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Category Archives: Advanced Training

Euka first semester update

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Now that, says Euka, was a play session! 

You must really be mad at that little yellow dog, says Bodine. The benevolent ruler of Sword House strolls into the kitchen while I’m putting some sandwiches together.

Ooh, is that roast beef? he asks.

Ack! Get off the counter, Bodine! I say. Take those litter box feet of yours back to the floor. And what? I must be mad at who?

The cat makes a clear, and rather impressive, leap over to the dinette table. He lifts a hind leg and gets down to personal hygiene business.

Let  me know when you’re done on the counter, willya, says
Bodine. I have some important business to tend to. 

I’m talking about that little yellow dog, says Bodine. He’s speaking slowly so I can understand this time. You took her outside hours ago and never brought her back in.

What are you talking about, cat o’mine? I say. The puppy is right here. See? Holly’s on the dog bed in a Down Stay. Right, Holly? Good girl, you. 

Not that tail biter, says Bodine. The other one. Wow, you really don’t remember, do you? Maybe you should start writing this stuff down. 

Wait, I say. Are you talking about Euka? Bodine, you dip, we turned Euka back over to CCI for her Advanced Training. It’s been over two months ago. 

You don’t say, says Bodine. He waves a dismissive paw in the air. Well – a few hours, a few months – it’s all the same around here. If it’s not one dog, it’s another.

He shifts his cleaning efforts to his other cheek. Huh. So you’re telling me, says the cat. That we’ve swapped out yet another yellow dog? Can’t we just install a revolving door or something to speed up the process? Hey, you know what? I’m not even going to bother to learn their names anymore.

Right. Why start now? I say. Anyhow, I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear that Euka is doing well in the Advanced Training program. 

Oh, indeed, says Bodine. Here, look. This is my Glad face. He goes back to his cleaning efforts.

Ok, smarty cat, but she is, I say. Her first semester report card came in and we’re really proud of her. Her trainer says Euka’s taking on the new commands quite nicely.

Ok, I’ll bite, says Bodine. Like what?

Well, it’s nice you care enough to ask, I say. That’s sweet of you to … can you not lick that area in front of me, please? Thanks, dude. So the monthly report card is split into sections. The first part shows the training in progress.

She’s building on the commands she learned with us, I continue. Her trainer will work her on the basic commands from a wheelchair, so a Heel looks different to her now. And retrieve is an enhanced command now, too. Euka will learn to Hold an object for a length of time.  

The Push command is totally new to Euka. She’ll respond to Push to close drawers or doors. Ok, imagine this Bodine … an assistance dog learns how to open a refrigerator door, retrieve a can of soda for her handler, then closes the door with a nose push.  

Gotcha. Imagining that, Bodine yawns.

And a reminder why we’re not talking about assistance cats, I say.  Anyway, here’s the best part. The second section of the report card is for positive behaviors. And Euka’s trainer has checked off every one of them. 

Are you sure you have the right report? asks Bodine. Just sayin’.

Miss Euka, star pupil

You know, it’s funny you would mention that, I say. These first semester reports usually have something that is a head scratcher for a puppy raiser. The dogs tend to show something brand new that they didn’t do with us. After all, it’s a wholly different environment and handler. Of course, we should expect to see some different behavior as well. 

So, you’re surprised that she’s doing so good, huh?, says Bodine. Yeah, I can see that. Yep. If memory serves …

Actually, Bodine, truth be told, I have to admit that our Miss Euka is holding her own in Advanced Training is nothing less than what I expected out of our girl, I say.  What has me surprised is the third section of the report card.

Which is what exactly? says Bodine.  She’s learning how to make sushi? Understands how to use the DVR remote? Got her black belt in Dog Yoga? Tell me, what amazing feat has the golden child accomplished that has you so gobsmacked?

Well, I say. Again, you need to keep in mind that she’s in a new environment. 

Ok, so she’s not an architectural engineer, says Bodine. Got that. So what?

Euka showed a fear response in her behavioral assessment, I say.  Not so much that the trainer is overly concerned. Really, she said she wasn’t sure if it even needed mentioning. Just something to note and watch.

That dog, The Euka, was afraid of something? says Bodine. You have to ask for the right report. You know something got boogered here, paperwork-wise, don’t you?

