build a shelter from the ground up. You’ll have to plan for this.

A lot of the cost will come down to the type of shelter you want to build. Some shelters stick to your standard pets like cats and dogs. Others go for birds or horses. Depending on the type of animals, you’ll need different amounts of space and different types of infrastructure. If you’re looking for a space for a shelter for horses or other animals, you’ll need more space than a shelter for dogs or cats.

One of the things a shelter will need is space for the animals themselves. Different animals require different amounts of space. This is not just for the health of the animals (though it is essential). Different areas will have different regulations so it’s essential to know them. A cat enclosure will have 20-30 square feet of space and a high ceiling with cat towers and other high things for climbing. Dogs will need between 60-120 square feet so they have enough room to move and play. Keeping your animals happy will make them healthier, and more likely to be adopted.

Some shelters are free-range. They allow the animals to run around outdoors rather than be in enclosures. This can be beneficial for the animals but it provides its own set of budgetary challenges.  This requires more space compared to standard indoor shelters. It may also require different kinds of permits from your municipality. 

For shelters that are intended for animals who will be there long-term, like special needs animals, the costs can be higher. You’ll have to adapt your shelter to fit the physical disabilities of the animals.

Accommodating and Attracting People

Animal shelters require people to work there and visit to be successful. Your building should have the things people need to work with (especially cleaning supplies). You’ll want to make sure your building is safe and looks inviting for possible pet owners, volunteers, and more importantly donors. In other words, it can’t look like a cartoon dog pound. You’ll have to spend some money on things like decorations as well as the things visitors need. Following common sense should keep the people safe but you’ll want them to feel happy to be there, too.

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Online Presence

Building and attracting people to your shelter to adopt or otherwise help the animals is about more than the physical space. You need a good online presence. While your social media can be handled with a phone, cute animals, and posting with some common sense, you’ll need a professionally done website. While you might get lucky and find a volunteer with these skills or you might have them yourself, you can expect to pay about $100 for a quality website.

Fundraising and Marketing

Like a regular business, a non-profit has to spend money to make money. While some fundraising options, such as sending fundraising e-mails or newsletters can be free thanks to the abundance of online tools out there, some of the things that pull in the big fundraising dollars cost money. A common method non-profits use to raise money is selling branded items. Things like t-shirts, coffee mugs, keychains, etc. Many non-profits sell items related to the cause they serve. You might try to sell things like dog collars or toys with your logo on them. However, getting these items made cost money to make. Because fundraising is a major cost for animal shelters, you should plan to spend a substantial amount of money on that.

Legal Help

How Much It Cost On Average To Start An Animal Shelter

Having legal aid is important to non-profits, particularly animal shelters. When you’re running a non-profit, you’ll need someone to help you navigate all the legal jargon and help you fill out the paperwork to keep things legal. A lot of new non-profits fail because the owners try to navigate all the legal stuff by themselves.

Anyone who works with animals knows that anything can happen at any time and a lot of people are litigious. Having a designated lawyer on retainer can be helpful.

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Daily Needs

So far, we’ve covered the expenses related to building the animal shelter. Now we need to go into the day-to-day expenses of running a shelter. It can cost around $2,200 a month to run an average-sized animal shelter. You’re looking at things like food, water, and utilities. Many shelters can spend $5,000 a year on food alone. You’re also looking at things animals use on the daily basis like water bowls, collars, litter boxes, etc. 

Having a large general fund before you open a shelter is a good idea. That way, you can deal with unforeseen events (and with animals, you can get a lot of those). These costs can vary depending on the types of animals you’re sheltering. If you have a lot of special needs animals, you’ll be dealing with a lot of increased costs. If you need things like prescription food, it’s going to cost more.

The types of breeds matter too. Some breeds of dogs and cats have different dietary needs. A big dog or cat typically needs more resources than a small one. Sometimes, you’ll need to get normal things modified for them. 

There are also veterinary costs. A special needs animal will have more costs associated with it but even healthy animals will have medical needs like check-ups, flea and tick medications, spaying and neutering, etc. Investing heavily in getting your animals’ medical care is a good idea. The best way to prevent expensive medical problems is preventative medicine. This can cost around $5,000 a year but it may cost more if you deal with special needs animals.

Toys are also important. Animals, particularly the ones with a lot of energy, need stimulation. Otherwise, they get bored and engage in maladaptive behaviors that can be disruptive or even dangerous to the animals and people around them. On the plus side, pictures and videos of animals doing funny things with toys attract donors and adopters.

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Professional Grooming

While volunteers can bathe the various animals at your shelter, they must receive frequent professional grooming. Not only will this help animals look nice for potential adopters, but it’s also good for the animals. Animals that aren’t frequently groomed develop problems like matted fur and skin infections.


There’s also the matter of insurance.  As a shelter, you will need to have an insurance policy to cover anything that may happen. The insurance costs may vary depending on what kind of animals you’re sheltering. If your shelter is intended for exotic animals, you’ll have a higher rate than a more conventional shelter.


While you’ll probably get a lot of volunteers because people love animals, it takes more than love to run a shelter. You will need some professional staff to do things like write grant proposals, manage the budget, manage the volunteers, and so on. Some shelters have vets on staff. Sometimes, you can promote from among your volunteers which can be a good way to save time. Many professional staff members at shelters make around $33,000.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Insurance Do You Need For Your Accounting and Payroll Business?

How do I find a property to build a shelter in?

You might have to consult a real estate agent. This will cost money but it can speed up the process.

How do animal shelters make money?

Typically, by doing lots of fundraising. Animal shelters do not make a lot of money from things like adoption fees. You probably won’t get rich but you will make life better for animals who need homes.

To learn more on how to plan your own animal shelter business click here!

Please note that the contents of this blog are for informational and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Any action taken based on the information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Additionally, all images used in this blog are generated under the CC0 license of Creative Commons, which means they are free to use for any purpose without attribution.