On November 8, three days before we were to open our new headquarters, our shelter co-ordinator, Katie Dinneen, started contacting shelters that were interested in sending rabbits to our new Center. The first three shelters on our list had no rabbits at that time. Katie called the 4th shelter. They had a black lop-mix, whose cage was marked with a pink (euthanasia) tag, dated November 8! With that very important phone call, our first 11th-hour bunny (we later named Adam) was saved. That, we felt was a most joyful beginning! – Marinell Harriman
It seemed simple enough when we started last May. Beth Woolbright and I would call animal shelters around the Bay Area in anticipation of working with them to save bunnies who had run out of time. We were going to let them know about the new HRS Rabbit Center in Richmond and find out how we could arrange to take in some of the rabbits they were unable to adopt out.Once we got started, it became clear that the HRS view of the Bay Area stretches 200 miles, from Sacramento to Monterey, and is home to nearly 45 animal shelters, including municipal animal control agencies, SPCAs, and humane societies. We set out to contact each of the shelters to determine which ones actually accept rabbits. These would be the ones to which we’d extend our new rescue service. The reception was overwhelmingly supportive.
Overall, the shelters that euthanize rabbits were thrilled to hear about the Rabbit Center and very eager to work with us. Even shelters that don’t accept rabbits or who are able to adopt out all of the rabbits they receive were happy to know about the Rabbit Center and often asked for more information so that they could send people our way for adoption or care information.
After completing our initial survey, we had a list of over 25 shelters that must sometimes euthanize some of the rabbits due to lack of space, poor health, or behavior issues. Some shelters had long worked with various HRS fosterers and volunteers. Other shelters had had HRS liaisons at one time but, through turnover on both ends, the relationships had become dormant. There wasn’t one shelter we contacted that said they had never heard of House Rabbit Society! In August, we sent out letters introducing shelters to the new HRS Rabbit Center and letting them know we wanted to work with them to save bunnies they could not place. Included in the mailing was a form for them to complete. We needed to know who to contact, their hours of operation, if the rabbits would be spayed or neutered prior to being released to HRS, and what fees, if any, would be charged. I stuck the letters in the mail, and knowing how busy shelter staff are, and I wasn’t sure how many people would take the time to fill out and return our form. I was amazed when 90% of the shelters responded promptly.
Beth and I recruited Gayle Kiviat and embarked on the next part of our project: getting the rescued bunnies from Point A to Point B. We wouldn’t be able to save a bunny if we couldn’t get her from a shelter to the HRS Rabbit Center. We put out a call to some dedicated HRS volunteers in the Bay Area and again received a ready and willing response. (But with a region this size, we always need more volunteers.) We know driving bunnies from Healdsburg to Richmond on a Saturday afternoon in bumper-to-bumper traffic is no fun. We know it complicates your life to get a quietly desperate call at work on a Tuesday morning asking if you can rearrange your Wednesday work schedule to accommodate picking up a bunny from a shelter that absolutely cannot hold him any longer. We know this. And we know that our transportation volunteers-our Bay Area Rabbit Transit-are the lifeline for bunnies seeking shelter with HRS.In November, just days before the scheduled opening of the Rabbit Center, we at last got the green light. After nearly six months of paperwork and preparation, it was time to ask the question I had never been able to ask as an always-full HRS foster home: “Do you have a rabbit that you need us to take in?” I had to double check with Marinell and Susan a couple of times “to make sure it was really OK” before I made those first calls to shelters. It took four phone calls before Sue Underwood at Contra Costa Animal Services in Martinez said, “Yes! We have a wonderful seven-month-old mini lop!” She was as happy to say yes to my question as I was to ask it.