From the start, Bodine and Euka had
an … interesting … relationship.

I know, it’s weird, right? I say.  Here’s the thing. It was early on and could be simply due to the lifestyle change. If I know that polar bear like I think I do, she’ll shake it off and carry on.  

Which makes sense, says Bodine. So, when’s the next report?

Later this week, I say. It’ll be the second one we get. Then if all goes as planned, we’ll see another four monthly reports after this and before her Advanced Training is completed. Keep your paws crossed for good news.

I’ll be sure to do that, says Bodine. In my spare time. In the meanwhile, Food Lady, you might be interested in this little news flash. 

Oh really? I say. Is the cleaning ritual finally finished? All attention is now back to you, my benevolent ruler. How may I serve you?

Oh, it’s not me, says Bodine, smugly. It’s about the spotted dog.  How long ago was it that you let the Jager outside?

Holy cow! I say. I forgot! Jager! Here! Cookie!

Hey, it’s not like I should tell you your business or anything, says Bodine. But you do really need to start writing this stuff down. I think this might be a two cookie day for the Jagerhund. 

Um. Hello?

Do the Hokey Pokey

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Micron poses at the P&G headquarters

He slaps a right shake in.
He pulls his right paw out.
He slaps a left shake in.
And then barks and barks about.

And so goes the Hokey Pokey, Micron-style.

Here’s the recurring scene in the office. Someone has a cookie for Micron. He knows it. Nothing for free is drilled into his golden head, so he must execute one of his highly trained skills.

But in all the excitement he instead suffers a short-circuit in the memory neurons. Every. Time.

Shake! thinks Micron. I know this one! Give me five! No, wait! I’ll use the other paw! What? Why are you still talking and not giving me the cookie! Did you want me to Speak? I know that one too! 

And the three actions – right paw Shake, left paw Shake and Speak – are looped until the cookie is finally and safely tucked away in the great Micron maw.

Doesn’t he know any other commands? asks a colleague.

Oh sure, of course, I say. He does a nice solid Heel. Watch this. Micron! Heel!

Micron? I say again. Heel! Hey, Mikey … hello?

I wave my hand in front of his face, but he refuses to break eye contact with the prior cookie profferer.*

It’s ok, says my colleague. Don’t embarrass yourself.

There was a time, ok let me think a minute, let’s say about May 2011, when this dog knew a full thirty commands. Thirty, people. Speak, Shake and a whole twenty eight more. I’m not making this up. That was when we had sent Micron off to college. You know, dog college. He spent three months at Canine Companions for Independence to learn how to be an assistance dog before it was decided he should pursue another career path.

And now? Today, Micron is a pet. He has decent manners, holds a GED of sorts with a Canine Good Citizen certificate, and is a sweet, sweet boy.

Ok, there’s more. Micron is also an active volunteer in pet therapy, a job that it seems he was born to do. We should all be so lucky, right? Do what we love?

But highly trained? We don’t use those words with the mighty Micron. Well, not without air quotation marks.

Ah, I see, you say. But is it that he doesn’t remember those thirty commands… or just that he doesn’t want to?

Is there a difference? I ask you.

But I do lay claim to some bragging rights here. Because the dog is so proficient in Speak that we actually have two commands for the feat of barking on command.

Don’t just take my word for it though. Micron will demonstrate.

See? Told ya.

What? Are you still stuck on that thirty command thing? Wondering what these assistance dogs-in-training actually learn? Well, hold onto your britches because you know what? That’s just the beginning — those thirty.

CCI builds on the foundation the volunteer puppy raisers created with Shake, Speak, Down, Kennel, Heel, Side, Bed, Car (No we don’t teach them to drive. Really, people), and et cetera.  For instance the Shake command is upgraded in Advanced Training to a target command to flip a light switch.

Even better, let’s take a look at another short video. This gives a deeper look at what happens at a Team Training; two weeks of an individual and fully trained assistance dog learning how to work together.

Spoiler: tissue alert

Ok, dab your eyes, y’all.  Don’t worry about the mascara trails, though. Nobody’s judging you.  But you’ll want clear vision to see this next one, too.

