At last we were ready to open our doors. The tiling had been laid in our new exam and quarantine rooms. The habitats were furnished. The washer and dryer were installed in the laundry room. Computers were set up in the offices and reception areas. The store was stocked. Chairs were assembled in the classroom, and a shipping/ collating desk was covered with a tablecloth and stacked high with refreshments. Our guests began to arrive. House Rabbit Society had launched a new era.
This wasn’t just any opening weekend. It was the realization of a dream that had been in the making for nearly 13 years. We finally had a place for our national headquarters, as well as a Rabbit Center that we hope will serve as a model for years to come.
Unlike other corporate headquarters that are sprinkled around the civic center, this one has a special magic. It’s not in the handsome architecture or nice furnishings. The vitality comes from the same thing that lights up our homes real live bunnies.
At the time of the opening, our new rescues were still living in the quarantine room and had not yet graduated to the adoption rooms, so Bay Area fosterers brought in their adoptable bunnies to try out the habitats and spend the weekend.
Approximately 250 people visited the new headquarters in Richmond, California, over the weekend of November 12, 2000. They were first shown through our small supply shop (a store with rabbit supplies, t-shirts and various chapters’ premiums for sale). From there they could visit the four habitat rooms, where the adoptable bunnies reside, then to the quarantine room for incoming bunnies, the education lobby, and the large multi-purpose classroom. Each room has programs that are run by volunteers, who are quickly learning the routines. Some are doing local work, while others concentrate on national projects.
Growing Up and Out
How did this dream evolve? It became apparent a few years ago that HRS’s national headquarters could not continue indefinitely in a small private house. We started thinking about alternatives.
In late 1995 we were surprised to learn that the last will of an HRS member had kindly named House Rabbit Society as beneficiary. We deposited the $5,000 into a savings account. We then added the proceeds from our 1997 veterinary conference, benefit contributions from our 1998 tenth-anniversary fundraiser, grants from foundations that support animal-welfare causes, and donations from generous individuals.
By the end of 1999, HRS’s building fund had grown to $90,000. This seemed enormous to us, but considering San Francisco Bay Area property prices, our dream was still remote. Prices were rising faster than we could save. We had enough for about a 40% down payment but not enough for a cash purchase. Financing through commercial lenders was, at best, difficult (with prohibitive interest rates), since bunny rescue was not seen as a viable “business.”
Real estate brokers Joyce Emory and Patrick Keigher saved this ambitious dream. They gave their time, energy, and entire sales commission and also came up with a plan for a group of mortgage lenders, drawn from our very own rabbit people. These are the people who ultimately put HRS into this building. They dipped into their own savings accounts and now hold the trust deeds to HRS’s new property. Because of interstate regulations, we were only able to accept loans from within California, but the far-reaching contributions of our national members were very helpful.
Even with financing in place, we had hoops to jump through in negotiating a real estate purchase and numerous city requirements to comply with. Much work had to be coordinated and contracted out asbestos abatement, phone lines, new electrical circuits and plumbing for our washer and dryer, and city-mandated masonry to enclose our dumpsters (we still need to upgrade heating and air-conditioning). The rest was the work of volunteers, skilled and unskilled.
The Space Within
Habitats for adoptable bunnies presented a challenge for our designers, Jon and Barbara Kenney. It was tough criteria to meet. The bunnies’ living spaces must be pleasant for rabbits, practical for volunteers to clean, and not look too “institutional.” They must be constructed like household furnishings and be large enough for volunteers to get inside for grooming and socializing. They must offer the rabbits comfort, as well as interesting nooks and crannies to explore; and room for exercise.
The challenge was met with delightful results. Jon planned the structures, four per room, with plastic lattice that extends above a 1-foot high splashguard. The interiors are lined with FRP paneling (available in home-improvement stores), and each habitat has a resting shelf attached to the adjacent wall (no legs to maneuver a broom around). A hinged ramp folds up for sweeping underneath. Other furnishings within the habitats consist of washable rugs, hay-filled litterboxes, cardboard tunnels, and a variety of toys and dishes. The habitats take up the major part of “Adoption Rooms A, B, C, and D,” leaving just enough space for small, carpeted walkways between the habitats for people who visit the bunnies.
House Rabbit Journal Spring 2001: Volume IV, Number 5