Shelter-Stories author:differential_Sloth bitch_mare dumb_owner euthanization explicit foals_die foals_die_screaming shelter sorrow stillborn suicide

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Shelter Stories: Clara’s Practise Three

By differential_Sloth


####

Clara turned off the main road onto Nancy’s driveway. As a general rule, Clara didn’t do house calls; usually, it wasn’t worth the time, effort and risk, however small. Every rule had an exception, though. Nancy was an excellent customer; she gave the shelter plenty of business and never once missed a payment. All that made Clara willing to go beyond what she would for the everyday fluffy owner. Even if she weren't, though, Kim would likely force the issue.

The new spay laws, which finally extended to domestic mares and fillies, looked to set to drastically reduce the number of unwanted foals, and urban ferals. Rehabilitation and adoption of said foals and fluffies was a major chunk of Second Chance’s revenue. Kim, Clara and Dimitri were sure there’d still be a fair number to deal with; after all the laws wouldn’t affect the forest ferals. But, Second Chance wasn’t making any of them rich, so they needed every bit of business they could get.

Clara parked not far from Nancy’s house, shut off the car, grabbed her gear and walked toward the house. A dozen feet away, Nancy’s stallions and mares played or lay in the grass around their hutches. Some gathered at the boundary between the two fenced off areas, no doubt engaging in fluffy versions of sweet talk and flirting. Next to the house stood the frame of Nancy’s new barn which would house all her breeders when done.

From Clara heard it was quite the expense, but it would be worth it. Last winter, Nancy was forced to keep all her fluffies indoors. It almost ended in disaster when one stallion and couple of mares came down with the flu. Clara remembered the episode vividly; she couldn’t save the fluffies in question but managed to quarantine them in time., and provide some palliative care. That was the last time she’d made a house call here, and Clara couldn’t help but think about the irony. Then, she’d come to save Nancy’s fluffies; today, she was here to put one down.

At the door, Clara took a moment to ready herself and knocked. Not long after, Nancy opened the door and let Clara in. ‘Thanks for coming,’ she said softly. ‘I was...’ Her voice caught. ‘I… I just can’t take Charlie in to, to…’

Clara put a hand on Nancy's shoulder. ‘It’s okay, I get it.’ Nancy nodded; the look on her face was heavy, and her eyes were moist. ‘So, where is he?'

The living room. He’s on his bed, with the TV on. He’s always loved watching cartoons with-’ Nancy’s voice caught again, and she had to stifle a sob. Clara gently squeezed her shoulder.

‘Why don't you go wait with him while I get ready?' Nancy nodded and walked to the living room; she wiped tears from her eyes as she went. Clara, with a knot in her gut, went to the kitchen and prepped her gear. From her vet bag, she took gloves, a needle and syringe, and a tiny vial of poison, the most she was legally allowed to carry outside the shelter. Clara assembled the needle and loaded the dose far more slowly than she had too, figuring it was best to give Nancy as much time as she could. Not to mention, Clara needed a few moments to prepare herself.

After a few minutes of slow, steady breaths, Clara grabbed the needle and walked toward the living room. There on the floor in front of the TV, Nancy sat beside Charlie in his bed. The veteran attendant lay still, idly watching an old episode of The Angry Beavers. While Nancy gently stroked his back. Despite his age and arthritis, Charlie tried to nestle into the caress. The scene made Clara's heart quiver and reminded her why she usually didn’t do house calls.

Nancy looked up at the sound of Clara’s footsteps; her face was one of someone who was resigned to the inevitable. Some tears had broken free from her eyes, though Nancy was managing to hold it together enough to not cry out loud, for now. She swallowed hard and looked down at Charlie.

‘Charlie, look… Look at Mummah.’

The old stallion, white and grey strands mixed with his brown fluff, strained against his age and looked up at his owner. ‘Yes, Mummah?’

‘Charlie… Charlie, you know Clara from, the shelter, right?’

‘Uh-huh,' Charlie said softly. ‘She hewp dah soon mummahs, a-an dah babbehs.'

‘That’s right boy,’ Nancy caressed his head. ‘Well, she… She’s here too…’ Nancy stopped to swallow and breath. ‘Charlie, Clara’s here to help you.’

With some effort, Charlie turned his head to look at Clara, then back to Nancy. ‘Otay Mummah. Bud, w-wai am Mummah saddies.’

‘I, I’m not boy,’ Nancy lied. ‘Mummah’s just, a little sick.’

‘Maybe Cwawa can hewp Mummah tuu?’

Nancy managed to smile despite herself. ‘No Boy, she’s not that kind of doctor. But, Clara has to give you a little pointy owwie, and then… And then you’ll be better.’

