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Category Archives: therapy dogs

Skipping a groove

Has this happened to you?

You have the daily grind of Life in a delicate balance with the whole working on your career while paying ample attention to the family thing, right? There’s a groove to be found with making sure everyone has clean-ish clothes to wear and that drive-through window sustenance is kept to a minimum. Worrying about the health and welfare of your adult kid is the norm because that’s just what parents do. You’ve remembered to make the house payment on time. The dogs are getting their two square meals. The puppy training is happening. And the daily commute has been carefully planned out to avoid the annual summertime orange barrel rodeo.

The weather has been simply gorgeous and you even make it to the occasional local farmer’s market. Fresh tomatoes and Ohio grown corn enhance the dinner hour.

Life is on cruise control and you’ve set it to a quasi-legal eight miles over the speed limit.

But the smallest nudge tips your world. In a week’s time, actually. A couple of bad days in the one hour commute to the office. Accelerated deadlines for stuff you’re still learning about at work. The cat’s throwing up something more orange than clear in a manner best described as projectile.

No, no we got this, you say. Just bumps in the road. Carry on, y’all.

Then more. The weird noise you hear a car making at the traffic light turns out to be actually your very own Toyota.

A friend tells you about the cancer diagnosis for their oh-too-young service dog.

Oh man. Really?

But you can’t flinch or you’ll risk losing this Jenga match.

One more thing, Life. You mean it. Just one more thing this week and I’m gonna explode and these carefully managed wooden blocks will be crashing down.

Is that an invitation? laughs Life. Or a challenge? It’s hard to tell with you. Because, either way I think it’s a good time time for you to change jobs. Oh, not so fast there, missy. Maybe. I’ll let you know what we decide on this one. Hang loose, ok? 

Sure, hanging loose is in your vocab. Always has been.

Oh, then merely a simple thing happens in a final attempt to unbalance you. A twenty four hour notice to move the office space you’ve been growing roots in for the last three years. While you’re still steaming towards that afore mentioned tight deadline.

And now it’s getting kissing cousin close to midnight and you need finish the slides for tomorrow’s presentation.

Normally, just another challenge to tackle. But now…

But now.

You survive it.

You do.

Because you have family and friends and co-workers.

And you feel pretty darn blessed.  It becomes clear that you have a boatload of folk to complain to because all you really need to do is kvetch for a while to make things better.

That and the services of a professional Therapy Dog. The mighty Micron is at hand to remind us to not take Life so serious. He presents himself as a fine example.

You called? Therapy Dog at your service.
I’m open twenty four hours. But not in a row.

Needin’ a little Pet Therapy

Heh, check out my Serious Face
on the poster. 

The Week from You-Gotta-Be-Kidding-Me closes with a morning spent among dog-loving young people to talk about Therapy Dogs.  Micron and I waited all week for this.

Just to be in the presence of kids who appreciate dogs for who they are brings one to a warm and fuzzy state of mind. If there is truly such a thing as positive energy, this is the place to soak up the goodness.

We offer up a little info on recognizing dog body language and add a quick review of foods toxic to dogs. We got both kid and dog safety covered.

Then I consider how to describe what it feels like to be visited by a Pet Therapy team. We set the scene for the kids.

Imagine being away from home and having to spend an overnight in the hospital. You miss your room and your own bed. But then Pet Therapy teams show up and there are friendly dogs, cats and the softest of bunnies to pet.

How would this feel, we ask. Good, they say. It would feel wonderful.

Like, I dunno, maybe like rainbows and unicorns, I ask.

Yeah, this is an actual animated slide I use in the presentation.  It’s a Mi-corn! yells one particularly clever little girl.

Micron wraps up the session by offering his therapy services to all who are willing to bend down and rub his belly.

I wondered if the timing would be too much on my favorite Therapy Dog, after all it’s not like he’s a working breed, but the next day we’re off to volunteer at a Meet & Greet booth for our therapy organization.

If we show up and Micron doesn’t want to work it, well we can all breathe easier knowing that he will indeed let me know. The dog is in no danger of becoming a wage slave.

But he’s working the crowds like a boss. He’s all about licking small children to identify the truest of dog lovers. How does a kid react when receiving a legendary Micron tongue bath? It’s like a Meyers-Briggs personality test for children. Who is a slobber accepting extrovert and who wipes their spit-tainted hands on their shorts?

