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Dog's Life: Humane
What does freedom look like? For some lucky dogs, cats, pigs, sheep, alpacas, cows and horses, it’s endless rolling green pasture and grassland, open skies full of sunshine and starlight, earth under their feet, and companions to play with. It’s the absence of fear, pain and stress. It’s a place in Wyoming called Kindness Ranch, the only USDA-approved sanctuary in the U.S. that takes in all sorts of animals used in laboratory research. At 1,000 acres, the ranch has ample room for the rescued animals who live there as well as for people who like to combine getting away and doing good.
Since its creation in 2006, Kindness Ranch has helped more than 350 animals. Executive Director Maranda Weathermon says they have capacity for about 18 dogs and 20 cats. Given their unique history and lack of experience with normal life, newly arrived dogs and cats live in homelike group yurts (two for dogs, one for cats) with a full-time caregiver providing socialization and rehabilitation. When an animal is adopted, a new one arrives to take its place, and, not surprisingly, there are waiting lists.
Most of the dogs at Kindness Ranch are Beagles, and it was her love for the breed that led Portland, Ore., resident Amy Freeman to discover Kindness Ranch and arrange to volunteer there in June of this year. Amy rescued her first Beagle years ago; the puppy, whom she named Boomer, was a handful. “But he brought me so much joy. After Boomer, I adopted Belle, a 10-year-old Beagle (no more puppies!). Belle died at 13, and then I adopted Spike through Cascade Beagle Rescue.” Freeman’s volunteer work with Cascade Beagle Rescue steered her to the Beagle Freedom Project, which takes in Beagles from research labs. “I started following them on social media, and that led me to Kindness Ranch,” she said. “I came for the Beagles but fell in love with all of the dogs!”
Labs use animals to test human drugs, pesticides, household products, biomedical and dental research, and surgical techniques. Those using dogs prefer Beagles, a medium-sized breed with a good disposition and a propensity for large litters. Of the estimated 60,000 dogs held in research laboratories each year, a significant number are Beagles. They and other lab animals come from Class A animal dealers authorized by the USDA to breed and sell them to research laboratories. When labs no longer need the animals, they are either euthanized or turned over to a rescue organization.
“Most of our animals were involved in pharmaceutical studies,” Weathermon says. “When the study is over, or the animals age out at seven or eight years old, we get them. The dogs mostly come from vet and vet tech schools, where they’re used as teaching aids for students to learn to draw blood, do ultrasounds and perform spay/neuter surgeries. It’s the same story for the cats, although because they’re also used in food studies, some are fat when they arrive at the ranch.” The ranch’s pigs were used for pre-human trials for things like heart valves. The horses came from a Premarin (estrogen hormone replacement) facility, the sheep from a pharmaceutical research study and the alpacas were part of a fiber study using genetic modification.
Like other lab-animal rescue groups, Kindness Ranch has to juggle several ethical issues when working with facilities to take their animals. “Labs are finicky; they keep information close,” Weathermon says. “People trying to stop animal testing often block getting animals placed. So we play it neutral; we don’t name the labs, we keep information confidential. It’s a very narrow line to walk to keep animals safe because it’s easy for the labs to just euthanize.” Ideally, animals would not be used in research or testing, but until that day arrives, the staff of Kindness Ranch focus their attention on making it easy for labs to transfer their animals to the ranch so they can be rehabilitated and live the balance of their lives as someone’s companion.
While volunteering at the ranch, Freeman immediately noticed the strong bond between the staff and the animals. “They truly treat these dogs like they’re their own, one of the family,” she says. “One Beagle, Texas, they hold him like a baby, rubbing his tummy before walks because that’s what he wants; he won’t go for a walk until he’s held that way. I know from my rescue experience how hard it is to let them go; it must be even harder when you’re living with them 24/7. It’s heartbreaking and lovely at the same time.”
Jenny Collins, also of Portland, accompanied Freeman on her June trip to the ranch. While she’s volunteered in many settings— Reading with Rover with her own dog, Best Friends Sanctuary in Utah and Maui Humane Society’s Beach Buddies program—she says that Kindness Ranch was special. “It was amazing, especially because I had just gone to Best Friends in April. The contrast was interesting. Best Friends is also amazing, but on a bigger scale—huge staff, their own vet clinic. Kindness Ranch … no one had heard of it and it has less financial support and staff. I loved it because it’s so small. I felt like being there could make a difference.”
Kindness Ranch is open every day between 9 am and 5 pm. For day visitors, one of the eight fulltime staff members will provide a tour. Vacationers like Freeman and Collins can rent a guest yurt and even bring their own dog if they like (the guest yurts have a small dog yard attached), volunteer with the animals, or simply enjoy the ranch’s serenity. “Almost every weekend in summer is fully booked,” Weathermon says. “Winter is our slowest time for visitors because of harsh weather.” Rental fees pay for maintenance on the buildings, with the balance going to the animals’ care.
Volunteers are usually enlisted to help with dog and cat socialization. “We sat with the cats for an hour or more each morning,” Collins says, “then we’d work with the dogs.” Volunteers can also help clean dog and cat living spaces; stuff Kongs; and walk dogs, accompanied by a caregiver who is also walking one or two dogs, each with equipment suitable to their needs. “The staff would coach us, saying, for example, ‘That one’s reluctant, so don’t pull,’” Collins recalls. “We’d walk each dog about a mile, usually on a gravel road within the sanctuary, letting them sniff, pee, just be dogs. If a dog didn’t want to walk, we’d hang out in the yard. Some were new to collars and leashes—it felt like being back in Puppy 101 class.” The morning and evening shifts are two to three hours each, and volunteers can choose how much they work on any given day. Collins noted that because of its remoteness, the ranch has no internet service. “I read four books—it was awesome!” she said.
Guests renting a yurt also have the option of hosting a dog overnight: one dog per yurt per night, chosen by staff. It’s another way to help socialize the dogs and make them more adoptable. “The first night we had a Pit Bull, Frieda,” says Collins. “She was the sweetest, but shy at first. Frieda discovered the loft. She would peek at us from above with a big smile. That night, she slept with me. She spread herself over the entire bed, leaving me a tiny sliver in one corner.” On the third night of their stay, Collins and Freeman hosted Zoey, a Coonhound. Sweet but nervous and shy, Zoey took some coaxing to get on the couch, where she ended up sleeping. At four in the morning, Collins took Zoey out to pee, and when they came back in, she asked Zoey to get on the bed. “And she did! She was very polite, curled in a corner, so sweet. She touched my heart. You often feel sad for shelter animals, but here, truly, this is the next best thing if they can’t be in a home.”
