An Estimated 1000 Pets Have Been Taken to L.A. Pound by BFAS

I have an update to the Best Friends post from Monday but decided to post it on its own in the interest of transparency, in order to make it as visible as possible to anyone interested.  Jon Dunn from BFAS answered the questions I had previously sent to 3 different BFAS e-mail addresses on 2 separate occasions.  The e-mail response is pasted below, in full, with my questions in regular type and the responses in italics.

My takeaways:

  • BFAS has taken 10-15 animals a week to the East Valley facility since taking over at Mission Hills in January 2012.  If I estimate 12.5 pets per week for 20 months (80 weeks), that works out to about 1000 pets that BFAS has brought to the pound.
  • BFAS does not keep track of what happens to these animals.
  • BFAS does not perform documentation or networking of any pet taken to the pound in order to help get the pet reunited with his owner (if there is one) or get seen by rescues and adopters.
  • BFAS sometimes places a hold on pets they take to the pound but since they don’t keep track, they can’t say how many.
  • Regarding the animals BFAS has pulled from the city shelter, BFAS does not pay fees to the city for these animals.  BFAS neuters and chips these animals themselves.  Some of these pulled pets have been transported to states other than CA.
  • My question, “What has happened to these pulled pets?” does not appear to have been specifically answered.  My reason for asking was to determine how many of the pulled pets may have been adopted, sent to other rescues, returned to the pound, or any other possible outcome.

Jon Dunn’s e-mail response, in full:

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Re: Grandpa – BFAS LA
From: Jon Dunn
Date: Tue, September 10, 2013 11:18 am
To: Shirley Thistlethwaite <eiderdown@yesbiscuit.com>

How many animals has BFAS taken to the East Valley facility since taking over at Mission Hills?

10-15 animals a week are usually brought in either as strays or owner surrenders to the Mission Hills Center. As you have likely already read elsewhere, it is illegal for us to accept animals from the public either as strays or owner surrenders (per the contract we have with the city of LA, all animals at the Mission Hills Center must come from one of the 6 LA Animal Services shelters). The animals must go to the East Valley shelter where they are held for their required hold times (dependent on microchip, etc.). It is important to note that these animals are never considered as “intake” by Best Friends.

What has happened to each of the animals taken to the city pound by BFAS?

We do not track the outcome of every animal that falls into this category. In some cases, we do put a hold and pull the animal ourselves. In other cases where we see an animal has a particular need served by one of the 65 NKLA coalition members (to whom we pay adoption subsidies), we notify that particular group. In others, one of the 190 LAAS New Hope Partners steps in and pulls the dog (as what happened with Grandpa). Best Friends is a large cog, but certainly not the only cog in the Los Angeles animal welfare system. We are thankful to the other organizations, many of whom we work with very closely, who are also working hard each and every day to contribute to the fantastic drop in shelter killing we’ve seen in LA the last two years.

When taking an animal to the city pound, does BFAS always perform documentation and networking of the pet in order to help get the pet reunited with his owner (if there is one) or get seen by rescues and adopters?

No, as we said above, the animals we re-direct to the East Valley shelter are of indeterminate status and must be held by law for the required hold period. They are never considered Best Friends animals. The hold time / owner reclamation process is wholly owned by the LAAS. Rescue work is full of tough decisions, and Best Friends and other rescues and shelters face them every day. The five million dollars committed to Los Angeles is a lot, but it is not infinite, and as such, we must make decisions on where to put our time and resources.

When taking an animal to the city pound, does BFAS always place a “hold” on the pet so that, if the animal goes unclaimed/unadopted and ends up on the kill list at the pound, BFAS will be notified to pick up the pet?

Not always. We place holds based on the same factors and pet profiles that we employ in pulling animals from the city shelters for the Mission Hills Adoption Center. We take old dogs, young dogs, black dogs, white dogs, “bad” dogs, cute, silly and all breeds including pit bulls and Chihuahuas and everything in between. We try to maintain a mix that reflects the shelter population, so we have around 50% pit bulls at any given time. That also goes for seniors and medical cases. We have a limited number of kennels/cages allotted to medical cases. Since there are always medical cases at the shelters those medical slots are usually full. We welcome anyone to come visit the Mission Hills Center and see the pets for yourself! Of course, our goal is to save as many lives as possible, and to do that right now it means moving animals out of LAAS shelters at the fastest rate possible and placing them in new homes as quickly as possible. It should be noted that in a system as large as LA Animal Services, we do not receive preferential treatment to get “first pick.” We are allowed to place holds at the same time as the rest of the groups.

How many pets has BFAS brought to the city pound and then later rescued via the previously described process?

We don’t track that particular statistic, but since taking over the Mission Hills center, we have pulled 7,075 animals from LAAS shelters. 3,149 animals in 2012, and 3,926 through the end of August 2013. All of the animals in our Mission Hills center are pulled from LAAS shelters.