Just what can a fully trained assistance dog do to change the lives of our country’s wounded warriors?

Yeah, this.

We don’t teach our pups a command for empathy or for warm companionship. Or give them that remarkable sixth sense that these furries have that makes us wonder if they can see into our very souls. 
That’s just being a dog. We should all be so blessed to have this in our lives.
And that’s, people, what it’s all about.**
__________________________________
*Prior Cookie Profferer.  In spite of my spell check’s squiggly red line, Profferer really is a word. It’s in the unabridged Merriam Webster. I originally had typed Procurer before realizing that was actually very, very wrong. 
**Get it? We went full circle back to Hokey Pokey. I’m real clever like that. Never mind that I had to explain myself. 

Why we do the things we do

Do you hear that? I ask my Favorite Kid. I turn down the car radio and look into the side mirror. It sounds like someone’s yelling, doesn’t it?

We’re sitting on I-70, a normal highway on any other day. Today however, we’re all in supporting roles as this freeway of life impersonates a mall parking lot at Christmas. We’re tooling along, kind of, but walking would indeed be faster. But not safer. This snowstorm now upon us was quick, intense and completely unexpected.

It’s the people a couple cars back. Derek says as he turns to look behind us.  A lady is shouting out the passenger window at another car.

Are they ok?, I ask.

Yeah, he says. She’s telling that one guy to let them over in his lane. 

Huh, I say. Now I feel so old school. Nothing shows your age like the use of turn signals. 

And since I don’t have anything better to do at this moment, I watch the car behind, passenger still hollering from her open window, shift awkwardly across three lanes of stop-and-go traffic. They run out of asphalt road on the far right, then proceed in haste along the emergency lane.

What is it that motivates people to do what they do?

Look, I kinda get it. There’s something about being stuck in traffic along a long stretch of nothin’ to bring up feelings of regret about that last refill of iced tea.

Hey, Derek, I say. I just remembered I need to go the bathroom. Roll down your window and help me get over a couple of lanes, willya?

He looks at me, blinks, and puts his ear buds back in.

Fine, I say, turning the radio back up. Just … fine.

With Miss Euka sleeping soundly in the back seat, we’re driving back home from the Canine Companions for Independence February graduation. Always a grounding experience for this puppy raiser, it’s a trip that I mark on my calendar each quarter. Since getting involved with CCI in 2008, I’ve only missed a slim few of the graduations.

Because, my friends, it’s these celebrations that are a reminder of why we puppy raisers are motivated to do what we do.

This little guy is waiting for his perfect
match.

You see, sometimes seeing the bond of the new dog and handler teams brings a tear to one’s eye. It’s so perfect, we sigh. And then you have last Friday’s event, where we were all pretty much using our shirt collars, or even jacket sleeves, to mop up the mess.

The graduation ceremonies mark the end of training for the pups that we put so much love into. At two years old, the dog is fully socialized, thanks to the noble efforts of their volunteer puppy raiser, as well as highly trained in the skills of being a service dog after six months with the professional trainers at CCI.

Not all the dogs will complete Advanced Training, though. Actually, less than half will make it this far. CCI has high standards for these dogs and, honestly, would we want it any other way? It’s the best of the best that are out there, y’all.

The elite few dogs that have chosen a career as an assistance dog will next be matched to a person to help mitigate a disability. Or perhaps teamed with a handler as a Facility Dog for such jobs as goal oriented physical therapy. Did you know … CCI provides four types of assistance dogs? (You can learn more directly from their website by clicking here.)

At the end of the six month Advanced Training program, the next step is Team Training with their new partner. CCI matches the dog’s abilities to the needs of an individual, adding and customizing commands over two intensive weeks.

And finally, the graduation ceremony. The ceremonial “handing over the leash” from the puppy raiser to the graduate happens here. Last Friday, we watched as ten children received their Skilled Companion Dog. Another eight adults accepted the leash with their Service Dog.

Oh, but something different this time. Before the ceremony, each graduate was asked to say a few words on what their new partner means to them. These thoughts were recorded and shared at each introduction.

This is the best day of my life, says one young lady.

A mom speaks for her son and, with her own voice breaking, tells us that in the last two weeks her son is now more accepting of human touch.  