The ultimate mission at Kindness Ranch is to place all adoptable animals in loving homes.
For the dogs, potential adopters are required to come to the ranch. “They must come to us because our dogs are so special, not for every adopter,” Weathermon explains. “An eight-year-old dog who’s only been on sawdust or in a wire kennel—they need the right home. So we don’t ship them.”
Sadly, not every animal taken in by the ranch can be rehabilitated and rehomed. “We keep animals deemed unadoptable for the balance of their lives,” says Weathermon. For example, Odie, who’s 12 now, has severe medical issues. Kennel spinning destroyed the cartilage in his elbows and knees. He also despises most men and children, so he’s not an adoption candidate. He’s on lots of pain-management medications, and every two weeks, we take him to visit a chiropractor. We spare no expense for animals needing extra medical care.”
A stay at Kindness Ranch inevitably means confronting the issue of testing products, drugs and surgical techniques on animals. That moral dilemma hit close to home for Collins, whose mother was treated for breast cancer. As she notes, before most drugs are tested on humans in clinical trials, they’re used on animals. “I don’t want research done on animals, but if my mom is in a clinical trial, would I want her to receive a completely untested drug? It’s easy to say I love animals, but when it affects me personally, what will I accept? Kindness Ranch was eye opening in ways I never expected, and my thinking on these issues was changed by my time there.”
After learning more about the use of Beagles in labs, and animal testing in general, Freeman vowed to educate others while also making changes in how she buys products. “I started by downloading Cruelty Cutter, a free app created by the Beagle Freedom Project.” The app allows the user to scan bar codes to learn whether a product is tested on animals. When Freeman runs out of a particular household cleaner, shampoo or cosmetic, she replaces it with a cruelty-free product. “I’m making small changes, being more conscious,” Freeman says. “I can make a small difference.” And as we know, small differences can add up to a greater good, so be inspired by the staff and animals of Kindness Ranch: add your own small changes to those of Freeman and others and help create a world where animal testing is no longer necessary. That would truly make a big difference.
News: Guest Posts
When I ran a German Shepherd rescue more than 15 years ago, one of the biggest challenges was emotional blackmail. A dog owner would call me out of desperation or exasperation or they were just done. If I didn’t take the dog right now, he’d end up in the shelter or worse.
Social media didn’t yet exist and online pet adoption websites were brand new. Early on, I felt my only option was to take the dog. The longer I did rescue, I was less inclined to do so. I finally had the experience to know the rescue didn’t have the money or the foster home for it. Squeezing in another dog would affect our ability to care for and advertise the dogs we already had. But it was a horrible feeling, knowing that the owner had come to us as a last resort and we couldn’t offer another option other than the shelter.
Finally, there is a humane alternative: Adopt-A-Pet.com, a nonprofit pet adoption website, just introduced a new, free service for owners who need to rehome their pets. The owner creates an online pet profile that will be viewed by the public. Adopt-A-Pet then guides the owner through a screening process that includes adoption applications, meet and greets, and an adoption contract. The adoption fee can be submitted online and go to the rescue or shelter of the owner’s choice.
This idea is so brilliant it’s a wonder no one thought of it sooner. Perhaps the only negative is that pet owners who don’t care who gets their pet – they just want him out of the house as soon as possible – will not take the time to create an online profile. It was always heartbreaking when an owner would call me and when I asked for a photo, they said they didn’t have any. Clearly, the dog was going to be better off without them.
My hope is that services such as Adopt-A-Pet’s new rehome program will help pet owners take steps well before desperation sets in.
For more info, go to: rehome.adoptapet.com
Dog's Life: Humane
Creating community in neighborhood parks
Successful dog trainers know that a little showmanship engages students, but Jeff Jenkins may be the only one whose resumé boasts being a Ringling Brothers clown. This experience no doubt explains his ability to effortlessly turn the occasional training fail into an entertaining how-to that brings together people of all ages and backgrounds to laugh and learn.
When he isn’t teaching free Pit Bull training classes in underprivileged Chicago neighborhoods, Jenkins inspires audiences as co-founder and ringmaster of Midnight Circus in the Parks, whose mission is to create community, raise funds and rebuild parks. In 2016, it celebrated 10 years of “bringing circus to the people.”
Two of its biggest stars are Jenkins’ own rescue Pit Bulls, Junebug and Rosie Rae. They literally jump through hoops, entertaining and educating Chicago communities under the “Little Big Top.” Together with his wife, MC co-founder and performer Julie Greenberg, Jenkins and a talented cast that also includes aerialists, contortionists, clowns and musicians have raised more than $850,000 for local park improvements.
“At every show, something surprises me,” says Jenkins. “The challenging thing about being in the tent is that the audience is right there, just six inches away. When a kid in the front row is chomping on popcorn and spills some in the ring, on more than one occasion my dog jumped through the hoop and got a piece of popcorn!”
Jenkins first met Junebug when he was teaching obedience classes as part of HSUS’s “End Dogfighting” campaign. A young boy brought his Pit Bull puppy to class in Englewood, a struggling neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. It was clear that despite the boy’s love for her, she was not being well treated. Jenkins offered to provide the dog with a home in exchange for the boy becoming his class training assistant.
When Midnight Circus performed in Englewood for the first time in 2014, it was an extraordinary homecoming for the little tan-and-white Bully. She showed Englewood residents that their dogs could be well trained and well socialized like her. Jenkins observed that if kids see a polite dog in person at their local park, it makes a stronger impression than seeing one on TV or YouTube.
The dogs perform for crowds of all sizes, some as large as 20,000 during Chicago Bulls half-time shows. One would assume that the dogs would be most distracted by the huge crowds, but Jenkins says that smaller groups found in school classrooms, youth correctional facilities and the Midnight Circus prove more challenging.