Hi folks, I’m Micron.
I’m three quarters golden and
one quarter work ethic.

His fan club from the Paws to Read library program squeal when they see him. It’s Micron!, they cry.  A veteran stops by to thank our group for visiting him when he was in the hospital and shares how much it meant to him. Micron and his colleagues pass the afternoon educating folk in the ways of pet therapy.

A good day and wonderful way to end the week in a positive state of mind.

Pet Therapy is truly the stuff of wonder.

I may never learn my lesson about challenging Life. I’m not that kind of girl. Nobody knows, really, what will be next tossed at your feet, awesome or otherwise, anyway.

But my wish for you is that you also have friends, family, co-workers dog to see you through.

And a dog, of course. I wish everyone one awesome dog in their lives.

It just makes things better.

This calls for the Class A uniform

Come a little closer. I can’t lick you yet.

I reach for the light blue bandanna on the kitchen counter and turn to Micron.

Dress, I say to him.

My big yellow dog lowers his noggin and slips into the open loop. He looks up at me, expectant. The Tail of Wondrous Beauty is slowly wagging.

You know what, big guy? I say. I think tonight’s event calls for full Class A uniform. Let’s put your working cape on and get you all official looking.

Getting ready

Micron turns the dial on his tail from Slow to Oh Heck Yeah as I put the logo cape on him. He knows we have an adventure coming up. What is it? Micron has no idea, but from experience he’s pretty darn sure this is gonna be a good time.

Because he’s going to work.

Once attired in full gear, Micron runs to the Toyota and prances at the car door, looking back at me.

C’mon two-legger! Let’s go! he says. We’re burnin’ daylight here.

And so I secure the therapy dog in the back seat, turn the key, and we hit the road to meet us some Cub Scouts to talk about the jobs of working dogs.

I didn’t expect any real challenges for the evening. After all, Micron is a true professional, highly trained in the skills of pet therapy and the like. So with confidence and a loose leash, we strut our stuff into the entrance of our venue, an elementary school.

Ok, let’s pause here for just a moment. So who has now, or ever, born witness to the entrance of an elementary school at the end of a long, cold winter? Yeah? So you know what I mean when I mention the ubiquitous sight that heralds Spring along with the song of the red breasted robin, right?

You got it.

The post-winter elementary school Lost & Found table.

A pirate’s booty overflowing with mismatched mittens and gloves, sock monkey knit caps and, kinda surprising to me, a couple of winter coats.

And in an instant I go from the evening’s educator of young scouts to the chick who’s yelling at her dog to Drop It! as he surfs the lost and found table for something soft to carry in his mouth.

Yep, we’re here, y’all.  We can start the Pack Meeting now.

Micron models his Class B uniform

Two other pet therapy teams from Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association meet us there. It’s a yellow dog affair with another golden retriever team and a yellow Labrador. The three of us hooman volunteers tag team the Pet Therapy presentation, each sharing our own personal stories and experiences of visiting folk at hospitals, retirement homes, and Hospice. How it is that we merely hold the end of a leash as our dogs do the stuff of magic.

Our audience for the evening is first to fourth graders. Young boys, yet so very eager to learn about what these dogs can do. We field some great questions from the boys.

Where do the dogs visit?
Where do they live?
Can cats be therapy pets? What about fish? Goats? Snakes?
What would happen if you let go of the leash?

At our turn to talk about Micron’s work, we found a nice segue to cover his Change of Career from when he was training to be an assistance dog to his current work in pet therapy.

The mighty Micron, after presented with his favorite dog cookie, demonstrated a few of the thirty commands he learned while in training to be a service dog.

Hahaha, just kidding. I got him to Speak. We tried the Leave It command, always a crowd pleaser, by setting a dog cookie on each front paw.

As a puppy, I say. We taught Micron not to eat …

Peals of laughter as my dog calmly leans forward and flicks a cookie into his mouth with a lizard tongue effect.

Try putting them on his back paws, some youngster heckles from the back. Yeah, so anyway the dog knows Speak.

Full Class A uniform. Micron is brushed and cleaned to a spit shine.
Ok, no spit. But I did trim his toenails.

Embarrased, but not defeated, I plow on to explain the differences between assistance dogs and pet therapy. Mindful of our young audience, I pop out some basics.

  • A Service Dog is trained to help a person with a disability. 
  • A Pet Therapy dog is trained to help everyone feel happier.

