Rescue 101: Planning – Gathering Equipment and Supplies


A Mouse in a House

There’s a lot of equipment to be considered, from habitats to enrichment items, for your foster animals.

Before you open the doors to your rescue, you will need to have your starter supplies in order so that you have equipment to house and care for your animals, as well as supplies to help you with your office and administration needs. The type of equipment that you need for your animals will vary depending on the type of animals you plan to work with, but since this is on a small animal blog we’re going to talk more about cages and equipment that is used for small animals. Other items, like office, cleaning, and organizational supplies, are a little more universal to rescues of any type.

Think About Your Space Before Getting Equipment

We touched on this subject in the earlier article “Rescue 101: Planning – Your First Location, Local Laws and Your Limit”, but let’s talk in brief about it again. The type of equipment that you have is going to need to work in the space that you’ve allotted for your rescue work, and you’ll need a safe storage area for your surplus equipment that isn’t regularly in use. Evaluate each item as you consider bringing it in to your rescue to make sure it’s going to be a valuable contribution to your rescue work compared to the amount of space it will take up and the time it will take to maintain it.

Certain types of equipment will be more or less useful depending on the type of space you have. For example, if you are planning to house pet rats at your rescue but the room you have to keep them in is very narrow, cages that are taller and have less of a footprint will mean you will retain more of your working space in the room without putting the rats in cramped quarters. Tall, heavy-duty cages on wheels might be great for your ground floor rescue room, but if you are located up a flight of stairs you might be better off working with smaller cages that you can carry between the levels if your house if necessary.

If you have a limited amount of space for storage, choosing equipment that can be stored in a compact way can also help you keep a hold of more supplies. Cages that fold down and that have components that can be stored inside of each other are a plus, as well as items made from durable materials that can stand up to being packed down and put back up multiple times.

Where to Look for Equipment

There are some things that you will have to purchase out-of-pocket, but when you are first starting out it’s worth taking the time to see where you can find cheap or free items to help get your rescue a start without investing all of its operating budget just in to supplies. Advertise on your local community boards letting people know what kind of equipment you are looking for, there are often people who would love for their surplus pet supplies to go to a rescue group when their current pet passes away. You can also check out garage sales, thrift stores and flea markets in your area for good deals on equipment.

Other animal related businesses or groups are another good resource for equipment. You can also contact your local shelter or humane society and ask if they receive donations of equipment that they don’t need, many shelters will operate with set kennels or enclosures for animals, but still receive extra cages and other supplies that they are happy to give to rescuers or charities. A larger rescue in your area might have a surplus of equipment coming in and will have extra supplies to share with you. You can reach out to pet stores and ask about connecting with them to receive donations of slightly damaged or returned supplies.

If you establish yourself as a non-profit, you will have a lot more leeway to ask for supplies from other businesses. You’d be surprised how many large chain businesses of many kinds have a budget to contribute something to local charities. Pet stores, hardware stores, and big box retail stores are all outlets that might have more supplies for you.

What to Look for in Equipment

Not all free supplies are worth having, and it’s a good idea to keep yourself from being cluttered early on by getting an idea of what you can and can’t use for your rescue. You’ll find that a lot of people want to donate supplies to you as you get up and operating, but some of them may be so dirty that it will take a substantial amount of your time to get things cleaned up in working order. Equipment, like damaged cages, can eat up a lot of time in repair work and might not be safe to use at all. Even if an item is very inexpensive, if it’s faulty or requires too much effort to make work for you, skip it and look for something else.

This doesn’t apply to just cages or animal supplies. Maybe you need a printer for your office set up, but the printer someone has to donate to you uses a very expensive ink cartridge that will make your printing costs too expensive in the long run. Maybe someone has a computer to offer you, but there is a fan problem and it needs immediate service before you would be able to put it into use. When you are first starting out, you’ll have more time to invest in to second-hand supplies to make them serviceable and useful to you, but as your rescue grows you’ll need to look at the opportunity cost of giving up your time to work something out versus purchasing it in new or better condition.

When you are looking for equipment, think about your animal’s foster experience from top to bottom. If you are planning to house a guinea pig, that guinea pig will need a cage, a water bottle, a food bowl, a place to hide, something to hold their hay in, and nail trimmers for a start. You will also want to think about enrichment items for your foster animal’s entertainment, things like chew toys and exercise wheels will be needed for each animal’s habitat but you might be able to use a single play pen to contain animals who are being rotated out for exercise time.

Outfitting Your Office Space

You might have some of the supplies to handle the administration part of your rescue on hand already, or you might be starting totally from scratch and need to pick up everything. There are some things that you are going to need minimally, including:

  1. A Computer in Good Working Order
  2. A Printer, preferably with a scanner and copier built-in
  3. A desk, where you’ll put the above two items on
  4. A file cabinet to organize your paperwork with hanging file folders
  5. Printing supplies, including paper and ink cartridges
  6. Pens and clipboards for adopters to fill out paperwork
  7. A digital camera to take pictures of animals to do online listings
  8. A chair, so you have somewhere to park yourself while you do paperwork

There’s plenty of other things you can have in your office set up. You might want paper clips, stapler and staples, tape and other supplies for organizing and creating different materials. You might want a white board to jot down notes. The above list is just a bare bones of the things you are really going to need to get started.

Thinking About Your Printed Materials

There’s a variety of printed items you’ll need ready to represent your rescue. You are going to want business cards, brochures, and care hand outs. You might want to print flyers or post cards to help advertise your events. Again, your needs may vary depending on the type of animals you are working with, but in the following example I’m going to use a rat rescue as the scenario. If you are opening up your rat rescue, you will need an adoption application for your prospective adopters. You will need an adoption contract stating the terms of their adoption if they are approved to adopt from you. You will need a care hand out to tell them how to care for their new pet. You will want a business card to hand to them so they know how to get in touch with your rescue if the need arises. You don’t need to have the materials created at this point in planning, just determine what you are going to need so you can be prepared to create the materials before you open up.

Redundancy and Your Equipment

There is a saying about equipment and preparedness that goes “Two is one, one is none”. You’ll want to consider what will happen if you have a piece of equipment fail, and that you have a back-up for that equipment if it is reasonable for you to do so. You might not have a spare computer sitting around the house in case yours breaks down, if it happens you can reasonably have yours repaired or purchase a replacement without being dead in the water. However, if you have a foster hamster who chews out of their cage in the middle of the night, you are sure going to want a back up cage to park them in until you can replace their original cage.

If you are working with multiple species of animals, consider looking at equipment and how it might be able to work for different animals in different scenarios. For example, at North Star Rescue we routinely have mid-sized cages that we use to take guinea pigs to events and show them in. Those same cages can be used for rats if we need a hospital cage without levels for rats recovering from surgery. We also typically have on hand large bin cages that we house syrian hamsters in, they can also be used for mice or as carriers for rats or guinea pigs being moved between locations.

If you can’t keep a spare set of equipment, you can also consider how you would recover from damage to a piece of equipment. If you have a cage break a bar weld that would permit an animal to get out, you can keep some hardware cloth on hand to patch the location until you can properly repair or replace the equipment.

Having a good idea of what equipment you are going to use to support your rescue work will have you better prepared to handle the different scenarios you will encounter during your career. As you get experience with different types of equipment, brands and other aspects, you’ll be able to refine your taste to figure out what types of supplies work best for you in your unique situation.


About Lauren Paul

Lauren is the founder of North Star Rescue, a non-profit organization in California’s San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the rescue and welfare of companion pet rodents. Lauren operates Alma Rodentia, a website featuring an online store for pet rodents and their humans and a blog about rescue and life with pet rodents.

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