On one occasion, a fellow dog trainer and family friend proved to be the distraction to Lola, their first circus dog. “We started the routine when I see her start to air scent, ‘I know that smell, that’s Jim!’ Lola scans the audience, locks in, then jumps over three rows of people to get in his lap! He catches her, she’s licking him and licking him, and the audience is totally losing it!”
Jenkins also recalls another more shocking performance incident, one that involved a large group of children. They were having a great time … until the Pit Bulls came out. “Thirty kids were whooping and hollering, and then literally ran out of the tent.” He says it’s not unusual for a few children to be scared; the dogs they know are rarely trained or socialized. But he had never seen so many frightened children. “It was a teaching moment. I repeated the tricks, took my time without any pressure. After the show, I found some of those kids, told them, ‘She’s really friendly, but she’ll slobber when you give her a treat.’ That made them laugh.”
The humor in the dogs’ routine is powerfully persuasive for people who negatively stereotype Pit Bulls. Jenkins will pretend to chase a naughty dog as she runs along the perimeter of the ring. A favorite trick involves the dog jumping through increasingly smaller hoops, which she somehow squeezes through every time. He also gets the crowd excited when they jump rope together.
Unlike Junebug, Rosie Rae, whom Jenkins and his family adopted from Chicago Animal Care and Control, wasn’t always so keen on trick training. (They had visited the facility just to “take a look,” Jenkins says.)
“One hula hoop was okay. I brought the rope out, started jumping and Rosie took off. I had my work cut out for me. I had to go really slow. I knew if I pushed too hard, she’d do it in training, but not at a show. The key is having fun, having the time of their life.”
After working for Ringling Brothers for many years, Jenkins’ jump to HSUS—which had filed repeated lawsuits against the company—caused some conflict among a few members of his big-top circus family. Jenkins, however, found he was straddling two worlds that weren’t as far apart in their goals as each might think.
“Whether you work in a circus or in animal welfare,” he reflects, “both are conduits to community, reaching people to inspire and educate. Animals are an important way to reach out to those with different opinions, different cultures. We reach out to folks who don’t have resources and opportunities. If you help the people, you help the dogs.”
The Midnight Circus will be performing in various Chicago-area parks through mid-October. See the schedule and buy tickets online.
Dog's Life: Humane
These greyhounds get a ticket home.
School’s out for the year, but for the dogs in the all-volunteer Prison Greyhounds foster program, classes are still in session. At the Putnamville Correctional Facility near Greencastle, Ind., two-man inmate handler teams work with retired racing Greyhounds to prepare them for life on the outside.
Specially selected inmates are coached by Prison Greyhounds volunteers; once trained, the men teach the dogs house manners, how to walk on a leash and basic commands. After the dogs are adopted, Prison Greyhounds stays in touch, working with the adopters to ensure a smooth transition, and will rehome a dog in the event a placement doesn’t go as planned.
Inmates selected for this work are nonviolent offenders who, in the process of developing the dogs’ social skills, learn to work as part of a team and be responsible for the success of their canine students. Like the dogs, the men benefit from the experience, as does the larger inmate population.
For example, take Thor, track name, LK’s Hemsworth. The 85-pound tuxedo boy is three years old and described as “confident and friendly.” For Thor and all the dogs it takes in, Prison Greyhounds underwrites the cost of supplies— food, bedding, leashes—as well as vet care, and finds families for the dogs after they graduate from the program. It also provides non-institutional foster homes for dogs who have been retired as a result of racetrack injuries—most commonly, broken legs—and encourages the adoption of dogs with these “repaired fractures.”
Prison Greyhounds’ dogs come from Daytona Beach Kennel Club racetrack in Florida via the nonprofit Greyhound Pet Adoptions of Daytona Beach (GPA Daytona), which is responsible for the full cost of transporting the dogs to non-racing states. This long-distance delivery of Greyhounds from Florida to a better life is pricey: shipping costs for a full load of 28 dogs is $2,100, or $75 per dog. To offset it, Prison Greyhounds has joined GPA Daytona in a campaign they call “A Ticket Home.” Donations are tax-deductible and help dogs on their journey to better lives as someone’s companion.
Prison Greyhounds, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is funded entirely by donations; no taxpayer money is involved and the program is provided free to the Putnamville Correctional Facility. See available dogs and make a contribution to the organization and to A Ticket Home at prisongreyhounds.org.
Dog's Life: Travel
A look inside Sunrise Springs Spa Resort’s Puppy Enrichment Center.
According to philosopher Bernard Williams, “There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” Imagine having four or five of them jockeying for attention, slipping and sliding as they try to gain favor. “Pet me!” “Give me treats!” “Play with me!”
But these young and slightly clumsy little chocolate, black and yellow English Labs aren’t here at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort’s Puppy Enrichment Center just to get their licks in. They’re here being trained to be service dogs for people with mobility impairments; traumatic brain injuries; combat injuries; autism spectrum, seizure, and emotional and anxiety disorders; developmental disabilities; and diabetes.
As part of their training, the dogs are taught to be patient as well as comfortable with being handled and spoken to by many different people in a variety of environments. When they’re older and ready to work, they will truly make a difference in their partners’ lives, helping them become more independent, self-reliant and confident.
This tranquil northern New Mexico resort is able to offer its guests opportunities to interact with the adorable Labs as part of its collaboration with Assistance Dogs of the West (ADW). Founded in 1995 in Santa Fe, ADW now has the largest assistance dog studenttraining program in the world.
The facility at Sunrise Springs is the brainchild of ADW’s founder, Jill Felice, and Sunrise’s Andy Scott. The two longtime friends decided that guests could benefit from contact with these healthy, welltempered dogs and observing their development and training firsthand. The puppies add another level to the spa experience, as do the Silkie chickens, also on the premises and available for guest interaction; the chickens are known for their calm temperament and fluff, which adds an additional layer of relaxation to this wellness oasis. (Marie Claire magazineis calls Sunrise Springs “the perfect escape for the animal lover.”)
The puppies are born at the resort, and staff trainers—professionals, student trainers ranging in age from eight to 18, and veterans with ADW’s Warrior Canine Connection—prepare the dogs to be mission-ready when they’re placed with their human partners. They teach the dogs 90 commands, including how to open doors; climb stairs one at a time; and “under,” which means to put their bellies on the ground under a chair or table when their person sits.