‘Otay Mummah, Chawwee nu am scawdies. Wan get bettah su can hewp Mummah gain.’ Somehow, Nancy managed to keep her composer, then nodded at Clara. Chest and guts as tight as a bag of rocks, she uncapped the syringe and positioned it behind Charlie's neck, careful to avoid Nancy's hand as she gently stroked him on the back. Charlie flinched ever so slightly as the needle broke the skin, but there was no cry of pain or fright, not even a gasp.

Clara delivered the dose of poison to Charlie's system; the combination of its potency and his advanced age meant the old gelding slipped away almost immediately. There was a soft wheeze, and Charlie grew still. Out of habit, Clara checked for a pulse and found none. She looked back at Nancy, but found herself unable to speak; instead, she nodded. Nancy finally broke; deep sobs wracked her body and tear flowed down her face. She picked Charlie off the bed and held him to her chest.

As soon as the needle was recapped, Clara joined Nancy on the floor and pulled the sobbing woman close. Uncomfortable as it made her, giving comfort to people who's pets she'd put down was as much a part of the job as spaying and vaccinations. Plus, it wasn't only Charlie who Nancy was crying over. Clara knew all too well fluffy breeding was full of little everyday tragedies; a mare dying in foal birth, foals dying from infection, injury, or no apparent reason. There was drama from jealous and heartbroken stallions and mares, and the simple not knowing who was taking the young fluffies home. It was an awful lot to take in, and cottage breeders like Nancy had to suppress at least some of their feelings to get through their work. Still, it needed to come out sometime.

Clara sat with Nancy and comforted her for nearly a half-hour. When she was all cried out, Clara helped her get up and box up Charlie. Clara would take the body and deliver it to the crematorium on the way back to work. Someone, probably Dimitri, would deliver the ashes back to Nancy. Job done, gear packed, and Charlie ready for his last car ride, Clara walked out of the house and got in her car.

Nancy didn't see Clara out or say goodbye. Once she'd done everything she had too, she retreated to her bedroom. Clara understood, many people who came to the shelter to have their fluffies put down did much the same. It wasn’t personal, some just wanted to grieve on their own. With a heavy sigh, Clara started the car and headed back to the main road. Before she pulled out, Clara got her phone and dialled Kim. She picked up after a few rings.

‘All done?’

‘Yes,’

‘How’s Nancy?’ Kim asked.

Clara paused for a moment; ‘Not great.’

‘I'll mention it to Dimitri,' Kim said. ‘Maybe tell him to check up on her when he's done here.'

‘Pretty sure he's already planning on that.' Clara said, flatly.

‘You need to take an early day? Tony's handling things here just fine.'

‘No no, I’ll be fine.’ Clara said. ‘You don’t know what’s going to come through that door.’

‘True. Alright, see you soon.’

Clara hung up, put the phone away and pulled out on to the road. She was determined to see the rest of the day out, though she did stop along the way to grab a comfort snack.

####

The new spay laws, as written by the state legislators, included a one month grace period. For that time, owners with intact mares and fillies would have the chance to get them fixed voluntarily without penalty; after that though, it would be confiscation and fines until the mares were fixed, surrendered, or destroyed. Clara didn’t expect much trouble with compliance beyond people remembering and finding the time. Most if not all welcomed the laws, and looked forward to the day when they didn't have to deal with urban ferals, and children upset by the sight of dead, abandoned foals.

To that end, every day, a good half a dozen owners brought in their mares to be spayed. Most of the time, it was easy; most mares were upset by the prospect of never having the chance to have foals but understood it was the rules and wish of their owners. So, they accepted it. Tearfully, but accepted none the less. Some were blissfully ignorant of what they were there for. Some were determined not to go without a fight, like the one who’d come in just after Clara arrived back.

‘Nu take speciaw pwace way!’ The mare screamed from the pet carrier. ‘Nu take speciaw pwace! Nee id fow hav babbehs!!’

‘So, spaying?’ Clara said over the noise.

‘No shit,’ the exasperated owner said. ‘Didn’t mean for her to find out, but-’

‘Gina nu wan speciaw pwace go way!!’ The mare banged her hooves against the door of the carrier. ‘Gina wan babbehs!! Wan be mummah an giv babbehs miwkies and wickie cweanies!!’

‘Enough, Gina!' The owner yelled. ‘I've had enough of chasing you around the neighbourhood over this. I'm not dealing with the cops over it too!!' He turned back to Clara. ‘Sorry to leave with such a handful,' he said apologetically.

‘That's not a problem, we've dealt with worse,' Clara said, only partially lying.

‘Good. I’ll be back to get her around four.’ The owner walked out of the clinic room, leaving his mare and Clara alone.

‘*Sigh* Alright, let’s go.’ Clara picked up the pet carrier, which did nothing for Gina’s mood.

‘Nuuu!! Nu take speciaw pwace!!’ The desperate mare banged against the carrier door with all her might; it rocked the carrier, and the weight shift nearly caused Clara to drop it.

