In what's being billed as a first for Ohio, homeless rabbits will have their very own place to stay -- until someone comes along, becomes captivated by all that cuteness and simply has to give the animal a forever home.
Officials with Ohio House Rabbit Rescue, a nonprofit organization founded four years ago, have taken a hop of faith from volunteers caring for unwanted bunnies in their homes to a bricks-and-mortar adoption center.
Located at 5485 N. High St. on the border of Worthington and Clintonville, the Ohio House Rabbit Adoption Center held its grand opening Aug. 1, said Cara Haughey, director of marketing and development.
Since she founded the organization in summer 2009, Clintonville resident Beverly May said she and Ohio House Rabbit Rescue members and supporters from throughout central Ohio have been building relationships, creating a foster program, developing low-cost spaying procedures, crafting an adoption policy and more.
But that's not what it was created for.
"Basically, it came down to, the only reason we formed the organization was to have a facility for rabbits," May said last week. "We said we needed to do something sooner rather than later."
So she and Pat Barron, a society board member and director of the nonprofit educational organization the Teaching and Learning Collaborative, where May also works, bought the former residence that is now commercially zoned in late May. The purchase price, according to the website of the Franklin County Auditor's Office, was $205,000.
The owners will lease the property to Ohio House Rabbit Rescue, which will have a capital campaign over the next two to three years to raise $285,000 to eventually own the building outright and repay the purchasers, May said.
About 30 percent of that goal is already pledged, she said.
"To us, it's perfect because it's right on High Street," she said.
Many of the organization's volunteers are Ohio State University students who will find the site's location on a COTA bus line convenient, May said.
"Ohio House Rabbit Rescue expects to double its annual number of pet-rabbit adoptions annually when it opens an adoption facility," Haughey wrote in announcing the open house and opening ceremony. "The Ohio House Rabbit Adoption Center will be the first and only facility exclusively for rabbits in Ohio."
The director of marketing and development said a survey the organization conducted among animal rescue groups and humane societies in central Ohio indicated more than 900 pet rabbits are abandoned or surrendered every year.
Haughey said last year, the rescue group received calls about more than 200 rabbits, but had space for only about 30 in foster homes. Opening the center will expand the organization's capacity to house rabbits and will allow potential owners to play with them before adopting. That will increase adoptions, Haughey said.
"I always say people think they want one bunny and they usually go home with another bunny," May said.
She said she receives about three phone calls or emails a day about domesticated rabbits running loose or being surrendered.
The center previously was home to an information technology operation, May said. It has 18 rooms of varying sizes, which will enable Ohio House Rabbit Rescue to care for between 25 and 30 animals at a time, Haughey said, as well as provide a room in which they can play.
"To me, it's an eclectic building," May said. "It's got lots of different-type spaces. It's perfect for us."
It's a perfect ending to a quest she began four years ago, she said.
"I personally am thrilled," May said. "You never know whether you're going to get support from the community for something like this.
"It's very unique. It's the first one in the state of Ohio, and there aren't too many around the country.
"We're just amazed that we've been able to do something like this."
For more information, visit ohiohouserabbitrescue.org.