The dogs are also taught to step over Styrofoam tubes to learn agility, fetch rubber balls from a baby pool to learn retrieval skills and even to use a ramp. The trainers take them into public places to further refine the commands. All this helps the puppies become better problem solvers, smarter about handling the critical situations in which their future partners will require assistance.
The puppies’ spacious pen is set up in a large room, and guests are encouraged to interact with the dogs during visiting hours, known at the resort as Open Puppy Studio. In addition, there’s an adjacent playroom well stocked with toys, and a large pen out back. The puppies and their trainers are also free to roam the resort’s many acres of gardens, paths, walking trails and undeveloped land.
Guests are asked to remove their shoes and wash their hands before entering the center. Once they’re inside, Britte Holman, who runs the center and is the first supervisor of this new program, encourages them to engage with the puppies, and answers any questions they might have. She also reminds them that if they wave a ball at a puppy, they must toss it, because the dogs need to know how to follow through. When it comes to assistance dogs, this is especially critical, since when they’re on the job, their people will be relying on them to respond promptly and accurately to commands. This type of training is extremely demanding, as errors can have serious consequences for both dog and person.
Clickers are used to train the puppies, and the reward after a click is food. Other rewards include toys, pats and verbal praise. The clickers are also used to shape and reinforce critical behaviors. The trainers do not use the word “no,” and choke chain collars are never employed.
The dogs help to choose their human partners and are placed with them at two years of age. Some of ADW’s dogs are with their people for life; others work in facilities, such as children’s advocacy centers or with district attorney’s offices, spending their lives with their handlers in homes carefully screened by the organization before placement.
Like all of ADW’s training programs, the focus at the Puppy Enrichment Center is on the dogs’ mental, physical and emotional well being, all of which are important to the eventual heartfelt relationships they will forge with their people. They are truly four-legged solutions to human challenges. Come see for yourself.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
A “Dog-torate” in Occupational Therapy
Niko may very well be more popular than any Big Man on Campus has ever been. He’s not that big, and he’s actually not a man, but this Labrador Retriever spends far more time in college classrooms than most students, and he is adored. Niko is trained as a service dog, and is a key member of the Professor Paws Project at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa. The goal of this program is to help students in the occupational therapy program, healthcare professionals and members of the community learn about service dogs.
The world of service dogs is filled with information that is not common knowledge. Because people are not aware of all the ways that service dogs can, well, be of service, many people are missing out on additional ways to live independently and in fully satisfying ways. More education is part of the solution.
Not very many people know all the ways that service dogs can help people with disabilities, or the proper etiquette to observe around a service dog. Fewer still are familiar with what protections the law offers to service dogs and their people. This lack of knowledge usually means that people may behave in ways that are annoying or unhelpful in the presence of a service dog. For occupational therapists, such gaps in their knowledge could mean doing their jobs less effectively. Service dogs are often underutilized in plans to help a person achieve independence and improve their higher quality of life. The Professor Paws Project at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa aims to change that. With Niko’s help, professors at OU-Tulsa are able to educate students about service dogs with practical, interactive hands-on experience and demonstrations.
By teaching students and other members of the community about service dogs, Niko helps reduce the barriers faced by people who need and work with service dogs every day, and that means that people’s lives are enhanced by the program. Over 500 people receive education each year through the Professor Paws Project, which was developed by Assistant Professor Mary Isaacson. To honor this contribution to the community, the City of Tulsa has just designated May 9, 2017 as “Professor Paws Day”. On that day, Niko will officially walk in the graduation ceremonies. (Think of it as Niko receiving his “Dog-torate”.)
Niko is not the first service dog to be involved with the education of occupational therapy students at OU-Tulsa. Before Isaacson trained Niko, she trained a service dog named Samson, and began incorporating him into her classroom instruction. Samson regularly attended classes, which allowed her to demonstrate the specific ways that a service dog can have an impact on a person’s daily life. Whether it is opening the fridge, retrieving dropped items, helping remove someone’s socks, or turning lights on and off, students were able to see what a difference such assistance can make to a person with a disability.
After training, Samson was placed with a high school student with cerebral palsy. That was 6 years ago, and now Samson lives on a college campus and continues to assist the same person. Having Samson participate in classes during his training and before his placement was so beneficial to students that people recognized the value of having a dog present on campus permanently.
As a result, the goal all along for Niko has been different than for Samson. Rather than being placed with someone as a service dog or working directly with patients, Niko will remain at OU-Tulsa in order to continue educating people about service dogs. As far as staff at the university know, the Professor Paws Project is the only program of its kind. However, its success suggests that this might not be true for long.
Dog's Life: Humane
Pennsylvania animal haven celebrates its 50th anniversary.
What do you call an organization that for 50 years has addressed the medical, behavioral and emotional needs of homeless animals? You call it an inspiring success.
In 1967, Lesley Sinclair left her job as an interior designer in New York City, bought a five-acre chicken farm in New Jersey and turned it into a nonprofit, no-kill sanctuary for homeless dogs and cats. Fifty years later, the Animal Care Sanctuary (ACS)—which since 1980 has occupied more than 130 acres of Pennsylvania countryside in East Smithfield and, more recently, Wellsboro—is still in the caring business. Roughly 500 dogs and cats, all of whom are monitored, microchipped, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered by the sanctuary’s resident vet team, are usually in residence. It has a vigorous adoption program, placing 90 percent of the animals it takes in. For those who aren’t adopted, ACS provides a forever home.
ACS’s no-kill policy was practically unheard-of in the 1960s sheltering world, and Sinclair’s pioneering adherence to it is just one of reasons for the “inspiring” label. Another is its long engagement in out-of-the-box thinking as a way to address the challenges that routinely arise in this type of work. ACS stands out in its embrace of innovative approaches to facilitating animal well being.
One example can be found in its alternative-housing program, which pairs dogs most in need of behavioral help with college-level pre-vet or animal science interns in onsite housing. Within this carefully monitored environment, dogs undergo individually tailored behavior-modification training regimes. To date, the program has a 100 percent success rate, with 24 of its 24 dogs now in new homes.
The organization’s support of shelter medicine also exemplifies its innovative thinking. ACS draws from a deep academic pool, one that includes Cornell, Purdue, Michigan State and Emory Colleges of Veterinary Medicine.
