I first became acquainted with Heather Bechtel, founder and director of the Rabbit Haven, when our beloved 10-year-old rabbit was dying. She was able to provide a level of compassion and support that I was unable to find elsewhere.
“Animals have always had a special place in my heart,” said Bechtel. “I learned how to care for them at an early age.”
Bechtel grew up in Shasta County in the 1950’s and ‘60s. It was a rural area, and vets were few and far between. Her mom was a registered nurse at Shasta County Hospital, and people often brought injured animals to their home.
When Bechtel was 10, she worked with a veterinarian and learned how to provide post-op care for animals in the office and at home.
“We had a variety of pets — dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and an assortment of wildlife — staying with us,” Bechtel said. “I kept the injured pets in my room in makeshift cages and cared for them until they were well. Many people didn't have the money to take their animals to the vet, so they'd look to us for care and support.”
After graduating from Shasta County High School, Bechtel attended Shasta County Community College where she studied health and human services. Thinking that she'd like to become a doctor someday, Bechtel enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley and took premed classes. However, due to the intensity and length of this program, she then transferred to Sonoma State where she majored in business and psychology.
After graduation, Bechtel moved to Marin County and worked with a variety of community projects. She lived in Marin for 13 years before moving to Scotts Valley in 1987.
Then later that year her life changed forever when a little black and white bunny came into Bechtel's life. Frightened and abandoned, his chances of being adopted were not good. He was very sick, injured, and needed time, tenderness and a chance to heal. Bechtel took him in and named him Bernie.
“Only a few veterinarians I contacted knew how to care for rabbits,” Bechtel said. I soon realized that this lack of information and the limited services available kept many rabbit owners from being able to care for their pets properly.”
Bernie's plight led to the formation of a non-profit organization called The Rabbit Haven — a place where rabbits could receive care, support and begin a new life filled with love while they waited to be adopted. In addition, The Rabbit Haven Education Center was designed to help educate the public and shelters about rabbits and how to care for them.
Bechtel appeared on the radio and television to discuss the needs of rabbits and The Rabbit Haven. She also developed a vet list, care guides and basic information packets and distributed them to rabbit care providers, animal shelters and schools. The shelters were overcrowded with abandoned rabbits, especially after Easter, so Bechtel volunteered at the local shelter and made many improvements.
As the public became more aware of Bechtel's programs, schools and various children's camps invited her to visit and share information about house rabbits.
“There was also a demand to bring rabbits to visit nursing homes, hospitals and schools,” Bechtel said. “They are perfect for pet therapy. Rabbits are gentle and seem to have an unlimited capacity to heal.”
The Rabbit Haven began with Bechtel taking care of one rabbit. Today they have a staff of 150 people, all volunteers, and 85 foster homes to care for 600 to 700 rabbits a year, before they are adopted.
“Through the love of one rabbit, thousands of rabbits have been saved from needless deaths,” said Bechtel. “People have also learned how to provide the proper care and support rabbits need.
Bernie, and many others like him, proved that love can heal and transform the wounds of abuse and neglect.”
For more information on rabbits and The House Rabbit Society, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org Heather Bechtel or call Bechtel at 831-600-7479.
Also, check out the upcoming annual Bunnyfest on June 30 in Campbell.
The Haven needs donations and volunteers. The Rabbit Haven's Adoption Show is held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Pet Pals, 3660 Soquel Drive in Santa Cruz on the second and fourth Sunday every month from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for anyone who wants to give a bunny a “forever home.”
- Sandi Olson of Scotts Valley is a writer, speaker and teacher. She writes about interesting people in Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley. E-mail her at email@example.com.