Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Plus, readers write about their multi-dog households
At the end of last year, Cameron, Lola and I drove north to visit Shana Laursen of Greyhound Friends for Life at her remarkable, 1,000-acre facility in Auburn, Calif., where she cares for both Greyhound and mixed-breed rescues. We had been looking for small, male Terrier to “complete” our family of three female dogs, and saw a photo of a little brindled stray, a Jack Russell Terrier mix, being fostered by Shana, and we were admittedly smitten. We wondered as we made the trip to see our prospective new dog: would he disrupt the delicate balance among our three dogs? What a pleasant surprise when this small, oh-so-sweet, plucky boy pranced center-stage with confidence, like he’d been among us all his life, completing our family so perfectly. All was definitely right in their world—they were once again a pack of four.
Have you noticed that we’re not alone in this scenario? Your friends at the dog park now have two, three or perhaps more dogs, often in a variety of types and sizes. These modern-day packs share a home, people and time together.
Historically, multi-dog households are nothing new. Working dogs have long helped with chores (herding, hunting, hauling, guarding), while “pet” dogs pulled indoor duty, cuddling with younger humans and keeping the pantry varmint-free. For the most part, harmony prevailed. Recently, our four-dog family suffered a loss, and we were down to three, all females. Then we adopted Charlie. As the youngest, and a latecomer with a relatively unknown provenance, he could easily have been a boat-rocker.
Imagine our relief when we discovered that it was quite the reverse. Everything got calmer, tension was defused, the two sibling sisters stopped bickering. There were no fights over bones or other prized trophies, such as everyone’s favorite plush turtle; they even made room on the couch for the new boy. What gives? All our fears of jealousy, rivalry and snarling mayhem gave way to a “go team” attitude. The pack was back!
Curious, I questioned Bark behaviorists to see if this blissful state of multi-dog living had been studied. Could it be that four (or more) really is better than one, two or three?
Karen London noted that even though she wasn’t aware of any research on “the number of dogs and decreased tensions/difficulties,” she has observed that “in households with big groups (five, six, seven), there is sometimes less competition over resources and some increased social flow compared with households of two or three dogs.”
Patricia McConnell, seconded that, and added, “Sometimes more is good. There does indeed seem to be a kind of social inhibition once you get a certain number of dogs together ... but, again, what that number is depends on many things, including the personalities of the dogs.” Both cautioned that it doesn’t always work out so smoothly. McConnell says, “I have had clients who had two or three dogs who got along great until they got ‘that new dog,’ and then everything went south.” As London pointed out, “It’s all different if even one dog in the group is seriously aggressive toward other dogs.”
Barbara Smuts observed that “there seem to be at least three different ways in which a particular dog can enhance multi-dog dynamics: with a calm but very strong and firm leadership; a gentle but decisive intervention when tensions mount; or a ‘good energy,’ cheering everyone up.” She also noted that what I might want to pay attention to in my pack are tendencies to “reconcile” or “console” after a tense episode.
“In recent studies of one captive wolf pack and a group of dogs, individuals showed strong tendencies to make-up after a conflict, and I’ve noticed this in my pack, even when the conflict is very minor and occurs during play,” Smuts explained. “One of the two contestants will approach and nudge the muzzle of the other or lick the mouth. It can be very quick and subtle, but if you watch for it, you may see it happening. In addition, in the dog study, if the two animals involved in the conflict did not reconcile quickly, a third party not involved in the conflict frequently approached the ‘victim’ or ‘loser’ in a friendly way soon afterwards, as if trying to console. Both reconciliation and consolation are well-documented in nonhuman primates, and it’s not surprising that they occur in canines as well. In primates it’s been shown that reconciliation reduces anxiety.”
As for my team, I think that young, frisky Charlie added just the right combination of playfulness and silliness, cheering up everyone, acting as consoling peacemaker and soothing family dynamics.
I would love to hear about your multi-dog household, and what you’ve observed. Share your experiences with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply add your comments. We have already heard from many of you, would love to hear your stories too.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Happy workers, smiling dogs
With approximately 20% of US companies now having a dog-friendly policy and more studies showing the benefits of these policies, there are many worthy and innovative businesses that deserve recognition for welcoming dogs. In recognition of Bring Your Dog to Work Day (June 22) The Bark editors have compiled some notable, dog-friendly businesses.
