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Creating An Effective Set Of Contingency Plans For Your Animal Sanctuary

Caution tape.
Always better to have a plan than a need for a plan!

The Best Laid Plans…

It’s an unfortunate truth that things don’t tend to go the way we hope they do. A number of events completely out of your control will likely impact your sanctuary’s operations. Do you have an accessible plan for the unthinkable? Or the other unthinkable? What just came to mind when you read “the unthinkable”? Do you have a plan in place for that? By thinking about and crafting a set of contingency plans (which you’ll hopefully never have to implement!), you’ll be taking invaluable steps to protect your residents, your organization, and yourself.

What Should I Plan For?

The broad set of categories to plan for include organizational challenges, operational challenges, and resident challenges. Within these categories are a diverse set of challenges that could blindside your sanctuary if you haven’t considered how you’d react to them. This is not an exhaustive list of things to create plans for; your organization might have its own set of unique challenges based on geography, climate, jurisdiction, and the residents you’re caring for.

Organizational Challenges

Although your mission might seem altruistic and straightforward, creating organizational contingencies are crucial for the human aspect of your mission. This includes setting appropriate policies for your staff, your board, your management structure, and having plans in place for unexpected legal or publicity challenges. Think about the following scenarios and how your organization would respond safely and effectively for the sake of your residents:

  • Your founder or chief caregiver is incapacitated or quits unexpectedly
  • A volunteer, visitor, or staff member threatens legal action against you
  • You face a legal challenge regarding zoning or animal abuse accusations
  • A neighbor files a complaint against your sanctuary
  • Your organization gets inaccurately or unfairly portrayed in a highly-visible news story
  • Law enforcement accuses you of illegally obtaining a resident (there are a number of organizations that focus on supporting sanctuaries facing legal issues such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund)

Operational Challenges

The day to day operations of your sanctuary can face a number of challenges, many that are difficult or impossible to predict. Again, think about the following scenarios and how your organization would respond:

  • Your operation faces a budget shortfall and cannot afford to adequately care for your residents
  • If you are renting your sanctuary land, the landowner wants you off of their property
  • Your property is rezoned and no longer can legally shelter some or all of your residents
  • Your sanctuary faces vandalism, threats of violence, and theft
  • A contractor does not adequately perform the work you paid them to accomplish
  • Your sanctuary faces a natural disaster like a blizzard, tornado, earthquake, flooding, or fire

Resident Challenges

Having written contingency plans for your residents is an important tool in keeping them safe and protecting your organization. Consider how you would react to the following scenarios:

  • A resident injures a human, a human injures a resident, or a resident injures a resident
  • A contagious disease outbreak strikes some of your residents
  • A resident faces a catastrophic health emergency which they can’t recover from
  • One of your residents is too confrontational to keep with others safely
  • A resident gets impregnated unexpectedly (a sanctuary should always try to avoid this!)
  • You have to quickly and safely evacuate your residents from the area
  • You must permanently rehome some or all of your residents in a short period of time

Writing Contingency Plans

Your plans should be concise, easy to reference, and contain clear guidelines for how to handle each event. It’s also helpful to include personnel and organization references and their contact information alongside each plan. If you’ve gotten permission to use a volunteer’s truck and trailer in the event of flooding, what is their name and how can you easily contact them? If you’ve set up a safe temporary rehoming facility in case of natural disaster with a sanctuary across the state, who is the point of contact there? What are the exact steps you or your team must follow to ensure a positive outcome in dire circumstances? For example:

Event: A wildfire is threatening the sanctuary

Actions: Call Charise, Landry, and Steve and inform them that you are initiating a wildfire evacuation. Gather birds and place in Steve’s van. Load sheep and goats into Charise’s trailer. Perform a headcount before leaving. Take residents to Landry’s spare paddock.

Contacts: Charise (Phone number, email), Steve (Phone Number, email)

Event: The head of the organization is incapacitated and cannot be communicated with

Actions: Call key staff and assess current needs. Ensure staff has access to all mission critical contacts. Make Shanti the operating head of the organization until an all-staff meeting is held.

Contacts: Key staff (contact information for each member), Shanti (phone number)

Once you consider and codify your contingency plans for events such as these and specific challenges you foresee, you will be empowered to handle the worst with your best foot forward. Remember to revisit your contingency plans frequently to ensure that they still fit the needs and structure of your organization!

Putting It All Together

Is your sanctuary ready to put together contingency plans relevant for your organization? We have a free downloadable workbook made just for sanctuaries! Check it out here!


Sample Plans For Evacuation And Sheltering | ASPCA

Contingency Planning | Grantspace

Disaster Planning | Grantspace

Developing A Crisis Management Plan For Your Nonprofit Organization | Charity Village

Be Prepared! Helpful Disaster Safety Tips for Pet Owners | Top Dog

Updated on August 7, 2020

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