Sara hated walking into the shelter. There were four walls lined with cages that rattled and shook, emitting wails, shrieks, and downright screams. Some, the younger, newer ones in particular, only cried or whined, looking and sounding pitiful with wide, tearful eyes. Most of the older inhabitants, especially those who had been there a while, had lost hope. They spent most of their time curled up, looking dejected, on old, stained blankets.
Sara, determined to ignore the soul-deadening scene surrounding her, strode boldly to the counter, focusing her eyes directly head. Despite her determination, she could hardly ignore the glares, the longing stares, and then the uproar created by her presence.
The counterwoman was blond and pudgy. Her arms jiggled as she flipped through the pages of an old issue of People magazine, and her face had a pinched look that made her look unpleasant. "Surrendering?" she asked in bored voice, eyeing the squirming baby in Sara's arms with distaste.
"I tried so hard," Sara said, the lump of guilt at the back of her throat threatening to spill over into her voice. The counterwoman held out her arms, but the baby clung tightly to Sara's neck, crying out loudly as Sara reached up to gently unclasp her hands, which held fast. The counterwoman pulled the baby firmly away, and the baby began to sob, tears spilling over and flowing freely down her pink cheeks. She struggled against the counterwoman, reaching with all of her might out to Sara.
"Ma!" the baby cried. "Ma! Ma! No!" She dove for Sara, a hopeful, desperate expression on her tiny face.
Sara's own tears spilled over now. She turned away, looking determinedly at the ugly green tile that made up the floor.
"Reason for surrender?" the counterwoman's voice asked over the baby's wails.
"She won't stop peeing," Sara said, her voice shaking. "She soaks through her diaper every night. She won't keep it on, she pees on all of the furniture and carpets. My house smells so bad! And I work full time, I already have two kids! I just don't have the time to work with her, she'll be better off with someone who does." She heard a beep as the counterwoman scanned the microchip in the baby's neck.
"I see you adopted her from here? And not too long ago."
"She's very stubborn," Sara said with an air of desperation. "I think she's been peeing everywhere on purpose. She bites me when I try to correct her."
"We're pretty full right now," the counterwoman said as if Sara hadn't spoken. "I think we can only hold her for seven days or so."
"I hope she finds a good home," Sara said. The baby had stopped struggling but was now watching Sara closely. "She's really sweet, I just can't handle the peeing thing. I can't stand the smell of urine, and I can't afford to replace my couch. Or my carpets." She reached up and stroked the baby's soft cheek. She really was beautiful.
The baby brightened, reaching out again, grasping Sara's finger with one soft, warm hand that turned white as she gripped with all of her might. She was grabbing at Sara's arm with the other hand when Sara gently pulled away. "Sorry honey." She kissed her hand and stepped backward, out of the baby's reach. "You'll find a new home, don't worry."
The baby's face crumbled. She dissolved into violent sobs, fighting even harder to get back to Sara. "No, no, NO!" She screamed into the counterwoman's ear, scratching her face. A thread of blood stretched across her cheek.
"Really, now!" the counterwoman snapped. She not so much walked as stomped to the nearest open cage and almost shoved the baby inside, slamming the cage door closed behind her. She gingerly felt her cheek as she walked back to the desk.
"Do you have to be so rough with her?" Sara asked, wincing as the baby expelled an earth-shattering scream.
"Ten dollar fee for surrendering," the counterwoman said through clenched teeth. "You'll get it back if you come back to get her before her time is up. Sign here, please." She slid a badly photocopied sheet of paper in front of Sara and handed her a pen.
Sara signed her name and felt around in her back pocket, pulling out some crumpled bills. She handed her a five and four ones, then some change from a front pocket. "It's all I have," she said. The counterwoman grumbled and turned away.
Sara turned and walked back toward the front door, trying to ignore the baby's screams as she reached her chubby arms through the bars toward Sara. Her face was almost comically distorted as she pressed it against the thick metal of the cage to stretch her arms even farther.
The level of noise, already at a fever pitch, increased as Sara approached the front door. Some were screaming, most were crying, and some even cursed at her before something metal crashed against what sounded like a cage, and the noise momentarily died down. Except the baby. The baby continued to call out to her.
Sara pushed the door open, flooding the dingy room with sunlight. She walked quickly now to her SUV, sliding into the driver's seat and starting the engine. She had almost pulled into gear when she spotted something fluffy and gray on the floor next to her. She picked it up and immediately recognized it as the small bunny the baby had come home from the pound with weeks ago. It had probably been white at some point, but it was now dirty and tattered from years of use; the carrot in the bunny's hand was now more brown than orange. Sara meant to bring it in with her when she went inside, and briefly considered taking it now, but decided against it. It would probably only upset the baby, she thought, as she tossed it into the parking lot and slammed her door closed.
She drove home with a heavy heart, trying to shake off the nagging feeling of guilt. She knew she had done all she could. It was the shelter, she decided, it always made her depressed. Shelters were such awful places.
Keri Mathews lives in the mountains of West Virginia with her husband, two kids, and six rescued dogs. Her passions include reading, writing, and saving the world.