Another boy, in his own words tells us that his dog keeps him calmer during the times he feels like acting out.

My dog will be with me all the time, says another. I won’t feel lonely. She’s my best friend.

And we see … we see this, people … the dog walking up to the front of the room with their puppy raiser. That moment when they realize their partner is waiting there. Their step is lighter, the tail goes from happy wag to oh-my-dog it’s my person wag. The bond is there and it is strong. It won’t be broken. It can’t be.

That one moment suspended in time. And yet, it’s just the beginning. A social bridge for a child with a disability. An opportunity to reach a goal that was out of reach just a few days before. A new independence. A release of the fear of vulnerability.

So why do volunteer puppy raisers do what we do? What is our motivation?

That some day we can be the one handing that leash over to someone. To know the blessing of having a small part in this miracle of life.

It’s a simple as that.

This is what grounds me, especially as I realize this is the last CCI graduation ceremony we will attend as merely spectators, Euka and I.

Miss Euka will be matriculating into the Advanced Training program in May. Three months from now. We’re almost there, almost ready.

This dog of mine, who isn’t my dog, will be heading off to dog college. Our journey together will come to an end as we take separate paths.

We gave her wings to fly high. To go do great things.

And this is why we did the things we did.

Wordless Wednesday: Piece of my Heart

Jorja – this beautiful creature is returning to CCI on Friday to begin the
 Advanced Training program to be an assistance dog.

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them, and every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”  -Anonymous

Ah, I love this bit of profundity. A worthy life goal courtesy of the ever prolific Anonymous. This has hit a chord with me and many other volunteer puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence this week. 

Puppy raisers will be turning in their charges this week, the pups they’ve raised for the past fourteen to sixteen months. And many of these same folk will also be picking up their next CCI pup to raise.

Jorja’s puppy raisers are two of those folk. After the good bye hugs and a few tears, Jerry and Jerri will  pick up Emma to raise next. Their nineteenth puppy to raise for CCI.  

Kind of like the circle of life, but with more dog hair on your clothes.

Yaxley changes his career path

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Alrighty ladies . . . who played with Barbie dolls when you were a kid.? A show of hands, now. No, it’s ok, nobody can actually see your admission here. Oh hey, remember those GI Joe’s we had in the 70’s? They were the same scale as Barbies and were all manly in their fatigues. These guys sported a fuzzy low fro and absolutely wicked facial scar. Ok, now who had a GI Joe instead of a foppish Ken to marry your Barbie? Oh yeah, it’s this kind of stuff that made us the women we are today.

Hubba, says Barbie.  
Yeah, I’d have his baby.

I actually recall that life changing moment when I realized Barbie’s ridiculous proportions. Stubby tween fingers are fumbling with the tiny snap on her mod pink and orange paisley miniskirt, when it occurs to me that I’ve never met a women who looks like this. With her big perky girls casting a shadow over that wasp waist, she had us believing in something that would never develop.

Not my mom, her friends, my teachers. Not even those cute girls on Hee-Haw.  No woman alive looks like this.  And that means I won’t have a body like this either. Curse you and your sweater-stretching bosom, Barbie. You betrayed us all. 

I don’t remember crying over this coming of age knowledge; this loss of innocence. But I did realize that there would have to be some rework on that trophy wife career plan. Yep, better crack open that pre-algebra text book after all

I still think about what I want to be when I grow up.  I no longer wish for Barbie’s impossible proportions as much as I just want clothes that don’t hurt when I sit down. Oh, and I want to be taller. And thinner, too. Definitely thinner. Ah, if wishes were horses . . . oh yeah, and I want a horse.  A friesian. [sigh]

We can plan all we want and maybe even try to get a preview of our destiny. At ten years old, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t someday be shaped like my statuesque Barbie doll. At fifteen years old, it became clear I would never reach more than a couple inches over five feet tall. Married at twenty, survival was the word of the day, not college. Those romantic dreams of an exotic career turned into an office job in finance. Yet today, as I slip into what is likely the second half of my life (yikes!), I feel like destiny has been kind to me.

I’m not exactly where I thought I would be. But right here? It’s good. And you know, I rather like it right here.