‘Hey, stop that! If you don't, I might-'

‘Gina wan babbehs!! Fwuffies nee be mummah an hav babbehs!!’ Gina continued her desperate attempts at escape. ‘Nee get way fwom meanies!!’

Clara grunted angrily and went to the surgical room as quick as possible. ‘Prep, now,’ she told Tony.

‘But I was getting ready to neuter the-’

‘Ours can wait, Tony,’ Clara put the carrier on the floor and went to the cupboard. ‘The sooner we get this done the… Where the fuck is the subdue spray!?’

‘We're out,' Tony put his gear to one side and grabbed what he needed for the mare. ‘Dimitri had to use ours on those ferals who got out of their pens in the barn yesterday.’

‘Dammit!’ Clara shook her head. ‘Fine, fun way it is.’ She rolled up her sleeves and went for the carrier. ‘Get ready with the gas Tony.’

‘Don’t you need help with-’

‘You can help me by doing what I tell you,' Clara said over Tony and the hysterical Gina. ‘Get it ready, we’re gonna fucking need it.’

Tony did as he was told, readying the anaesthetic gas. Clara meanwhile put one hand near the door latch and held the other above the opening. She took a moment to ready herself, then opened the carrier door. Seconds later, it burst open, and Gina ran out. ‘Wun way!! Nee sabe soon babbehs fwom screee!!!’ Clara grabbed Gina by the scruff, and grabbed the mare’s tail. ‘SCREEEE!!!’ The mare shrieked as she was then hefted off the floor, more from alarm than pain.

‘Get the mask,’ Clara struggled to keep her grip on Gina. ‘We need to get her under right, oh fuck,’ her hand on Gina’s scruff faltered for a moment, and Clara was forced to adjust her grip; it was all the mare needed. Before Clara could react, Gina whipped her head around and bit down on Clara’s hand as hard as she could. ‘AHHH!!’

‘Clara!’ Tony rushed to help, but Clara fixed him with a glare.

‘GAS!’ Tony stepped back, grabbed the mask and held it out as far as the hose would allow. When Clara was close enough, he put the mask near Gina’s muzzle; after a few seconds, her frenzied movements grew slow and uncoordinated. Clara took the opportunity to free her hand and put the mare on the surgical table. Tony secured the mask, then went to Clara.

‘Are you okay?’

Clara cradled her injured hand in the other and examined it. The area was an angry red mark with teeth marks, and on looking closer, Clara saw Gina had indeed drawn blood. ‘Dammit,' There'd be no operating until it was cleaned and bandaged. ‘Get started,' she said to Tony. ‘I shouldn't be long, but you can handle spaying on your own by now.'

‘O-okay.’ Tony stepped away and readied himself and Gina for the operation, while Clara left to get her wound taken care of.

‘Damn, never seen a fluffy bite draw blood before,’ Dimitri said he cleaned the bite with rubbing alcohol; Clara winced at the sting. ‘What did you do?’

‘Nothing out of the ordinary, except get ready to spay her.’

Dimitri shook his head. ‘Another baby crazy mare, huh?'

‘Mmhm.’

‘How much do you think the new laws will help?'

‘They’ll cut down on unwanted foals and urban ferals, but probably not on runaways.’ Clara said. ‘You know what some mares are like; doesn't matter what you tell them if they’re that determined.’

Dimitri nodded while he dressed the wound. ‘Can’t be helped, unless you raise them right. Ok, how’s that feel?’

Clara looked at her hand; the bandage wasn’t too obtrusive, and she could move her fingers well enough to keep working. ‘Not bad. How’d you learn that?’

‘Farm work isn’t exactly the safest occupation,’ Dimitri put away the first aid kit. ‘Having a combat medic for a cousin helps too.’

Clara nodded, ‘I’ll bet. Thanks for that. I better go check on Tony.’

‘Hey, ah, before you go,’

‘What?’

‘Uh, *cough* how’d Nancy take, you know…’

‘As bad as you’d think,’ Clara told Dimitri. ‘Didn’t Kim tell you?’

‘Well, yeah, but… Dunno, guess I like hearing things first hand.’ He shrugged.

‘Ok. You planning on going out there?’

‘Eh, not now.’ Dimitri shook his head. ‘She’ll want to be alone for, shit, maybe until tomorrow.’

‘Yeah, probably.’ Clara said. ‘Well, thanks for the bandage.’

‘No problem. Good luck.’

‘Clara nodded and returned to the surgical room, where Tony was well into the operation, and getting started on removing Gina’s ovaries. ‘Looks like you’ve got this one handled.’

‘Mmm,’ Tony grunted, deep in concentration.

‘I'll leave you to it.' Clara left the surgical room and returned to the exam room, ready for the next event.

####

‘Screeepp! *Kafff, hack hack!*’

‘Peep pe-*Kaff kaff!*'

‘Hwuwwk! Kaff kaff!!’

