The Nighthowler Incident Therapy and Education sessions were held frequently all over Zootopia in the year following Dawn Bellwether’s indictment. The District Attorney’s office refused to pursue charges against any of the predators affected during the event, and instead instituted a program of free counseling and support services in lieu of jail time for any attackers.
As one might imagine, this position was not popular. The most vocal opponents argued that such an arrangement would not bring closure to the attack victims or their families.
Long after the court case had wrapped up, the city was still bleeding.
One hundred and twenty-nine separate cases plagued Zootopia during the Nighthowler Incident, and while all those turned savage by the toxin had been predatory mammals, not all of their victims had been prey. More than a third of those attacked had also been predators. About half of those had been the same species as their attacker.
Considering that a significant number of predators were on the receiving end of the violence, the counseling sessions were given a specific format. This was perhaps the most controversial part of the program: the refusal to segregate predator and prey species. The support group organizers argued that doing so would only continue to worsen the underlying trauma. There were no “Prey Only” sessions; there were no “Predators Only” sessions. There were only “All Mammals Welcome” sessions. The uproar was tremendous. Many thought that the N.I.T.E. program would end in failure before it had even begun.
But it didn’t.
At first the gatherings were small, maybe a half dozen mammals or so meeting together in the conference room of one or another of the city’s many clinics. Then slowly—so slowly—more and more mammals began to attend. They started to bring their friends, their coworkers, their spouses… sometimes even their children. Animals that no one even knew had been impacted by the Nighthowler Incident came forward in droves. Those who did not fully grasp what had happened gained greater understanding.
Not every session went well. Not every mammal left finding peace or resolution. Not all scars were visible, and not all wounds were fully healed. The ordeal had cut them all deeply, in diverse and profound ways. Sometimes the best that they could hope for at the end was to leave the building with their hackles down.
But the talks were helpful to many, and so they continued. The counselors running the sessions did so on a rotation; however, since all the sessions were done pro bono, few would offer their services more than once.
Except for Dr. Leuca.
“You led another nighthowler education class last week, didn’t you?” Dr. Buckner pushed his glasses up the bridge of his snout as he looked up from the clipboard in his hooves.
Melanie Leuca had led the most N.I.T.E. sessions by far. A giant panda who was not a native-born citizen of Zootopia, she was a favorite among attendees and could always be counted on to mediate any meeting that did not have a volunteer therapist scheduled. She was relatively small for her species, with wide brown eyes and a singsong accent to her soft voice. While she was not a predator, she was sometimes mistaken for one. A powerful bear physique and sharp claws made her appear a threat to prey species, despite the fact that she (and every ancestor before her) just used her pointed fangs to tear up bamboo. She did her best not to let the occasional leery glances taint her view of the city.
She loved the city.
“Yes, Friday,” she said, and shifted herself further forward on the uncomfortably plush couch cushion she was slowly sinking into. “It was one-year anniversary.”
It may be strange to think that a therapist would need to see a therapist, but it wasn’t all that uncommon. Not long after her first session, the panda contacted Dr. Buckner—the reindeer in whose lavish office she was now sitting—to talk with about her experiences during N.I.T.E classes. While Melanie wasn’t new to counseling victims of domestic abuse, assault, and rape, it was often difficult to counsel so many at the same time—in the same room—as their assailants (mammals who were also suffering in their own right). The stories that they shared were often horrifying, and although it was her job to listen and guide them to some semblance of tranquility, some days… some days it was more than even a trained professional could bear without support.
Dr. Buckner scribbled on his clipboard. “Hard to believe it’s been a year. That must have been quite an undertaking. Did you enlist any help?”
Scribble, scribble. “Why not?”
Melanie met his eyes and said, “This session was special. An anniversary. Too important to change expectations.”
Scribble, ongoing control issues, scribble. “They expected record turnout for that class, though. Did many mammals attend?”
“Yes, many.” She clasped her paws together and paused for a few moments as she stared at them. “Many came. Many old faces. Many new faces. And one face, not old or new, but… familiar.”
The writing stopped. Dr. Buckner set his pen on the clipboard in his lap and folded his hooves together on top of it.
“Whenever you’re ready.”