Autodesk (San Rafael, California)
Bissell (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Ben & Jerry’s (South Burlington, Vermont)
Replacements, Ltd. (Greensboro, North Carolina)
Their formal pet policy requires each dog to be current on vaccinations, on a six-foot leash at all times, and polite to people and other dogs. They emphasize that “your pet’s behavior is your responsibility,” they also stress good training.
Printing for Less (Livingston, Montana)
Clif Bar (Emeryville, California)
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (New York, New York)
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Ten things to look for when selecting your dog’s daycare facility
1. Cleanliness. There should be minimal offensive odor and immediate clean-up of accidents, and the other dogs should be healthy-looking.
2. Playtime provided for the majority of the day. While a two-hour “naptime” is common, during the rest of the day, your dog should have time to play with staff members and other dogs.
3. Proof of current vaccinations. Distemper, parvo, rabies and bordatella vaccinations and/or titers should be required.
4. Adequate supervision. Staff members should be physically in the rooms with the dogs at all times; supervising through a window or a gate is not enough.
5. Safe staffing levels. A good daycare facility maintains an approximate staffing goal of one person for every 10 to 15 dogs.
6. Assessment of a dog’s suitability for the daycare environment. An incoming dog should be tested to ensure that she enjoys the company of other dogs, and should be acclimated to the group slowly and safely. She should be placed in a group of dogs with play styles and energy levels similar to her own.
7. Safety arrangements. Small dogs and large dogs should be segregated.
8. Size of the facility appropriate for the number of dogs. Ideally, each dog needs approximately 70 to 100 square feet of space for safe off-leash play.
9. A staff with experience and knowledge in animal group behavior. Look for staff members who attend seminars, belong to daycare groups such as the American Boarding Kennel Association daycare division, or have experience working with dogs in groups.
10. Appropriate control measures. Avoid daycares where the staff controls the dogs by routinely punishing or physically manipulating them. These control measures include interrupting the dogs by calling them away from a potential conflict, giving short (2-3 minute) time out periods, or redirecting the dogs to more appropriate behaviors.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Eyes in the Sky can help find your dogs
Does your dog suffer from wanderlust? Or during those long summertime hikes, do you worry that she might follow her nose just a little too far and turn up missing? Or would you like additional peace of mind while exploring the backcountry with your dog? A Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device could help allay those concerns. There are now at least five products on the market that can help you track down your pooch. Three require monthly service charges beyond the initial purchase (Globalpetfinder, Pocketfinder and Zoombak), while two employ handheld tracking devices and have no monthly charges (RoamEO and Garmin’s Astro Dog Tracking System).
All of the units, with the exception of the Astro, work by having you set a virtual fence by either walking around the desired perimeter or, in the case of Zoombak and Globalpetfinder, logging the zone size into their system; you are then alerted if your dog, who is wearing the GPS unit on her collar, breaches those limits. (Note: these units do not function as electronic or “invisible” fences.) The units vary as to how the alert is sent and received as well as how the live action of your departing dog can be followed and charted.
Pocketfinder’s PetFinder, the newest ($130, $15/month), uses the nifty Microsoft Virtual Earth platform for its mapping interface. When your dog moves beyond the allowable zone, you receive an alert via a text message or e-mail—meaning you have to have your cell phone or be near a computer to receive it. A prototype was recently tested by a Los Angeles Times writer, who noted that the alert came minutes after his dog had left the zone, and that the map had a slow refresh rate (five minutes).
Zoombak ($200, $15/month) works in a similar manner, but you set the boundary by logging it into their system on a computer. Its mapping interface might not be as refined as Pocketfinder’s, but the device can be refreshed manually, so the wanderer’s location can be established in a matter of seconds. Globalpetfinder ($290, up to $19.98/month) also uses cell phones, PDAs and computers for the alert. You can create a virtual fence of any size through their online command center, and up to five fence locations can be stored. The easiest way to use this device is in its “Basic Mode,” which does not entail setting up a zone; all you do is dial F-O-U-N-D from an account-activated cell phone, and you will be told your dog’s location.