The sanctuary has the benefit of students’ time and attention and the students get a hands-on perspective on shelter medicine, learning the intricacies and demands of caring for the group as opposed to caring for a single animal in private practice. Janet M. Scarlett, DVM, MPH, PhD, professor emerita of epidemiology and founder of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has been instrumental in making recommendations and providing guidance as ACS develops its robust veterinary team and intern program. The sanctuary puts equal effort into community outreach: The two clinics it supports provide the only low-cost wellness and spay/ neuter services in their respective counties. It educates the public on humane issues. And it vigorously advocates for anti-cruelty laws. Fifty years in the no-kill arena is an enviable achievement, and Bark salutes the Animal Care Sanctuary for all the good it’s done, and continues to do, for the most vulnerable members of the companion-animal world as well as the cause of humane treatment of animals everywhere.We spoke to Executive Director Joan Smith-Reese about the changes and stresses that have come about in the last 50 years.
Bark: Whom do we have to thank for the Animal Care Sanctuary (ACS)?
Joan Smith-Reese: Lesley Sinclair founded ACS in 1967 in Toms River, N.J. She was from England, came to the U.S. during the war, was an interior designer in NYC and had a home in Toms River, on the Jersey Shore. She discovered that when beach residents returned home at the end of the summer, they often left their pets behind. She began rescuing those dogs and cats, and the rest is history.
She quit her job, bought a five-acre chicken farm and began the nonprofit ACS. From day one—long before any of the national organizations were focusing on spay/neuter—every animal was altered.
In 1980, after years of fighting New Jersey zoning regulations, she purchased 132 acres in East Smithfield, Pa., which is our current home. We recently added 64 acres at our Wellsboro site, one hour west of East Smithfield. We are so fortunate today to have so much land.
B: Fifty years ago, no-kill was still a pretty novel concept among mainstream sheltering groups. Why was it adopted by ACS?
JSR: That was the marvel of our founder. She believed every life was precious, and while the hope is always for a forever home, if not, we are the animal’s family. This is one of the reasons quality of life is such an important issue at ACS.
B: What kind of stresses, if any, does no kill put on a shelter/sanctuary? How does ACS address them?
JSR: Because there are still so many high-kill shelters in America, people who want to surrender do seek us out. We try to find ways for people keep their dogs and cats. If the issues are behavioral, we offer our services to help put together a plan and work with the owners (although, often, that’s not an option). If economics are the reason, we have a program called Project Home, which provides food, medical care and security deposits if landlords will allow a dog or cat; funding for this program comes from the United Way. The waiting list for owner surrenders is always our first priority, but we also help pull dogs from high-kill shelters, or shelters that want to be no-kill and, with our help, are moving in that direction.
B: What kind of changes has ACS seen and implemented over the past 50 years?
JSR: One really important change has been the advancement of shelter medicine through standards developed by the American Association of Shelter Veterinarians in 2010. The pioneer in beginning this curriculum is Janet May Scarlett, DVM, Cornell professor emerita in epidemiology, who created and taught the first shelter medicine course in the country at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine and serves on the ACS Professional Advisory Committee.
We are also fortunate to have a director of veterinary medicine on staff to coordinate and oversee the vet team that cares for both our sanctuary animals and our two subsidized community clinics.
Another change is the use of behaviorists. ACS is privileged to have two, and their contribution is enormous. Dogs undergo an initial assessment on admission, and then a care plan is developed and modified as needed. Dogs are assigned to the canine care team, and they work on any issues using only positive reinforcement. We do a great deal of enrichment, including animal reiki, music therapy, aromatherapy, long walks in the woods, play groups, swimming, puzzle toys and so forth.
A big change now in the works is the way the kennels are designed. In the 1980s, the center aisle layout—dogs across from and next to each other, divided by chain link fencing—was state of the art. Today, we are in the midst of a capital campaign to change all of that. Our plans are to gut and rebuild our existing kennel so the dogs don’t face one another and have solid walls between them, natural lighting and noise abatement, among other things. It’s a $2.8 million project.
B: ACS has some interesting programs. How did they come about? What’s the process for evaluating and putting a new program into action?
JSR: We are fortunate to have talented staff who think outside the box, so new ideas come quickly. In order to be methodical, we start by presenting a concept at our leadership team meetings. Then, we decide which experts to bring in to help us evaluate our ideas.
A good example is our alternative housing program. We have pre-vet students who live with us for a semester and in the summer, we have far more applicants than we can take, so we needed a way to both whittle down the list as well as help our dogs. So one of our screening tools is “Would you be agreeable to living with one of our behaviorally challenged dogs, understand and accept training from the behaviorist, work with the dog and also collect data, and provide weekly reports?” We met with our Professional Advisory Committee for input and structure, then implemented this program. The interns who participate provide us feedback on what works and what could be improved. We have adopted 24 out of 24 dogs in the program, and the interns were the key.
Dog's Life: Humane
SOI DOG FOUNDATION, established on the island of Phuket, Thailand, in 2003 by British retirees John and Gill Dalley, is the largest animal welfare organization in Southeast Asia specializing in the treatment and care of street dogs and cats. Annually, the organization treats tens of thousands of sick and injured animals, and sterilizes and vaccinates around 30,000 dogs and cats.
In addition to the care and treatment of street animals, Soi Dog Foundation is fighting to end the dog meat trade in Asia. Having successfully closed the trade in Thailand, where up to 500,000 dogs a year were being trafficked for their meat and skin, their focus has now shifted to Vietnam and South Korea, where five million and up to three million dogs, respectively, are consumed annually. Soi Dog is confident that within five years, the consumption of dog meat in these countries will be outlawed.
Dogs rescued from this grim business are sent to Soi Dog’s Canadian and U.S. partners. The foundation is responsible for all health checks well before the dogs are flown to North America. Once the dogs have their health books in order and export and import licenses have been granted, they’re free to fly.
This initiative was originally developed by Cristy Baker, Soi Dog Foundation’s international partner rescue manager, and a friend in the U.S. At the time, Baker was charged with finding adopters for more than 1,500 Thai dogs. Because a dog-by-dog approach was extremely time-consuming, Baker partnered with U.S. rescue centers, each of which took between five and 10 dogs, and put them up for adoption locally.