Yaxley changes his career path

On matriculation day

So our little Lord Yaxley decided after a month at Advanced Training at Canine Companions for Independence that this career as an assistance dog is just not for him.  He said his passion is to be a family dog.  I’m really good at cuddling, he says. And I’m pretty handy with little kids, too. I think maybe I could be a nanny like that dog in Peter Pan.

A dear friend and co-worker has adopted Yaxley. A young family with a little boy that Yaxley can have for his very own. It’s a beautiful arrangement that seems to fit together so very naturally. He’s moving in pre-loved as she has been close to Yaxley as he grew up in the office.

When Luke cries in his crib, she says, Yaxley goes into his room and lies next to the bed. He gets there before we do.

So he doesn’t try to avoid the crying and all the noise? I ask.

No, she says. Yax is by the crib with a concerned look on his face. Like, what took me to long to get there?

But, she adds, he does steal the binkies that Luke drops. Sometimes I find one in the backyard.

The little stinker. Well, that’s just Dog Rules, right? If it’s on the floor, it’s mine. I know, I know. A service dog would retrieve the binkie and give it back with only a hint of dog slobber. But now he’s a beloved pet. We’re back to fundamental Dog Rules.

Micron and I are happy to see Yax on the days he comes into the office. The two fellas started right back up where they left off. Hogging attention and stealing chew toys from each other, the stuff of best friends.

So today Yaxley isn’t exactly where I thought he would be. This wasn’t the destiny I had envisioned. But now that this is where he is? It is perfection. It is peace of mind. It is right.

Yaxley is indeed right where he belongs.

Yaxley’s Progress Report #1

Yeah, ok. But they feed you here, right?

For those of us that have sent our favorite kids off to college to grow their wings, well, you know how that feels? With a kiss and a long hug, you give them the nudge as they move on to grasp the responsibilities of adulthood.  Make good choices now, we say holding back a tear.

And now are they making friends, but paying attention to their studies?  Remembering to eat right? Oh, I hope he’s getting the sleep he needs.

For some of us puppy raisers, it takes a while to relax and let go of these same worries about our former furry charges in Advanced Training. That first phone call from CCI helps the mental process move along.  We talked with Yaxley’s trainer this week.

She tells me that he is adjusting just fine to his new digs and playing nicely with his roommate. He’s met more dogs in group play and building his confidence. They’re moving through the initial health checks now with Yaxley, but only worked with assessing training skills briefly.

Over the next month Yaxley will be introduced to the more complex commands he’ll need to know as an assistance dog. So, we hang loose until the end of September when we’ll get the next update.

Do well, our awesome yellow dog. You’ll be in our thoughts every day.

You’re kind of a big deal

A gift from CCI pup in training, Rocket.
Rocket is being raised in Colorado and has his own dog blog.

Which color do you want, blue or purple?

Gimme the purple one.

Don’t draw a dog. It’ll just make you sad.

With purple crayon poised over the white butcher paper covering the restaurant table, I hesitate. What to draw while we’re awaiting our pasta dinners?  Sorely lacking in any artistic ability, I could do the same clever little cartoon fish that I usually scrawl out, but I ordered seafood and that seems insensitive. Ugh, quit being silly, I tell myself. My mood is in a bruised state and I’m getting weary of putting on a brave front.

We pass the time by writing our names upside down and with our non-dominant hands. 

My Favorite Kid, left handed and right brained, is the artist of the family. While I draw the crayon version of a play-doh snake, he creates a very nice portrait of “Labrador retriever in blue crayon”. 

You told me not to draw a dog because it would make me sad, I say.

It makes me happy, he says.

Ah, he’s got the right attitude. Let’s celebrate the journey that brought us to where we are right now. And I begin to feel a little better about this end of a busy day. Twelve hours filled with the roller coaster extremes of emotional highs and lows.

We arrive in Dublin in early morning with Yaxley in tow to meet up with other CCI puppy raisers for training and workshop. That’s Dublin, Ohio (the Heart of America!), the same state that holds other such landlocked exotic locales as Russia, Bellfontaine, Lebanon and Versailles. Each pronounced differently than one would expect, and in some cases, make one cringe a little.