The foals’ pained coughs, screams and peeps were bad enough; unfortunately for Clara, she also had to deal with residual mace stinging her eyes and skin as she worked. She didn't know how someone managed to mace a litter of foals by accident unless it was anything but. Either way, it didn't make the chemical any less nasty.

Clara removed one squirming, crying foal from the bowl of warm water and baby shampoo, grabbed the hand nozzle and rinsed the colt with warm water. She did her best to avoid spraying water into the foal’s nose or mouth, but with her stinging eyes and the need to clean three more foals, some got in.

‘*Kaff kaff, hwurrk!!*' The colt coughed and vomited, something he'd done since arriving with the others. Clara plopped the damp foal on a towel with one of his sisters; the two continued to squirm and cry, too in pain to find each other to form a fluff pile, the only solution to any problem a foal knew. Before she went to grab the next though, Clara squeezed her eyes shut and willed them to tear up, in hopes she could work a little easier. Though tears came, they didn't help, so she had to grit her teeth and fight through the pain.

Clara grabbed the third foal, slathered the squirming filly in baby shampoo and washed it and as much of the spray as possible off. While doing so, the combination of stinging eyes and skin, and the foal’s movements caused her to lose her grip on the filly. The Teal and orange foal disappeared into the water, and Clara’s hand shot int after it. Fortunately, she found the foal at once. Clara held it upside down and tapped its chest with two fingers. The filly coughed up water and went back to its pained peeps and cries.

Not wanting to tempt fate again, Clara rinsed the filly off and put her on the towel. Next was another colt, green with a fetching blue tail nub. His struggles, however, were weak. Clara worked as fast as she could and reunited the foal with his sibblings. She went for the last foal, another filly, and set about washing the mace from her fine fluff. About halfway through though, Clara noticed the foal wasn’t squirming like the others had been; in fact, it wasn’t moving at all.

On closer inspection, the foal was indeed dead, mouth open in a silent pained scream, and signs of it voiding what little remained in its bladder and bowel. Clara looked at the towel, and her heart sank. In the time she wasn’t looking the green colt had summered to shock, and the teal filly wasn’t far behind. Clara cursed under her breath, segregated the dead and dying then grabbed the two who looked like they had a chance. She took them from the exam room to the surgical room and handed them to Tony; ‘You take over, gotta get this shit out of my eyes.’

‘Where are the-’

‘Didn't make it! Just deal with those two, ok?' Clara pushed the door open, grabbed the bottle of baby shampoo on her way out and dashed to the staff bathroom. There, she poured a generous amount of shampoo into her hands and massaged it into her face. She turned on the sink by feel and rinsed off the shampoo, like she'd done for the foals. Partway through the process, Clara heard the door open, and someone walk in.

‘Here, let me help,' Kim held Clara's hair back and helped wash the suds and residual mace from her face. Kim then grabbed a towel and handed it to Clara. ‘You ok?'

Clara nodded. ‘I’ll be fine. God, I didn’t know shit like mace and pepper spray was contagious!’

‘Oh yeah. ‘Ask me about the time my roommate let off some by accident.'

‘Why? Why do people do that?!’

‘Well, Dimitri thinks because it’s not lethal, people don’t take as seriously as guns.’

‘Figures,’ Clara said. ‘But he’s probably got a point. Well, you can tell the owner we might have saved two.’

‘Only two?’ Kim said, shocked.

‘This shit is meant to take down humans,’ Clara finished drying herself off and dumped the towel in the washing bin. ‘Honestly, I’m surprised they were alive when he brought them in.’

‘True,’ Kim pushed open the door and let Clara out. ‘So, two survived.’

‘Maybe,’ Clara said as they walked down the hall. ‘Honestly, I’m not hopeful.’

Kim nodded sadly; ‘I'll think of something to tell them.' The two parted ways at the exam room door; Clara walked back in and returned to the sink. The teal filly had died, probably some time ago. Clara sighed, gathered up the bodies and boxed them up rather than bag them, in case the owner wanted them cremated. That done, she went back to the surgical room.

‘How are they?’

Tony looked back; ‘One died while you were out, this one’s barely hanging on.’ Clara walked up and looked at the sole living foal, the colt she’d washed second. The small fluffy lay wrapped in a towel, taking long rasping breaths. ‘If it’s still alive in an hour, I think he’ll make it.’

Clara nodded. ‘Sounds about right.’ Clara picked up the last dead foal and put it in the cardboard box with its sibblings. ‘Ok, how’s the mare from earlier?’

‘Sedated.’ Tony told her.

‘Keep her that way, it's easier for her owner to deal with when he gets back. Right, get that last foal in an incubator, and I'll go help break the news to their owners. Then, we'll get those colts snipped.'

‘Sounds good,’ Tony picked up the towel wrapped colt and moved him to a free incubator, while Clara wet to get the gear ready to castrate the lastest batch of colts. She’d hoped to get some nice easy operations in after the trial the first half of the day had been. Then, the internal line rang.