In Phuket, Soi Dog houses around 600 dogs and 120 cats, and manages to get around 600 animals adopted to forever homes every year, mainly in North America and Europe. The Phuket operation also supports a community outreach program aimed at empowering those who feed street dogs and cats to provide better care for the animals they look after. Both programs will be expanded to Bangkok when time and resources become available.
Every month, the foundation provides food and medical equipment to more than 50 dog-and-cat rescue centers across Thailand, and is also seeking partner rescue organizations in other Southeast Asian countries.
Soi Dog runs a humane animal welfare Schools Education program to foster compassion toward all animals. Changing the thoughts and behavior of the adults of tomorrow toward animals is seen as the primary path to ending the suffering of animals in Thailand and beyond.
Soi Dog Foundation receives no government funding, relying entirely on individual donations to do its work. More than 92 percent of all donations directly support its animal welfare programs.
Editor’s Note: As we went to press, we learned that 58-year-old Gill Dalley, Soi Dog Foundation co-founder, had died after a short battle with cancer.
News: Guest Posts
The more I read about how dogs have been very helpful for answering all sorts of questions in the field of conservation biology, the more interested I got in learning more about this exciting and growing field. Thus, I was extremely happy that Pete Coppolillio, the Executive Director of Working Dogs for Conservation, was able to take the time to answer a few questions about just what these amazing beings—the dogs and the humans—do. Their banner reads: We train the world's best conservation detection dogs & put them to work protecting wildlife and wild places. We do it to save the world. They do it for the love of a ball.
They also note:
Our work with canine programs in Africa prevents poaching and reduces illegal trafficking in ivory and rhino horn.
Partnerships with 50 conservation groups have taken us to
Thousands of high-energy dogs are stuck
How and why did you get interested in this project?
I was doing “traditional” or what you might call mainstream conservation, and we wanted to use dogs to learn about African wild dogs, because at that time, handling them was not allowed in Tanzania. As I continued working, I kept running into species that were either too difficult to capture, or situations where we were unwilling to capture them because it was too dangerous or too expensive. After being in the field a few times with dogs I got very enthusiastic about the possibilities they offer, and started pestering the founders of the organization with questions like, “Have you ever thought about using dogs to track or stop aquatic invasive species?” or, “What about disease? You think they could tell the scats of a diseased animal from a healthy one?” All those questions and a little bit of enthusiasm earned me a spot on the Board of Directors, and then when the organization got big enough to have someone direct traffic and chase money full-time, so I said I would love to be the Executive Director… and here I am. The photo above is of Ngaio Richards and Lily taking a break from Cross River Gorilla surveys to meet with school children in Cameroon.
What are the benefits for conservation?
There are so many really significant ways that dogs can push conservation forward. One of the earliest benefits we saw, and one of the most obvious, is simply how sensitive and effective they are at finding rare species. Some nice work was done in the northeastern US and they demonstrated that, at very low densities—in that case just one individual animal in particular a landscape—dogs were 39 times more efficient detecting that animal than camera traps or hair snares.
We have also demonstrated that dogs can do things that simply weren’t possible before. For example, they can detect the microscopic larvae of zebra and quagga mussels. No matter how hard we look visually, we can't see them so that's a game changer for stopping the spread of those two invasive species, which cost us billions and billions of dollars every year. Another surprising benefit of having the dogs working on stopping invasive species was how quickly they work. It can take a human inspector over an hour to do a thorough job looking for mussels hitchhiking on a boat from contaminated waters, but a dog can inspect that same boat in about three and a half minutes. That's a big deal because many states’ check stations are voluntary, and if there's more than one or two boats in line people will simply keep driving by, or the officers themselves will wave them on so that they don't delay them. The photo above is Alice Whitelaw, during Diesel's training in Montana. Diesel now works with the Alberta Ministry of Environment to keep exotic zebra and quagga mussels out of Alberta's lakes and streams.
Source: With permission of Pete Coppolillio
The final thing I'll mention is our dogs’ impacts for anti-poaching and anti-trafficking. In some areas, Africa has lost around 60 percent of its elephants in the last 10 years. Our dogs not only make it virtually impossible to smuggle significant quantities ivory in a vehicle or container, but they can also intervene and prevent elephants from being killed in the first place. One of our dogs, Ruger, who is a lab shepherd mix rescued from the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana, detected and his handlers seized 13 guns in his first two months in the field. On the face of it, that's an enormous impact, but when you take into consideration that a single gun is often shared by seven, eight, or even more than 10 different poachers, Ruger becomes a one dog force for conservation in Zambia.
Are there any downsides?
I think one of the most important things we've learned—and that's the collective “we” of the organization and the whole conservation detection dog field—is that there are times and places where dogs are the best option, and there are others where the traditional methods still make a lot more sense. Collecting scat and detecting species non-invasively is really valuable and important, but it's very difficult to get mortality data, and by that I mean to figure out what's killing a species, without being able to follow individual animals, and that generally means having to capture and collar them. It's also a little bit uncomfortable when we consider that these dogs are in the middle of very serious and high-level law enforcement. Unfortunately, the people who traffic wildlife are also the same nasty characters who traffic in narcotics, guns and even humans, so this work is not without risks to the people who do it and the dogs to help them. Africa in particular, is also a hard place to be a dog. Trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, can be really serious for dogs and we have had to figure out ways to protect them from it.
What do you say to people who feel that you're using dogs against their will? Do you think this is so?
When I watch a working dog in the field, I wish that for just a few seconds I could lose myself in my work or my passions as completely as a dog does. I think anybody who sees that happen recognizes that these are very lucky dogs who truly love what they're doing. The days of coercive and dominance-based “training” are really over for serious dog trainers. Positive or reward based training is simply much more effective, and of course it's more ethical, so I can say without a doubt that all of our dogs not only want to work; they love to work. Our dogs also live with their handlers. That’s preferable from a technical standpoint because they really know each other well, so the handler can see when a dog struggles or is even just having a bad day, but it’s also nice because the dogs and handlers are partners for their whole lives, not just for their work.
Are there any other organizations that are doing similar work?