Two cautionary notes: Since many areas have unreliable, or nonexistent, cell phone coverage or less-than-ideal Internet connectivity, be sure your area can be serviced by these systems. Also, almost all of these devices are for medium to large dogs, as the size and weight of the units are likely to overwhelm the small guys.
The two products that use hand-held receiver devices and do not rely on cell phone coverage to track the dog should be more popular with outdoors enthusiasts. The Astro (about $642) by Garmin, one of the first manufacturers of GPS devices, has a range of five miles, and claims to even be able to tell whether a dog is on point (or perhaps sniffing a gopher hole!) or running. The wireless receiving transponder is worn either on a collar or on a harness that holds the antenna upright. The dog’s location is radioed to a handheld unit, which has a compass showing the precise distance and direction your dog is moving.
For those who are less than adept at compass reading, it also has a map page showing nearby roads and other landmarks; the location alerts update every five seconds. With the RoamEO GPS Pet Location System ($400), the radio unit is mounted on its own rechargeable collar and your dog can be detected at a distance of up to one mile; plus, it allows you to set up a virtual fence (making it adaptable to home use). Like the Astro, you can also clock the speed of your dog; up to three dogs can be monitored by one unit.
One of the most attractive features of any of these systems (except for the Astro, which mainly functions as a tracking device) is the alert you receive if your dog strays out of her allowable space. Nothing is better than having a well-trained dog with spot-on recall skills. But for some, knowing that those “eyes in the sky” are watching their wandering pup could provide that extra bit of comfort.
A. Garmin’s Astro Dog Tracking System
D. Pocketfinder PetFinder (Location Based Technologies)
RoamEO GPS Pet Location System
C. Zoombak Advanced GPS Dog Locator
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Groups help pets in need
Making a serious problem worse, record housing foreclosures are escalating the nation’s already sizable numbers of homeless and abandoned pets. Thankfully, some enterprising organizations and individuals are stepping up to lessen the burden on individuals as well as shelters.
For example, the not-for-profit No Paws Left Behind was created specifically to be the “voice” of pets affected by foreclosure; the website has a database of no-kill shelters and foster groups, searchable by zip code. Long-established sites such as Petfinder.com also help people locate shelters in their geographic area. Finally, at least two websites—Homewithpets.com and Peoplewithpets.com—provide free searchable databases for pet-friendly rentals.
Not surprisingly, the housing crisis has also put an additional burden on animal shelters. To help them cope, national entities such as HSUS and American Humane have created grant programs that offer financial assistance to shelters and rescue organizations that are helping families keep and care for their pets.
On the other side of the equation, people who are in a position to help are stepping up too. Perhaps the most inspiring is Mimi Ausland, a 12-year-old from Bend, Ore., who created Free Kibble, a sponsor-supported online trivia game in which each answer scores 20 pieces of kibble for shelter animals. To date, she has donated well over 10 million pieces of kibble to the Humane Society of Central Oregon, and plans are in the works to add more shelters.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lucky dogs frolic in a water wonderland designed just for them
It was June 1989, and we had found our dream home: one and a half acres of grass and woods for the dogs to enjoy and some potentially nice areas for my own gardening pleasure. Privacy, so we could have as many dogs as we liked. Perfect! Oh, and the house was nice, too, all on one level, no stairs—we could grow old there. But it included a swimming pool, something we weren’t terribly excited about; my husband and I knew how much work and expense a pool involved, and weren’t sure it would be worth it. However, our daughter Julie, then 9, was thrilled to have a backyard pool, so we signed on the dotted line and bought ourselves a house.
Initially, our dogs were moderately interested, but while they liked lake swimming and creek wading, the pool was a little scary, and they mostly avoided it. Then, five years later, Sprint, our first Border Collie, came to us. From the start, she loved the pool. An avid retriever, she quickly learned to dive in after a ball or toy. As the years passed and our “dog nation” gradually became entirely populated by Border Collies, it developed that they were the only ones in the pool. The three of them, all girls and all crazy for the water, would drop balls into it for one another to retrieve. After a play session in the meadow, they would dash to the water and plunge in, happy to cool off.