‘Goddammit…' Clara picked up. ‘What's up?'

‘Family with an injured fluffy came in, I’m sorry, but you need to see them now.’

‘*Sigh* Okay. What’s the story?’

‘Well,’ Kim said, ‘it looks like a suicide attempt.’

####

When Clara saw the fluffy, she realised Kim’s assessment was right.

‘Uhhh huhhuhu owwieesss!!' One front leg was broken, probably in more than one place, and there was blood around her mouth. Clara was sure she'd find plenty of smashed teeth when she got the fluffy's mouth open. Then, there was ‘Huuuhuhu babbeeehhsss huhuhu!!!' If the mare had indeed tried to kill herself, that would be as good a motivation as any.

‘It’s okay Strawberry,’ the young teenage girl said as tried to comfort her fluffy and stay composed at the same time. ‘It’s going to okay, Mummah’s here, and the nice lady’s going to fix you.’ While the girl tended to her fluffy, Clara spoke to the parents.

‘Do you have any idea what happened?’

‘No, I mean, I didn't see it happen', the mother said. ‘I was tidying up in the kitchen, and there was this thump and a scream. I came out and found Frankie holding Strawberry by the stairs.'

‘I took my eyes off her for a few minutes,’ the girl called Frankie said. ‘It was just a few minutes!’

‘Babbehs!! Huhuhu babbehs huhuh!!! Stwawbewwy wan die!!’

‘Please don’t say that Strawberry! Please!!’

‘What's the story with these babbies?' Clara focused on the mother since she'd done most of the talking.

‘Strawberry was pregnant recently,’ the mother explained. ‘We didn’t pay enough attention when she was out in the yard, and she didn’t tell us about until she got too big to hide it.’

‘Ok, so what happened to them?’ Clara pressed. ‘Did you give them away, or-’

‘We were going to but, they didn't make it,' the mother said. ‘Last night, we woke up, and Strawberry was crying and screaming. When we got to saferoom, her foals were dead.'

‘What happened?’

‘They died.’ The husband said, rather quickly.

‘All of them?’ Plenty foals died in their sleep for a variety of reasons, especially newborns. But a whole litter? Even the most careless mare would have a difficult time-

‘Yes, all of them! They were dead!’

‘Ok, there’s need to get angry,’ Clara said gently. ‘But I’ve never dealt with a whole litter dying in their sleep.’

‘Well, they did!' The husband said, far too loudly.

‘Paul!’ His wife took hold of his arm. ‘Would you please calm down?’

Paul's face twisted, and he shifted about on his feet. Clara watched for a moment and knew something wasn't right with the situation. An entire litter of foals dying in their sleep was something neither Clara nor any fluffy vet she knew ever encountered, or even heard of. True, it wasn't entirely outside the realm of possibility, but there was also the way the man was acting; he knew more about what happened than he was letting on.

‘Sir?’

The man turned back to Clara; ‘What?’

‘Do you mind if we talk in my office?'

Paul tried to respond but stumbled and tripped over his words. Before he could get his act together, his wife forced the issue. ‘Go, Paul, I'll stay with Frankie and Strawberry.'

‘B-but...’

‘Paul, just do it,’

Defeated, Paul followed Clara to her office. She opened the door and ushered him inside, but with the noise and everything else which happened that day, Clara didn’t hear the door fail to close and latch properly. ‘Now, why don’t you tell me what happened?’

‘I already told you what-’

‘Tell me what really happened.’ Clara was past diplomacy. ‘Whole litters don’t die in their sleep,’ she looked Paul in the eyes. ‘What did you do?’

Paul's face twisted into a half dozen different looks, and flushed a deep red. He shifted around, ran his hands through his hair, and shook his head. ‘I… Dammit, I didn’t think she’d try to kill herself over them!’

‘What did you-’

‘It was me!’ Paul hissed. ‘I did it, I killed them! You happy now?!’

Clara had heard plenty in this line of work. Still, there was only one response that came to mind; ‘Why?’

‘What was I meant to do, huh!?’ Paul said. ‘I don’t have enough room or money for six of these fucking things!’

‘But why didn’t you surrender them?' Clara said. ‘For god's sake, we take in unwanted foals every day.'

‘I… I don’t know!’ Paul turned around. ‘I, I fucking panicked okay, I wasn’t thinking straight! I figured if they stayed for too long, it would be hard to take them away, and Strawberry wouldn’t stop trying to go find them. But, if they were dead…' Paul shook his head. ‘She wasn't meant to wake up until morning! I thought I was quiet enough when I straggled the-’

‘Strangle?’ Clara and Paul both whipped their heads around; there in the door stood Paul’s wife, face as sharp as a scalpel.

‘Gina, I-’

‘Strangle!? You,' Gina lowered her voice at the last moment, ‘killed Strawberry's foals? Paul, what were you fucking-’

‘You’re the one who said it was fine to leave Strawberry in the yard all day! Now look where we are!!’

