Bill Hamilton, a Bay Area animal welfare volunteer, founded the nonprofit Friends of San Francisco Animal Care and Control (ACC) in 2000. The organization's original mission was to supplement ACC's budget for ongoing needs in the care of its animals. However, the public nature of ACC as a municipal shelter (local government-run, tax-supported and unionized) made that mission difficult to fulfill by an independent nonprofit. So Bill convinced the nonprofit's board to add support of ACC's partnering but independent, all-volunteer, nonprofit rescue groups to the Friends' mission.

The Role of Animal Rescue Groups

About a dozen of these rescue groups were most active at ACC. They greatly contributed to ACC's live release rate (the percentage of shelter animals adopted, returned to their guardian or transferred to a rescue group). The nonprofits rescued animals whom ACC would otherwise have euthanized. Both ACC and its larger private shelter partner, the San Francisco SPCA, considered many animals unadoptable for medical or behavioral reasons or because they were hard to place, such as pit bulls or small animals other than dogs and cats. In many cases such problems were iatrogenic, i.e., worsened or even brought on by their stay at ACC. The rescue groups, on the other hand, had the time, volunteers and homes to foster such animals and tend to their medical or behavioral needs until they were ready for adoption. What the groups didn't have was enough money to rescue all the animals at risk of euthanasia. Underfunded rescue groups would sometimes take the at-risk animals and try to find the money for their vet bills “later.” In fact, their keenest need was — and is — paying off vet bills. Thus, once or twice a year the Friends of SFACC would redistribute to the rescue groups some of the donations and grants it had received, saving the lives of countless animals over the years. This is part of what the Friends continues to do today. Unfortunately, other rescue groups are not so lucky, and many nonprofits that partner with other animal shelters in the Bay Area — indeed, nationwide — have no outside funding at all.

Grant Seeking

Bill realized that support of animal rescue groups saved more at-risk animals than any other policy at shelters in California, where state law, known as the Hayden Bill, requires those shelters to hand over any at-risk animal requested by a rescue group, as long as the animal is not a safety risk to people or other animals. The main sticking point, as always, has been fundraising. Most animal-oriented grantors and foundations require that grant applicants submit a cover letter, a detailed application, comprehensive rescue statistics, an overall organizational annual budget, a separate budget for the project for which money is needed, tax returns, copies of marketing materials and mailings, website printouts, the identities of other donors and sources of funding, and other supporting documents. If, after all that, they're one of the few (if any) groups to receive a grant, they must later submit detailed periodic followup reports on how the money was spent and what the grant achieved. Many smaller groups have only a handful of volunteers working to further their organization's mission and do not have the time or expertise to fulfill such grantor requirements.

Based on his experience with the Friends of SFACC, Bill founded The Animal Union in June 2010 to collectively help these rescue groups raise the funds they need (see Activities). After three years of organizational preparatory work The AU website launched in June 2013. The AU applies for grants and seeks donations from the public on behalf of qualified all-volunteer animal rescue groups in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Rescue Group Requirements