Julie grew up and moved away, and her father and I were not keen swimmers. But we still had to keep the pool chlorinated to prevent mosquitoes, and regular cleaning was required. Then, fate intervened. When some underground piping broke, we were told it would cost thousands of dollars to make the necessary repairs. We decided to fill in the pool (even that was a surprisingly expensive operation). On a whim, I approached a local pond designer and told him my crazy idea: to convert the pool to a pond designed for the pleasure of the dogs and as a focal point of the garden. Could he do it for less than the cost of filling it in? When the answer was yes, I decided to go for it.
The conversion, which took a bit more than three months, was laboriously executed by a crew of two or three men. They broke up the apron, dumped some fill into the pool, built a wall across the middle and crafted stone into the border of the resulting two ponds; the lower pond was about 36 inches deep, while the upper pond was 30 inches. A biological filter was tucked under a bush, and two waterfalls added interest to the space while oxygenating the water. Fish and plants would keep a healthy ecosystem in balance. The first summer, we introduced a half-dozen goldfish into the upper pond. By the following summer, there were several dozen.
Planning Pays Off
Before I landscaped the area around the ponds, I watched the dogs at play. As anyone familiar with Border Collies knows, they are always on the move, circling in consistent patterns; I noted where they ran and placed slate stones to form paths along their established routes. Then I planted around the paths, fairly certain that the new bushes and perennials would be unharmed. I decided there would be no fences, since the whole point of the ponds was for the dogs’ enjoyment, and I wanted them to be beautiful but fully dog-friendly.
To maintain some level of hygiene, I taught the girls to use an undeveloped side yard as a bathroom. It would probably be more difficult if we had male dogs, and sometimes visiting boys mark on the bushes. This is not ideal, but we put up with it for the pleasure of their company.
In the beginning, I had hoped that the upper pond, which is farther away from the house and has ledges for plants, would be mostly for the plants and fish, and the lower pond for the dog play. Amazingly, this has turned out to be the case—the girls play almost exclusively around the lower pond. Some fish have come over the waterfall, but generally, the two species ignore each other. When the dogs decide to run around the whole pond and garden area, the path system comes into use; they stick to these stone runways and do not damage the various plants and bushes around the ponds. It is an ideal setup, successful beyond my wildest dreams.
Putting the Ponds to Use
The dogs’ main activity consists of running around the lower pond and throwing balls for one another. Sprint, the “alpha female,” will carry a ball to the highest spot on the rocky border and stand there, pretending to ignore the other two, who stare intently at her. After some casual mouthing of the ball, she will finally drop it in, or put it down and push it in with her paw. Then the fun begins. All three girls begin circling the pond, whining with excitement, preparing to dive in, changing their minds, running some more. Finally, one of them will take the plunge and return the ball to the steps at the corner. Sprint then grabs the ball and heads for her high spot, and the whole thing is repeated. This can go on for quite an extended period and provides much entertainment for both the dogs and anyone watching. There are endless variations on the theme, and the joy is infectious.
This sort of plan would only be amusing for certain kinds of dogs. The obsessive circling habits of many herding breeds tend to keep them close to the water, providing amusement and exercise without harm to the surrounding garden. The dogs are too busy to dig or explore the plantings. When they are tired, they throw themselves down in the shade, resting up for more water play.
Today, the ponds and their adjacent gardens are a pleasant, non-harmful addition to the backyard environment. Just as a zoo designs different habitats for each species, so I designed this habitat for my “water collies.” The pleasure we all receive from it is immeasurable, and we happily share it with visitors as well.
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Wise choices make your home healthier for you and your dog
Try this: Select a spot in your home and lie down on the floor. Is it the kitchen? Give the floor a little lick. Or the living room? Put your nose on the carpet and take a really deep breath. Then, wander into the bathroom and check out the porcelain “drinking fountain.” Okay, stop the experiment. You get the idea: this is your home from your dog’s point of view. You generally experience your surroundings from a five- or six-foot elevation, but your dog is much closer—and much more inclined to sample her surroundings.
While there isn’t one set definition for “green” or “eco” buildings, there are important general concepts to bear in mind: Energy efficiency, size (it matters), sustainability, use of recycled materials and low impact. Considering that the average US household is responsible for twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the average car, energy efficiency tops the list—aim for good insulation throughout your home, well-sealed heating and cooling ducts, windows and doors weather-stripped, and energy-efficient appliances and lighting. (More tips can be found at epa.gov.)