Clara went to intervene when out the corner of her eye she saw Paul and Gina's daughter step away from the examination table. ‘Mom, Dad, why are you-'

‘Stay there!!’ Clara called. ‘Don’t leave your fluffy alone!!’ Behind the girl, Strawberry stumbled to her three good legs and limped toward the edge of the exam table. ‘GRAB HER!!' The young girl flinched at Clara's warning and turned a moment too late. The next few moments seemed to play out in slow motion.

Strawberry Limped closer and closer to the edge of the table; in a little over two steps, she was there. Without a moment's hesitation, the mare leapt from the table as best she could. ‘STRAWBERRY!!’ Frankie went to catch her fluffy but stumbled and tripped forward. A Hollow void opened in Clara’s chest as she saw the girl fall towards the exam table. Seconds stretched into hours; Frankie reached out to break her fall, the fate of Strawberry forgotten for a moment. Clara hoped with every fibre of her being the girl could get her arms up in time, but instead,

*Thump*

Frankie hit the exam table at almost the same time Strawberry hit the floor; from Clara’s position, it almost looked like the girl headbutted the table. She slumped sideways and lay sprawled on the floor, motionless.

‘FRANKIE!!!’ Paul and Gina rushed to their daughter's side, kneeling on the floor beside her. They tried to rouse their daughter, but the girl was unresponsive. Their efforts grew more intense and desperate with each second that passed, and they were rapidly growing hysterical. Clara stood rooted to the spot while the drama unfolded, mouth agape; it just didn’t seem, real. How could something like this happen?

‘OH MY GOD FRANKIE! PLEASE, SAY SOMETHING!!’ Gina screamed. ‘CALL 911 PAUL!!!’

Paul grabbed at his pockets, but with his system flooded with adrenaline, he couldn't muster the coordination to fish his phone out. Luckily for all concerned, Tony and Kim rushed in at damn near the same time, with Dimitri not far behind. The two men went to work, doing what they could to help Frankie and keep her parents clam while Kim dialled 911.

‘Yes, this is Kim Howard, we've had someone fall and hit their head. Hold on; is she awake? No, she isn't. We're at Second Chance, 34 Grant Avenue-'

‘Kid? Hey kid, can you hear me? Come on, stay with us!’

‘Oh my go oh my god oh my god, Frankie please!!’

‘What have I done, oh god...’

Clara felt utterly detached from her body. Tony did all he could to calm Frankie’s parents, while Dimitri performed as much first aid as he knew how to. Within ten minutes, though it felt like a day, paramedics came through the exam room door. Dmitri got out of their way and went to help Tony keep the parents away while the EMTs did their work. After a few minutes working on the floor, they lifted Frankie onto a stretcher and carried it out. Her parents followed right behind, with Kim Dimitri and Tony following in turn.

Noise still filtered through the walls, but the speed at which the room emptied shocked Clara, even in her stunned state. Somehow, she gathered herself enough to walk out of her office. The first thing Clara did was check on Strawberry, whom everyone had forgotten about in the pandemonium. Clara robotically picked up Strawberry and put her back on the table. She did all the usual tests for response and found nothing; Strawberry managed to finish the job she started in her owners home.

Clara picked up Strawberry’s body, carried it into the surgical room and boxed her up for cremation, all on autopilot. Fluffies in the recovery cages not under sedation were agitated and asked Clara what had happened. She ignored them and walked out through the shelter to the backlot. Clara leaned against the building and went for her smokes but found an empty pocket, remembering too late they were in her office. Unable to summon the will to get them, Clara just leaned against the wall. But she didn't stay there.

Slowly, Clara slunk down the wall until she was sitting with her black propped against the shelter building. The weight of what had happened, and everything that had happened just that day hit all at once. She rested her head in her hands and started to cry, silently at first. But soon enough, Clara was crying as hard, and loud Nancy had been. Since it was playtime for the barn fluffies and off duty attendants, a half dozen fluffies noticed Clara crying. Led by Harold and another attendant called Bruce, they rushed over and crowed around.

‘Cwawa? Wat happen?’

‘Wai am nice Cwawa makin sad wawa? Wat am wong?!’

‘Fwuffy giv huggies!!’ One of the fluffies hugged at Clara’s leg. ‘Make saddies go way!!’

Clara hardly noticed any of them; like Nancy, she’d gone too long suppressing the dozens of tragedies big and small. Now that the seal was broken and it was all coming out, whether she liked it or not.

#

Some time had passed since the disaster in the exam room; Clara was all cried out but hadn't moved. She sat propped against the wall with Harold cradled in her lap, dozing. His gentle breathing and movements were comforting but had little effect on Clara's mood. It was the same for Bruce and the other fluffy laying by her side. Clara felt blank and empty.

