Animal sanctuaries and animal shelters are often considered the same in the eyes of the general public. While they both have a common theme in their mission – to look out for the well-being of animals in their care – they also have some considerable differences. As an animal sanctuary, animals rely on you to provide a permanent home and care. Since your services are unique, you face unique risks each day. It is important to create a customized risk management or best practices plan to minimize those risks and continue to care for your animals.

Risk Management for Animal Sanctuaries

Risk management or best practices are guidelines animal sanctuaries can create to minimize potential dangers during their daily activities. These risks include, but are not limited to, animal bites, scratches, animal sickness, volunteer injury, volunteer death, slip and falls, and animal escapes.

  1. Volunteers

Volunteers are arguably your greatest asset – donating their time and hearts to maintain your sanctuary’s mission. They are also one of the biggest risks. Establishing a volunteer vetting process and handbook is critical to your continued success.

As valuable as volunteers are, it is important to recruit the right individuals for the job. Interview potential volunteers, conduct background checks, and request references before accepting a new applicant. Look for red flags (volunteering at numerous organizations in a short time) and address them upfront.

A handbook sets expectations for volunteers right away. Include attendance policies, job descriptions, safety information, and animal handling procedures. Reinforce the handbook with structured training and education that gives volunteers the ability to show they understand these policies and procedures.

  1. Animal Injury/Sickness

Every animal that comes into your care has a back story. It’s important to have an animal intake policy that digs into their needs, personality traits, and health. Use this information to understand if you can properly care for their needs or not. If you can, identify what special needs each animal has. If they are aggressive towards other animals, create a space where they can roam on their own and plan to socialize them over time.

  1. Animal Bites/Scratches

Animal bites and scratches can occur between animals or between animals and volunteers. The key to minimizing these incidents is educating volunteers on how to handle animals properly. Volunteers should have a clear understanding of the animal’s personality before they work with them. And they should know what steps to take when an animal bites or scratches them.

  1. Animal Escapes

From time to time, we see scenarios on the news where animals escape from sanctuaries. Create a procedure that mandates volunteers work in at least pairs when entering the animal area and describes how to latch gates and contain animals properly.

If an animal escape does occur, it is also valuable to have a set procedure on how you will notify the public, recapture the animal, and keep the community and volunteers safe.

  1. Visitors

Some animal sanctuaries allow visitors on their property. Make sure you have signs labeling what areas are okay and not okay for them to navigate. Make sure all visitors are escorted by a trained volunteer at all times. And keep visitors away from potentially dangerous animals.

  1. Emergency Preparedness

Depending on where you live, there is a chance for natural disasters to occur. During Hurricane Katrina, many animal-related organizations learned first-hand the importance of an emergency-preparedness plan. Identify now how you will transport animals, where you will transport them, and what volunteers are capable of traveling with the animals to a safe location.

Creating a risk management is important for your continued success as a nonprofit animal sanctuary and helps minimize injuries, claims, and stress.