  • A Service Dog goes wherever their person wants or needs to go – restaurants, shopping, museums.
  • A Pet Therapy dog only goes where they are invited – hospitals, retirement homes, libraries.

  • A Service Dog is trained to help a person do things that may be difficult for them to do – retrieve dropped items, turn on light switches.
  • A Pet Therapy Dog is a dog that loves being around people and has good manners. They make everyone happier.

I share a story with the Cubs. This is a true tale that was told to me when we started puppy raising for Canine Companions for Independence.

Ok, Cub Scouts, listen up. I have an awesome story for you about how important a service dog can be to someone. There’s this fellow who has a disability that limits his movements. He isn’t able to walk and so he uses a wheelchair. But he can still go places on his own, because he has a van with hand controls he uses to drive, instead of brake and gas pedals. On his keyring he can press a button that opens the side door of the van and lowers a ramp. Easy ’nuff, right?  He rolls his power wheelchair up the ramp and to the front of the van to drive. He’s good to go anywhere he wants to drive.
Except this one time when he’s leaving a shopping mall. It’s raining really hard and he hurries to get to his van in the parking lot. But when he pulls his keyring out of his pocket, everything is wet and he drops it.
Because the man can’t reach the keys from his wheelchair, he has to wait for someone to come by and see him. He has to wait in the rain for another person to pick up his keys for him. Young people, this is a guy who can go wherever he wants. He has a disability, but feels good about taking care of himself. And when this happened, it made him feel pretty bad.
He decided on that day he would get a service dog. And now his dog is with him all the time. The service dog can pick up anything and give it to his person. And be a friend that is always there. 

Can Micron pick something up and give it back to you, asks a young Cub. Yeah, says another. We want to see Micron do that!

Micron? Seriously? The same dog that just ate a verboten dog cookie from his paw in front of everyone? I’m afraid I’ve set the bar a little high here.  No, I say. No, Micron is a pet therapy dog now.  He isn’t trained to retrieve things.  Hey, but who wants to hear him Speak again?

And with that, the Cubmaster splits the boys into three groups, one to visit each therapy dog. This is where Micron shines. The reason he slips so eagerly into his neckerchief and cape.

The dog is on his back with soft belly exposed. I tell the boys that he like a gentle scritching on his underside. Rubbing the ridge between his eyes is a favorite, too. For those up to the task, a hearty scratch of his rump is always appreciated by the big guy.

And they comply. Oh so willingly.

Enuf with all the talking and lectures, y’all. There are no stories for this kind of therapy. Imagine being surrounded by a score of young boys that are happy and cooperative? No follow-the-leader into group misbehavior that I saw too often in my own Den Leader days. Not one bit of  negativity in our aura bubble.

Absolute positive energy. If only we were able to bottle such stuff to save when needed later.

All because of the presence of therapy pets in the room.

Now I just need to get Micron back to the car without scoring a mitten in the foyer.
Spoiler alert: Mitten removal from a dog maw was at risk, but disaster averted. But really, winter coats, Moms? I get the lost mitten thing, but wouldn’t you notice your kid lost his coat?

Do the Hokey Pokey

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. 

Air conditioning doesn’t come in a can

Micron representing Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association
at our home town annual Fine Arts Festival.

Um, Food Lady? says Micron. Do you have a minute? I don’t want to complain. I mean, this is nice enough house and all, but I can’t find the air conditioner vent to lie on.

House? Air con . . . what? I ask. I’m rummaging in the pockets of my tote bag looking for Micron’s trading cards to set out for the kids. Micron, look around you for a sec, big guy.  We’re not in a house. Do you see any walls?

Well, no but, Micron says as he looks up. We got a roof, so this has to be a house, right? A house has to have a woof, everybody knows that. And did you get a chance to smell this carpet? Seriously. Come down here and check this out. We should put this stuff in the living room at our place.  Lookit, there’s crawly bugs and grass and [sniff sniffle snort] wet dirt! But it’s too hot here, doncha think? Go ask if the people will turn the air conditioner up.

He pauses and closes his eyes. Or is it turn it down?

I always did get confused on that one myself. If you turn the air up, is that to raise the temperature to warmer? Or are you turning it up to be more colder? See, even basic grammar gets boogered on this.