The door opened to her right, and Clara heard footsteps slowly approach. But, she kept her gaze fixed on the grassy space where the barn fluffies ambled about. Kim stopped and sat next to Clara. For a few moments, neither of them spoke, though Clara was glad Kim didn’t bother with “are you ok?” when she finally broke the silence.

‘The good news is, Frankie’s not dead. She’s still out cold, but they think she’ll pull through.’ Clara managed to nod, and Kim went on.. ‘Tony handled everything fine while you were, here, though we did close after, you know…’

‘Are those parents going to sue us?’

Kim thought for a moment. ‘I've got enough liability on this place if they do. But, my lawyer seems to think they’re mostly at fault.’

‘You’ve been on the phone with him the whole time?’

‘Among others, yes,’ Kim admitted. ‘I need to make sure you’ve still got a place to work.’

Clara stayed quiet for a few moments. ‘To be honest, that doesn't sound so great right now.’

‘Well, if you need to take a few weeks, I can have Tony take over. It's time we took his training wheels off anyway. But…' Kim sighed, ‘Look, Clara, I won't force you to stay, but I really don’t want to lose you. I couldn't have done half the things I’ve done with this place without you.’

Clara continued to stare forward. Then, ‘Weren’t fluffies meant to make people happy?’ She said flatly.

Kim shook her head; ‘They were meant to be a lot of things. I guess Hasbio screwed up by making them as smart as they did.’

‘Yeah.’ Clara said. After a while longer of quiet sitting, Clara said ‘I think I’ll take you up on those few weeks.’

Kim nodded; ‘They can start today if you like.’

‘No, I need to organise things and make sure Tony knows everything he needs to' Clara said flatly. ‘I'll come in tomorrow.'

‘Thanks.’ Kim patted her friend and employee on the shoulder. ‘You can leave now if you want. Tony’s handled all the patients and closed up the clinic, and I’ll do those guys,’ she nodded at the barn.

‘Isn’t Dimitri meant to do that?’

‘He's gone to see Nancy.' Kim looked at Harold, dozing peacefully in Clara's lap. ‘You want to take him for a sleepover?'

‘No. I need some distance from fluffies.’

‘Fair enough. Alright,’ Kim stood, ‘I’ll get these guys settled. Come on Harold, time to go to the barn.’

The gelding stirred quickly, showing he hadn’t been as asleep as he seemed. ‘Bud Cwawa stiww hav saddies.’

‘I’ll be okay boy,’ Clara lifted Harold out of her lap. ‘Go on, do what Kim says.’

‘Otay Cwawa,’ Harold hugged her arm. ‘Pwease be otay, Hawowd nu wike seein Cwawa saddies.’ Clara smiled and ruffled his mane.

‘Thanks boy.' With that, Clara stood and went to get her things.

#

It was with some hesitation that Clara walked into the shelter the following day. The memories of the previous day’s shit-shows were still fresh in her mind, and she was sure the last day before her leave would bring another complete disaster. But, it seemed the universe at long last deiced to cut her some slack. The day was relatively light, and no emergencies came through the door. Clara used the quiet period to get everything ready for her absence.

It was mid-afternoon, a couple of hours since the last patient. Clara was writing out a few extra cheat sheets for Tony, and anyone Kim sent to help him when a familiar face turned up. Though, for a few moments, it made her panic.

‘Please tell me this is not about the fluffy you got for Zoe.'

‘No no, Twizzler’s fine,’ Alfred said.

Clara breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Oh, good.' Then, ‘Twizzler?'

‘It was Zoe’s idea, not mine.’

‘Fair enough. So, what’s this about then?’

‘This.’ Alfred held out the shoebox he'd come in with. Clara took it and carefully put on the exam table. She heard a few rustles and a peep from inside. When she opened the shoebox, Clara saw a small black foal, curled tightly around a wad of tissues.

‘Okay, so what’s the story with this guy?’ Clara slipped on some gloves.

‘I was coming back from a job sight out of town, and I saw his mother get hit by a car.’

‘Oh, no.'

‘It was the car ahead of me. The mare must have stepped from behind some bushes, cause he didn’t see her.’ Clara hoped that was the case, but didn’t say so. ‘They didn’t stop, so I did.’ Alfred shrugged. ‘The mare was dead, and the other foals. But, this one managed to survive.’

‘Wow, lucky little guy. Ok,' Clara reached into the shoebox and lifted the foal out.

‘Speeep!! Peep peep peeep!!’ The little black colt yelped and struggled madly against Clara’s grip.

‘Hey hey, easy there little guy,’ Clara put the colt on a towel. ‘Ok, I don’t see any wounds or parasites, and it’s definitely a colt,’ Clara gently turned the foal over and around on the towel. ‘Bit thin, but that’s pretty usual for ferals. Huh, that’s interesting.’

‘What?’ Alfred asked.

‘This little patch of red on his back.’ Clara pointed out the patch of red fluff on the colt’s lower back.