Yes, a little over 20 years, ago Megan Parker, one of our founders, started a collaboration with a woman named Barb Davenport, who is the lead trainer for the Washington Department of Corrections, and Sam Wasser, who is a conservation biologist at the University of Washington. Meg and three other women who are all biologists started our organization, Working Dogs for Conservation, and Sam and Barb have started their own organizations as well, and these three are the oldest and most established organizations in the country and the world. We have each grown to occupy slightly different niches now, but we all do similar work. Nowadays, there are lots of conservation detection dogs working in this country, and Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and increasingly in Asia and Africa. In 10 years time I believe that every university, every state wildlife agency, and just about anyone doing serious wildlife work will have or use dog teams. They will be as common as camera traps and radio collars for wildlife research, management, and conservation.
Why do you think it took so long for people to recognize how dogs can help us along and not suffer by doing it?
It's a great question. We've spent decades trying to figure out what wild carnivores are doing, as they run around the landscape leaving little messages for each other in the form of scat, or urine, or scrapes, and it took us until the mid 90s to look down at our own dogs and realize they could read the messages themselves, and even more importantly, they’re keen to tell us about it. It's hard to imagine, given that we've lived with these guys for 30 or 40,000 years, but maybe that's why we've taken them for granted.
What have other conservation biologists said about your project?
People love to see what dogs can do, and when we talk with biologists or land or wildlife managers the conversation almost always leads to new ideas and new ways that dogs can help. It's great fun. Dogs are also a great tool for outreach because people love to see what they can do. We often work on projects where biologists have been studying or working to protect an animal for years or sometimes even decades, and they laugh because the first time a dog comes to help them do their work, the press is there, and they want to hear about the project. This is also a pretty good job to have when you go to cocktail parties. A friend of mine recently introduced me as her friend “the environmental conversationalist”, which isn't far from the truth these days, I suppose.
What projects are planned for the future?
This is an exciting time for us. We've grown a lot, and we've moved from being a service provider who sits back and waits for people to ask for our help, to a real driver in our field. We are now able to try new things, develop new methods, and work in places and focus on issues that we think are important for conservation and the health and wellbeing of wildlife. We're going to continue to grow in two important ways. First, we're shifting towards building capacity. That's just a fancy way of saying that we're going to teach others how to do this work, rather than try to do it all ourselves. We believe that conservation dogs need to stop the illicit wildlife trade by being as ubiquitous and effective as narcotic detection dogs. That's a huge, daunting undertaking. Think of all the borders, airports, post offices, shipping terminals, rail stations, and everywhere else that dogs would need to be. By creating model programs and sharing how we do the work we do, we hope to make it as risky to trade and wildlife as it is to traffic drugs.
The second, and maybe even more exciting, growth area for us is through innovation. Every new laboratory technique opens a door for us, by increasing what we can learn from scat. Just last year some of our collaborators made it possible to detect pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, and heavy metals in mink and otter scats, so we’ve combined these techniques with dogs’ ability to find those scats, to create a new way to monitor the health of aquatic ecosystems. We also started another related program looking at the ways in which poisons, specifically rodenticides, move through terrestrial food webs. The results can be a little bit alarming, because we find contaminants and poisons in places we thought were pristine, but the information is invaluable in documenting the problem and figuring out how to prevent it.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with readers?
No matter how much I do this work, I continue to be amazed at how effective the dogs are, and how tirelessly and enthusiastically they do their work. We really are only limited by the crazy things we can dream up and ask the dogs to do. As more people know about us and see the possibilities that dogs offer, they support our work, either financially, through donations and grants, or by collaborating with or hiring us to try new things and expand the possibilities. It's really amazing how many different issues or problems are limited by what we can detect, so it's great fun and really gratifying to have a bunch of partners who run around with the world’s best chemical sensors on the front of their faces!
Many thanks, Pete. I really appreciate your taking the time to answer these questions. This is fascinating work and I look forward to learning more about your future projects and successes. I imagine there are a lot of dogs who would love working with you. You can contact Working Dogs for Conservation here.
Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in early 2017.
This story was originally published by psychologytoday.com. Reprinted with permission.
Dog's Life: Humane
The labels are often wrong.
In most shelters, each dog’s kennel run or cage has a card on which the dog’s likely breed (or breeds) is indicated. Sometimes, they’re generic: Shepherd mix or Terrier mix. Sometimes they’re more specific—Husky/Dalmatian cross, say. And sometimes, they indicate a specific single breed. These labels can also be found on shelter websites and search sites like Petfinder.com.
The fact is, nearly all of these labels are guesses. Yes, there are DNA tests, but shelters can’t afford to DNA test every dog. Instead, they rely on staff members’ judgment; they look at a dog, pull out a breed book or consult an array of mental images, and choose a breed or two off the list required by their software.
Some shelters have changed their labels to try to make this clear: “Looks like …” or “We guess that …” However, others go further and eliminate breed labels entirely. As a result, they say, the adoption process has been improved; in some places, adoption rates have improved as well.
What’s the argument for eliminating breed labels? For many, the issue started with Pit Bulls.
Looks vs. Genes
Most shelters are full of the mediumsized, short-coated, blocky-headed dogs who tend to get labeled as Pit Bulls—a type for which there is no legal or kennel club definition. But a number of studies have shown that people’s guesstimates often don’t match a dog’s true genetic heritage. In one study, staff members at four shelters were asked to guess the breed of 120 dogs. Fiftyfive of the dogs were identified as some kind of Pit Bull, but when they were DNA tested, only 36 percent had ancestry from one of the recognized bully breeds (generally, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier). Five of the dogs who did have one of these in their DNA hadn’t been labeled as such; the guesstimates missed 20 percent of the 25 actual Pit Bulls.
In this context, making a mistake about breed type is a big deal. There are places where it’s against the law to own a Pit Bull, or where you can’t get home or pet insurance if you have one. Even where that’s not the case, the name still carries a stigma.
A recent study—“What’s in a Name: Effect of Breed Perceptions and Labeling on Attractiveness, Adoptions and Length of Stay for Pit Bull-type Dogs” —showed that in a shelter where breed labels were eliminated, the adoption rate for Pit Bulls went up, their euthanasia rate went down 12 percent and their length of stay at the shelter was reduced. Another interesting finding was that while adoption rates increased the most for Pit Bulls, they went up for other dogs as well. “All the dogs benefited,” says Lisa Gunter of Arizona State University, Tempe, one of that study’s authors. “That was something that we weren’t anticipating.”