Micron, that wet dirt of yours is what others consider common mud, I say. See where you put your paw on my knee earlier and left a mark? Do you really want to replace the carpet in our house and have everything all mucked up and stinky? Right, never mind on that. Anyway, this is a just canopy overhead to keep the sun off us this afternoon.

Well, that’s the last thing I need a can of, says Micron, rolling his eyes. Why can’t you get me a can of air conditioning instead?

I am, says Micron, a remarkable piece of fine art.
Out standing in my, well, you know. 

Because we’re outside, you goober, I say. As in out of doors, in the fresh air, au natural.  Wait, maybe not that. Anyway, your job today is to greet people and help answer questions about pet therapy. Do you think you can avoid heat exhaustion for a little while? At least since it’s only 75 degrees and we’re in a nice shady spot with plenty of water for you working dogs.

Do you need me to drink lots of water to keep the canopy filled up? asks Micron with a straight face. Is he making a joke? I don’t get dog humor sometimes.

With the assistance of his peers, Micron does his best to make a positive impression on folk coming by our meet and greet booth for Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association. It’s just another gorgeous day at our hometown Fine Arts Festival and we found ourselves assigned a shady spot to set up our table and info material. I’m rather pleased to not have to drive far for once. This is just down the road from us, so to make up for what I’m saving in drive time I’ve volunteered to work the booth for both days of the festival. Yep, that’s how my mind works.

A pre-meeting among the canines before
things get started up. It was a unanimous
vote for turning up the AC.
From top: Beamer, Zoe, Micron, Mazy

No prob for me, really. To take on a shift both days, that is. Pretty much because the dogs do the lion’s share of the work at the booth.  Sure, I’m glad to field the occasional question between bites of an ice cream sundae, but it’s Micron and his canine friends that have most the intel on what we do in pet therapy.

We human beans can talk all day about lowered blood pressure and finding that oh-feels-so-good sense of well-being when in the calm presence of a pet therapy dog.  But mere talking ain’t gonna bring those happy hormones your way. You need to be there.

By that I mean, someone needs to be there to hold the leash. Because there’s not much else to be done on the human end of the thing. This kind of work is all on the canine, like Micron. 

This isn’t some sort of supernatural thing, this human-animal bond happening before us as the dogs greet one person after another.

Yet it is hard to understand it on anything more than a basic level. Well, at least for me. What is it that draws two strangers together, these people and our dogs? Is their love of dogs a remnant from a positive past experience and our furries bring up wonderful memories? Sure, maybe for some.

Cordell and Micron are all Team Golden at the booth.

But what about our dogs? What is it that’s rolling around in Micron’s brain that has him, fully equipped with a wagging tail and doggy smile, walking up to a individual he’s never met before?

Hi!, says Micron. I know we just met and this is crazy, but here’s my belly. Rub it maybe?*

Every blessed time. He has a golden gift, my dog. But then so does Cordell and Mazy and Zoe and Beamer and . . . well, all the dogs volunteering with mvPTa.  They are doing exactly what they’re meant to be doing.

They do love their jobs. When I grab Micron’s blue bandana from the kitchen counter, he does his special Happy Dance. Wherever we’re going, whatever I’m going to ask of him, he’s sure it will be the best ever. Because he gets to go somewhere and interact with someone who is craving his presence in their life.

Mazy and Micron have decided to do a Kissing Booth for
money. They’ll pay you up to a quarter for each lick. A
full fifty cents if you’re wearing sandals.

And I have the honor of being the chick holding the leash while this magic happens right before me. I must have done something right somewhere along this lifeline to be so blessed with this gift.

Ugh, but enough with the touchy-feely stuff, let me share something I learned in our pet therapy training. We were told – and reminded over the ten weeks of training – that our first responsibility is always the safety and well-being of our dog.

No exceptions. We are to be aware of signs of stress happening in the canine psyche of our beloved poocher.  To be honest, not such as easy task in the mighty Micron.  My dog will compensate for aches and pains, as well as stress.  His signals are frustratingly subtle. 

So during our Day Two shift at the booth, I see that Micron is not as engaging with folk. He’d rather be behind the table instead of seeking out that elusive belly rub from a stranger. And then, yep. 

There ya have it.  He turned away from a head pat.  Even in my distracted state of talking with folk, I see that one.

Put a fork in this hot dog, he is done.

Micron, I say.  Let’s go home and get you back in the air conditioning. Ok with you?

Dibs on the AC vent in the kitchen, he says.