If you are remodeling or redecorating, use resource-smart building materials, which are safer for you and your dog as well as for the environment. And, before you purchase flooring material, or even paint for your walls, give some thought to the environmental consequences of your choices. Even small changes can have a big impact. Consider using traditional materials—beeswax polish and vinegar and lemon juice for cleaning, for example—zero to low-VOC paint (latex), finishes and adhesives; and non-aerosol products.
Follow suggestions laid out by green-building expert Jennifer Roberts in her book, Good Green Homes. When you are selecting home furnishings or building materials, ask yourself (or the retailer or product manufacturer) the following questions:
• Is it safe and healthy to use in my home?
• Will it introduce irritants or off-gas potentially harmful chemicals?
• Will I need to use harsh chemicals to clean or maintain it?
• Is the harvesting or manufacturing process safe and healthy for workers?
• Is there a safe way to reuse, recycle or dispose of it when I’m done with it?
Green Flooring Materials
Other good flooring materials to consider are concrete, brick, tile (ceramic, porcelain and glass), terrazzo and stone.
Does Green Building Cost More?
Here are two places to start your investigation. If you’re thinking of remodeling or other large-scale projects, visit greenbuilder.com. For tips on home care, see care2.com/healthyliving.
LEED Green Building Rating System
Rapidly Renewable Resources
News: Guest Posts
Confession: I’ve been looking for love online—Match.com, eHarmony—off and on for years. With little success. I’ve made several great friends, dated a few men for short periods, but have failed to find a true partner.
I now realize that my three dogs likely have a lot to do with my on-going singleness. The real question is: Did I create this situation subconsciously-on-purpose? Perhaps. Probably. I love my dog-centered lifestyle.
Many articles about dating bemoan single women’s relationships with their dogs, theorizing that we’re replacing men with our canine companions. After all, what man could possibly be as adoring, forgiving, trustworthy and unconditionally loving as our dogs? No issues regarding toilet seats, either.
Most of us diving into the online dating seas have a list of deal-breakers. Mine include smoking and young kids at home. As I scroll through online profiles, I realize that I also often screen out men who have dogs. Why? I want a dog-loving man; indeed, a lack of affinity for dogs is another of my deal-breakers. But because two of my dogs are aging females, one somewhat reactive to other large female dogs, I’m skipping profiles that show a man smiling beside a large breed dog. If a man has a small dog, I keep reading, but warily. If he has more than one dog, I move on because I can’t imagine trying to combine my three dog household with more than one additional small dog. These are men who in all other respects appear to be good prospects. But if I can’t imagine adding their dogs to my current pack, why bother even making contact? So I don’t.
Then I have an aha moment, putting myself in the men’s shoes: Coming upon my profile with photos of me posing beside two huge wolf-like Malamutes and other photos with my Aussie, they must be thinking….no way! Too many dogs! A dog nut! Deal-breaker!
And they’re right. Dogs—and trail running—are my lifestyle. If a man doesn’t like at least one or the other, we won’t be spending much time together. He doesn’t have to be a runner, but he does have to love dogs, my dogs in particular. With three dogs, my ability to travel, even get away for a weekend or an overnight, is limited. Many men in my age group (50-65) are retiring and list travel as their top interest. Talk about a lifestyle disconnect.
Like many of the women profiled in those articles about the hazards of dating women with pets, I’m quite happy with my life and lifestyle. The thought of all the disruption and compromise required to incorporate someone new is frankly exhausting. Finding the right partner can’t be forced. It needs to happen naturally, with the right person—another dog-nut who accepts my dogs and me (although I’ll continue to hope he’s temporarily dog-less when I meet him).
I’ve decided to save my money; my Match.com subscription has expired. Nor will I try a pet-centric dating site like DateMyPet.com. I hope that the less I try to find the dog-loving partner I desire, the more likely it is I’ll bump into him in some random, casual way. It’s all about timing. Meanwhile, I share my space, time and love with my dogs, who happily reciprocate.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Even in hard times, pets and people provide for one another
When my husband Greg and I decided to have a child, we figured we would make things work by sharing the responsibilities. What we did not anticipate was Greg shattering his leg in a serious motorcycle accident when our son was five weeks old. Suddenly, I was taking care of an infant, six animals and my husband in a hospital bed while I was still recovering from major abdominal surgery (C-section). With no family nearby to help, all of the responsibilities landed on me.