Others who’ve seen the effect labels can have might not be surprised by those results. “We would notice that people would walk through the kennel and they weren’t looking at the animals inside, they were looking at the kennel cards,” says Kristen Auerbach of Austin Animal Services. “And then, depending on the breed, they literally never even looked inside the cage. It quickly became clear that this wasn’t a Pit Bull issue, it was a bigger issue.”
It’s frustrating for many reasons to watch shelter dogs being rejected purely on the basis of breed stereotypes, particularly since most breeding now selects for appearance rather than function. “The more that we breed purebred dogs for looks, the less likely those things we started the breed for are going to hold true,” says Barbara Hutcherson of Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Herndon, Va. “So you might have a dog in front of you that’s a lovely quiet dog that you’ve had in foster and you know [the dog’s] not noisy—but try convincing someone, when you say ‘Beagle’ and they think ‘noise.’”
Relying on traditional breed characteristics is even more absurd when you’re looking at a mix. “We don’t understand how individual breeds play out in the behavior of the dog,” says Gunter. “A first-generation cross of Labrador and Border Collie doesn’t mean [the dog is] going to swim well and herd sheep. That’s not how genetics works.”
Too, we all seem to share an unspoken assumption that a mixed-breed dog is a dog with two purebred parents, when usually nothing could be further from the truth. Gunter is involved in a study that DNA tested more than 900 shelter dogs. Results for nearly 80 percent of the dogs showed two-plus breeds (the plus indicates that no specific purebred could be distinguished for at least one great-grandparent) and ranged up to five-plus breeds. On average, a single breed contributed around 30 percent of a dog’s heritage. Gunter feels strongly that the usual cage cards are a huge oversimplification. “It does a disservice to the complexity of shelter dogs, and to who these dogs are,” she says.
Changing the Conversation
Given that most of the labels are complete guesses, it begins to make sense that some shelters have decided to remove breed from the conversation. “I think the real benefit of not talking about breed is that it allows you to talk about the dog as an individual—that this is what we’ve observed about this dog,” says Hutcherson. Shelters that have eliminated breed labels report having better conversations with potential adopters, conversations that in some cases might not have otherwise happened.
“What this does is … force people to go through the kennels and come back and ask us, ‘What breed is that dog?’” says Lauren Lipsey of the Washington Humane Society (WHS) in Washington, D.C. “Previously, they … wouldn’t have had to engage us in conversation and could just walk out because they didn’t like the answer.” Now, Lipsey says, when people ask about a breed, staff can dig down into what they are really looking for. “What is it about that breed? You want a dog you can run with? Great, we have a ton of those. A dog that is good with children? Let me steer you toward these dogs that have lived with children. Just because that animal looks like a Lab doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good with children.”
Still, some of us really do want a particular breed. Auerbach doesn’t consider that a problem for those people, or those dogs. “In the shelter, people can walk through and they’re going to make their own identification anyway: ‘That looks like a Poodle and I want a Poodle.’”
Gunter suggests that without labels, potential adopters might actually be more likely to find their desired breed. In considering the reasons why adoption rates went up across the board in her study, she says that it’s important to remember that people disagree on visual breed identification. So breed labels may actually steer people away from dogs they’d otherwise consider.
Leave it open, and they may see that dog in the shelter after all. “If they view a dog as a Cocker Spaniel, then the dog’s a Cocker Spaniel, and if someone else views [the dog] as a Springer, and that’s what they would like, then that dog is there,” she says. “By removing the breed labels, the dog can be whatever that person wants that dog to be.”
New Code Needed
One apparent contradiction is that nearly all shelters still display breed labels for the dogs on their websites. This is because most software programs used by shelters require a breed label to create a record, and automatically display the label online. WHS is one of the few to have figured out how to get around that programming demand, which required writing their own code. Still, their dogs still show up with breed labels on search sites.
Auerbach, who has participated in eliminating breed labels at two shelters and gives presentations on the topic at industry conferences, finds shelter software companies’ reluctance to make changes frustrating. Greg Lucas of Shelterluv.com says that while his company’s software is one of the few to allow a shelter to designate a dog as purely a mix and choose not to display breed labels on their own websites, that’s not the end of the problem. They still have to find something in the search site’s breed list to match up to, or the posting will be rejected. A representative for Petfinder.com points out that the site does allow more generic breed group designations like “Terrier” or “Hound,” and says that the company is “looking into” the idea of being able to eliminate breed designation entirely.
It’s possible that people who are looking for a dog via these sites are a different population from those who come into the shelter to browse. “I do think that the audiences are different,” says Lipsey. It’s also true that these search sites aren’t the only way to find a dog online anymore. For many shelters, promoting individual animals via social media has become a big part of their outreach. The Fairfax County Animal Shelter found that 50 percent of adopters came in after seeing a pet on their social media, where they don’t talk about breed. And Lipsey says that while the majority of their adopters come in to adopt a particular animal they’ve seen online, they’ve typically accessed the information on the shelter’s own website, which does not have the breed labels.
Eliminating all breed labels may seem radical, but there’s no reason a shelter has to go all the way. “What we’re arguing is that shelters should have an option,” Auerbach says. Label an obvious Pug as a Pug, but why be forced to make a wild guess about a dog who is probably a mix of many breeds? And it seems that shelters are enthusiastic about the possibility; Auerbach says that the conference presentations she gives on this topic are packed.
In a sense, there’s nothing new about the idea. In fact, it’s the practice of pigeonholing all dogs into a mix of two breeds that’s new. Auerbach thinks that the reason so many medium-sized, short-coated dogs are called Pit Bulls is that we’ve lost much of the vocabulary we used to use to talk about dogs. “We all remember that for our grandparents, the dogs were mutts, they were mongrels. We had more language to describe mixed-breed dogs,” she says. “Pit Bull has kind of replaced mutt, and that’s a problem.”
Our grandparents didn’t need DNA tests to recognize the complexity of mixed-breed dogs. “When they talked about ‘Heinz 57,’ that’s what they meant,” says Auerbach. “Not two breeds mixed with each other, but many.”
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