Micron, photo circa July 2010.  Three years ago, people.
Nothing has changed here.

* I should apologize for that one. Really, I know. 

Time flies at the library

Read to me about the golden retrievers, says Micron.

Fly Guy vs. the Flyswatter? Really?, I say. I’m thinking this next question is going to be kinda sensitive, but yeah, here goes.

Um, does Fly Guy win? I ask.

Yeah, says our young reader, totally throwing the spoiler right out there. She turns another page in her book like this was nothing. Well, sure I asked for it, I guess.  The spoiler that is.

So, I say. Because I need to know more about this Fly Guy person. Is that a good thing then?  I mean, having flies in the house that talk to people is ok?

She doesn’t look up; just turns yet another page and shifts her book to show Micron a picture. I don’t know, she says.

Ugh, this is vexing.  I know it’s been a while since I’ve immersed myself into children’s literature, but really.  We want the flies to win now? Growing up on the farm as kids, we actually held time trials on who could swat the most of these pestilent creatures before we sat down to dinner.  If one was still able to buzz after a swat, those were only granted a half point. You know, the same basic rules that most families use.

Not sure how to get my head around this Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold about a boy named Buzz and his big eyed pet. With titles like There’s a Fly Guy in my Soup and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly Guy, my gray matter is dredging up some not so happy childhood memories.  But I don’t want to get all judgey until I have a chance to read about this thing.  Trying to keep an open mind here.

It’s a popular series with the kids, I find. And in spite of the subject matter, the books are clever and funny with a format intended as a smooth transition to chapter books.  Honestly, so long as kids are inspired to pick up a book to read for fun, I’ll support just about any topic in children’s literature.

Except maybe spiders. No, definitely eight legged freaky things are out. Everyone has their limits and I have to put my foot down on spiders. Real hard, too. Until you hear the harmonic symphony of the squish and muffled shriek.  Nasty little buggers.

Naw, I’m good. If they scootch over, we got room
for a couple more, I think.

Micron and his canine peers with Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association have finished their work with the summer Paws to Read program at our local branch of the Dayton Metro Library. For the last eight weeks, these awesome dogs have listened to stories about everything from talking aardvarks to the history of fire trucks. Some weeks we enjoyed as many as forty kids wanting to read to the dogs and it wasn’t unusual to see Micron resting with his eyes closed as he took in  each story as shared by the five kids sitting around him.*  And it was the same for the other Paws to Read dogs, too.  Good thing these are canines highly trained to listen well.

Sure, that’s an adorable golden puppy, says Micron. But I’ve
seen cuter, right Food Lady?  [wink wink]

Although, I gotta say that Micron and his friends seem to be just plain naturals with their mad skills of engaging young readers. This lot acted like they were born to do this very thing.  Fulfilling destinies here on the library carpet.

Because if there’s one single thing that Micron is proficient at, it would be tamping down carpet fibers for long periods of time.  If the dog is in the room, rest assured the flooring is not going to go awry on his watch.

The Paws to Read library program is intended to encourage young readers to enjoy a good book among friendly canines.  Unlike those of us who are rather judgmental about talking flies, these dogs really don’t have any concerns over plot lines or even individual reading styles of the narrators. It’s a comfortable, welcoming environment with all the happy hormones that pet therapy dogs bring with them when they enter a room.

Paws to Read, not paws that read — just to be clear on this.
We did take a moment of wonderment about the size of
Micron’s huge feet.  

We stop here to make this all about me for a minute.  I have to tell you that there’s some sort of nirvanical** feeling that goes with being in the same space as dogs and children reading on purpose because they want to. Just some things that make me very happy with the world at large. 

It gives me some hope for the future, it does. Well done, you parents of dog-loving children. You are awesome.

Fergo is retirement age, but he refuses to slow down. Not when
the kids still need him, he says.

No, no, keep reading. I’m listening, says Char. 
Just resting my eyes for a  . . zzz
Beamer says he’s actually a fan of Fly Guy, thank you very much.  He can
listen to his insect misadventures all day.


*Hey, I learned something new in all this reading stuff.  We are no longer to refer to sitting on the floor with legs crossed as sitting Indian style. No, now it’s criss-cross applesauce.  Huh, who knew?

**Right, I made that word up. So, it’s not misspelled, thank you anyway, Spell Checker program.  It fits nicely though, right? I honestly can’t come up with a better word to use there.

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