‘Yeah, I noticed that. Why's it special?'

‘You don’t see it often; most fluffy coats are mono colour. Clara explained. ‘It’s popping up more often now, though, because of mutations and all the uncontrolled breeding.’

‘Peep peep peep!! Peeeep!! Peeeeeeep!!!’ The foal, hungry and scared, desperately called for its dead mother through the exam. Clara finished up quickly and handed the colt back to Alfred.

‘Can you try calming it down while I get some formula?’

‘Sure,’ Alfred took the foal and placed it in his palm. ‘Easy little guy, you’re okay.’ He gently stroked the foal on the back, and slowly, the foal stared to calm; it stopped struggling to get away, but the peeps and crying didn't stop. Clara returned with a small bottle and gave it to Alfred, who carefully turned the colt over and brought the bottle to its mouth.

‘Peep peep!!' The scent of formula animated the little colt. It reached out with its forelegs, desperate to find the teat. Alfred pushed the rubber teat into the foal's open mouth. The colt closed it's mouth around it and started to suckle. ‘*Suckle-suckle-suckle-suckle*' It drank down the formula as fast as it could, and emptied the bottle in a matter of minutes. ‘*Urp* Cheep, cheep.'

Now full, the colt let out a few cheeps and settled down. Alfred gently stroked the colt's belly, while Clara fetched a couple of comfort toys which she put in the shoebox. When they were in place, Alfred set the foal down next to them. The foal wriggled around and latched on to one of the toys. After a few more chirps, it fell asleep. ‘Ok, it looks like he'll be fine.' Clara said. ‘What do you want to do with him?'

‘Well, I was thinking about keeping it.’ Alfred told her.

‘Are you sure?’ Clara asked. ‘Foals are a lot of work.’

Alfred shrugged; ‘I’ve always wanted to try raising a foal, and I have some vacation time saved, so being around for it won’t be a problem. Plus… Well, Zoe doesn’t want to move in yet, and the house is pretty quiet without Kerry around, so I thought it was time to get another fluffy.'

‘Ok then,' Clara said, ‘ you can take him home right away. We don't need to do any vaccinations yet, and you can hold off on neutering for a couple of weeks.'

‘Cool, I’ll bring him in next week for all that.’

‘Eh, make it two. Then, you can get it all done in one visit. But I won't be around. I'm, taking some time.'

‘Really? What happened?’

‘*Sigh*, A really, really shitty day.’

‘Yeah, I figured something had happened when I came in.’

‘You probably would.’ Clara said. ‘No offence but I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, let’s get you set up to take care of the little guy.’ Clara put together a kit that would see Alfred and his new foal through the next few weeks; formula, bottles, a few more comfort toys, and some other odds and ends. ‘Ok, you’re all set.’ Clara handed the kit over. ‘Good luck.’

‘Thanks,' Alfred put the kit in his back and closed up the shoe box. He walked to the door but stopped. ‘Just call if you want to talk or anything.'

‘Thanks, Al,' Clara said. ‘You've actually helped by bringing some good news in for once.'

‘No problem. See you.’

‘Bye Al.' Clara waved as he walked out of the exam room. She tidied up, then went back to her office to finish packing up and readying things for her time away. The previous day was still getting her down, but the so far happy outcome for the little black and red colt was at least a start.

Comments


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differential_Sloth: Enjoy these two stories. Thanks to outside commitments, It might be longer than usual before you see anything more from me.
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Nocturn: This was great. I hope the mom leaves the dad for his failure to sodomize the foals before strangling them.
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Anonymous1: @differential_Sloth: You do you boo. Come on back now, ya hear?
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Nocturn: Its a great story. Dont be gone too long :)
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The_Neutralist: This story is pretty good. And the "dumb owner" tag fits well. I mean, the idea of knocking yourself out cold and possibly getting a concussion just to save a fluffy from jumping off a table is beyond stupid.
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Anonymous2: fluffies don't draw blood

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differential_Sloth: @Anonymous: Mine do. Come at me.
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Anonymous3: @differential_Sloth: I am not a bot. I am a Volunteer Reddit moderator. I do not have mod powers but my reports are taken seriously and those who get on my bad side tend to get banned in under 24 hours. I have numerous rules, which you may read in my post history, but 1 is the most important rule of all

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Guzziman: @Anonymous: Absolutely no one would get banned because of anything you had to say here. Maybe you will stick to reddit yeah?
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Researcher_7201: I love the vet side of fluffies such great stories to tell!

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differential_Sloth: @Anonymous: And you're telling me this, why exactly?
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Anonymous4: @differential_Sloth: because that’s the kind of thing a bot would say.
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Anonymous5: I want Clara to turn evil because of these little shits. But it was a good story and don't leave us for too long!!
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Anonymous6: Fluffies are more trouble than they're worth.
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FosterFluffy: Love it. Thank you for posting more Shelter Stories!