I was determined to tend to everyone’s needs before my own, but I was stretched thin. On top of the stress of being a brand new mom, I worried about how my animals would adjust to less attention and time. Our four-legged “babies” include two wonderful mutts and four great cats. Clyde, our Malamute/Retriever mix, had been hit by a car and left in the overnight drop box in an overcrowded shelter with a broken hip. Star, our Rottweiler mix, was found stranded near a freeway and rescued by the same organization that saved Clyde. Our four cat companions were all adopted from rescues and shelters, too. After all they had been through before joining our family, and the joy they had brought to our lives since then, I did not want to do them the disservice of putting their needs on the back burner.
Luckily, all of the pets accepted our son wholeheartedly. We took small steps to properly introduce everyone, and the animals and baby received a lot of praise. We made sure to pay attention to the animals’ body language, and gave them breaks when things got too overwhelming.
The one responsibility Greg could handle from his hospital bed was holding the baby while I took the dogs for their walk around the neighborhood. I felt that it was very important to keep their walks consistent. Even if I was tired and had had a difficult day, the walk is what they looked forward to most.
Every day, I made an effort with each of the animals. Even though I was strapped for time with having to care for everyone, as well as commute, work, cook, feed, clean and change the ever-producing dirty diaper machine, my animals were also my family members, and I needed to set aside some time, even if it was a small amount compared to what I had given them in the past. In response, my animals showed me they were thankful to be a part of my family. Star even tried to happily lick my son’s hands and feet at every opportunity (a loving gesture, I am sure, but one that did not exactly thrill me given her frequent investigations of the litter box).
Throughout this ordeal, my animals watched me cry and go through a range of emotions: sadness, exhaustion and frustration. Yet they still loved me unconditionally. They never once asked for more than I could give them. I will always be grateful to my pets because they taught me so many lessons in life: genuine love, patience, understanding and how to be nurturing to all members of my family.
I have worked in the animal welfare field for over 10 years, and have seen thousands of animals surrendered because their owners’ life circumstances changed. I understand how difficult it can be to give your pets the same level of care when your life has been turned upside down, and I sympathize with anyone who is forced to make that choice.
My husband and I were hoping our circumstance would be temporary, but at the time of his accident we were not sure if the doctors were going to be able to save his leg. However, after six surgeries and multiple physical therapy appointments, things were starting to look up for Greg and our family. We were thrilled at the news that he would be able to keep his leg and possibly walk again without crutches or a cane. I was incredibly thankful and relieved, as well as hopeful deep down that he would be able to help out more as he continued to heal.
There is still a long road ahead, with more surgeries to come. However, what I learned from my initial experience is how forgiving and supportive animals can be during difficult times. My pets stuck by me through my crisis, and their non-judgmental love gave me strength. I know it will continue as we face other hardships along the way.
I hope my story inspires other families in tough situations to do the best they can for their animals. If you can make even small adjustments, you may be able to keep your pets in your home and out of the shelter where they may not get a second chance.
We are always on the lookout for cool new gear for our active and oh-so-stylish pups, so our ears perked up when Cycle Dog's Metal Latch-Lock Bottle Opener Collar arrived in the mail.
Handmade in Portland, OR, Cycle Dog collects flat bike inner tubes from local bike shops, then repurposes this otherwise unrecyclable material into collars, leashes, belts and more. The inner tube construction obviously means Cycle Dog collars are earth-friendly, but it also means they are soft, durable, and completely funk-resistant - perfect for the active dog who can't help but jump into the stagnant end of the pond.
One of the very cool features of the collar is the Metal Latch-Lock Buckle. The solid, quick release metal buckle is strength tested at over 500lbs, so zero worries about the pup busting free. Then there's the Pup-Top Bottle Opener / Leash Attachment - a clever and useful reinterpretation of the leash ring. The folks at Cycle Dog obviously know that there's not much nicer than sharing a cold one with your best pal.
Also, for the cyclists amongst us, be sure to check out Cycle Dog's Tube Drop program and help keep your old inner tubes out of landfills.
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