Yaxley (L) and Yoda (R)

Yaxley reunites with his littermate, Yoda, who was raised in Illinois. The two haven’t seen each other since they flew in from Santa Rosa eighteen months ago. They looked liked twins at eight week old powder puffs, but today we see some very distinct differences in their appearance.

Both are devastatingly handsome, of course.  At least some things never change.

Watching the college babes.

We take a break from the workshop and move from the conference room to the auditorium, to attend CCI’s August Graduation ceremony.  I do try to make it to each graduation ceremony, held four times a year, as it keeps me grounded in this puppy raising thing. A visceral reminder that this isn’t my dog. Of why I do this.  But actually, our attendance today is rather obligatory as it’s Yaxley’s matriculation into Advanced Training.

Puppy raisers and their charges being recognized on stage. I’m on the right
(in lavender) clutching my carnation and sporting a look on my face like
 I wonder if they’ll make an even trade – flower for dog?
(photo courtesy Marty M., puppy raiser)

Like Christmas, it’s been on the calendar and I know full well it’s coming, but doesn’t mean I’m totally prepared for it. And the day shows up anyway, regardless of my self-imposed state of denial.

After the puppy raiser recognition, we return to our seats for the main event. The Pièce de résistance, pardon my French.

We watch as seven people, both children and adults, receive their fully trained assistance dogs. Graduates and dogs have completed two full weeks of intensive Team Training to reach today. (The dogs have completed six months of Advanced Training.) All have worked hard for this glorious moment when they can mark the beginning on the next path of their life.  More than a constant companion, these highly trained assistance dogs are at the ready to change their partner’s life in a deep and profound way.

The graduate is introduced on stage and when the name of their assistance dog is announced to us in the audience, we watch as the puppy raiser of this amazing creature enters the stage and hands the leash to the grad. Symbolic that, the handing over of the leash. A closure of sorts for the puppy raiser. I did this just for you, my friend. And I thank you for allowing me this awesome moment, thinks the puppy raiser.

The dog may give one last glance to the puppy raiser (I love you), but they then turn to their new partner and with a doggie smile and tail wag, they say What are we doing next? I’m ready for ya!  We witness the bond that is already there. One that will grow even stronger over the next few years. We watch as a young boy in a wheelchair asks his dog to Lap. The dog puts front legs gently onto the boys lap and leans in for a bear hug. Tail wagging as the boy presses his head into his dog’s soft fur. Amid the aaahs, there are sniffles heard about the auditorium.

How can we do this puppy raising thing? you ask. How can we “give them up?”   Yeah, people, that’s how.

We joke around the office about how to keep Yaxley from Advanced Training. Who do I need to talk to about this? asks one high level manager, only partly kidding. My friend and co-worker attended this ceremony for the first time so she could give Yaxley one last hug. Afterwards, she says, Now I get it. I understand what Yaxley’s supposed to do. I really want him to pass the program and graduate.

I can describe all this to you and try to show you in words. But people, it’s attending a CCI graduation or seeing these assistance dogs in action that brings it home. It’s actually takes being in the presence of something awesome to really understand it, I think. 

Sure, I’m sad to not have Yaxley in my life anymore. It’s been a great ride these past eighteen months and I do love that dog. A very lot. And a week later I still look for him or reach out to pat his yellow noggin and my eyes tear up a little. But our time together is done. I’m left with knowing I did my best by him and CCI – and hope that it was enough.

Because in six months, I want to hand over the leash. I want that last glance back before he turns to his new partner to wag his tail and ask What’s next?

I want, I want. It’s not about me, though. In the end, as with all the CCI pups, it will be Yaxley that determines his next path. Will he do well in his new place at CCI, will he be strong and take on the training like this is what he was born to do? Or will he not be the right stuff of an assistance dog?  Some behavioral infraction that will take him to the fork in the road that leads to being an excellent pet for someone?

The professional trainers at CCI will take him through this dog college of sorts. They’ll show him what he needs to know.

And we’ll be right here waiting to hear about his progress. With high hopes, positive thoughts and fingers crossed. And some prayers, too.

We’ll keep y’all in the loop here. Good news or not so much, updates on Yaxley will be here so we can continue to ride together on this amazing journey.

Hey lookit! I can be as still as a, well, you know.

One college grad down, one to go.
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