Regarding the animals BFAS has pulled from the city shelter, what fee has BFAS paid to the city per animal? What has happened to these pulled pets? Have any of them been transported to rescues or adopters in states other than CA?

When we pull animals from LAAS, we do the spay/neuter surgery, and microchip the pets. The $45.50 fee New Hope Partners pay to pull, covers those same services performed by LAAS. So the city waives the fee and the associated services. Since we pull so many shelter animals at a time it would clog the system for the city to provide those services for Best Friends. Also, the operational costs of the Mission Hills Center fall entirely on us. Those costs, and our other operational expenses in LA exceed five million dollars a year. That’s a tremendous amount of value to the city, far beyond the $318,000 in New Hope fees (7,000 animals at $45.50) they have waived since the beginning of 2012.

We do offer a transport program for LA pets, known as Pup My Ride. So far in 2013, 2,011 animals have been taken to other areas. Roughly half of those pets came from LAAS, the rest were pulled from LA County shelters and other local shelters.

Discussion: Is Best Friends Doing “The Very Best” It Can in L.A.?

In 2011, the city of Los Angeles gave the $19 million Mission Hills animal shelter to Best Friends Animal Society without allowing any other non-profit group the chance to bid on operating the facility.  Best Friends launched an initiative aimed at making Los Angeles a no kill city by 2017.  Critics have cried foul from the outset, contending that the BFAS “No Kill L.A.” initiative is little more than a publicity campaign designed to pad the BFAS bank account with donations from compassionate pet lovers.

One week ago, several readers sent me a link to an article which asked the question:  Did Best Friends Animal Society dump an old poodle at a high kill shelter? The short answer appears to be yes, BFAS took a 15 year old dog to the East Valley pound in Los Angeles after someone left him at the BFAS shelter in Mission Hills. The larger issue, based upon Best Friends’ initial response to the public outcry over the betrayal of this dog, is that apparently the group does this regularly.

From the initial response by BFAS:

Per the contract with the city, we are legally required to direct the public to take these [surrendered] animals directly to the East Valley Shelter, or in the instance an animal appears at our center, we must do this as well. This is so the city can do their legally required procedures. Best Friends and other qualified rescues are able to pull animals after the legally required hold time has passed, giving the public the first chance to adopt.

[...]

Just like most rescues and shelters, the Best Friends sanctuary in Utah has limits and there is not always room. We do the very best we can to save every animal that we can.

When pet lovers continued to express their anger over the situation, BFAS issued a new boilerplate response which begins:

Dear [angry pet lover's name here], the comments floating around regarding senior dog Grandpa are disappointing and hurtful (and in some cases simply not true) and will do nothing to further the no-kill movement in Los Angeles.

In other words, questioning the ethics of Best Friends = killing animals, you ignorant slut.

Despite the claim made by BFAS that the organization is “just like most rescues”, Best Friends is not your typical rescue organization operating on a shoestring budget out of a handful of foster homes.  Charity Navigator lists BFAS 2011 net assets as $47,266,990.  This is a national organization garnering major donations (which I’ve questioned in the past).  To my mind, you don’t get to maintain a bank account with that many zeroes without being held to a higher standard.  That includes both the hands-on work of actually rescuing animals and the need for transparency and accountability.

In an effort to address the larger issues more thoroughly, I wrote to BFAS seeking information:

Subject: Questions Regarding BFAS in L.A.
From: <eiderdown@yesbiscuit.com>
Date: Mon, September 02, 2013 7:31 am
To: barbara@bestfriends.org, info@bestfriends.org,
bestfriendsla@bestfriends.org

I write a shelter related blog and have some questions regarding operations at the Mission Hills facility in L.A.:

How many animals has BFAS taken to the East Valley facility since taking over at Mission Hills?

What has happened to each of the animals taken to the city pound by BFAS?

When taking an animal to the city pound, does BFAS always perform documentation and networking of the pet in order to help get the pet reunited with his owner (if there is one) or get seen by rescues and adopters?

When taking an animal to the city pound, does BFAS always place a “hold” on the pet so that, if the animal goes unclaimed/unadopted and ends up on the kill list at the pound, BFAS will be notified to pick up the pet?

How many pets has BFAS brought to the city pound and then later rescued via the previously described process?

Regarding the animals BFAS has pulled from the city shelter, what fee has BFAS paid to the city per animal? What has happened to these pulled pets? Have any of them been transported to rescues or adopters in states other than CA?

Thank you for you time.

Sincerely,
Shirley Thistlethwaite

After receiving no response, I re-sent the message and received an auto-reply.  The auto-reply contained just general information (“LIKE us on Facebook”, etc.) and a non-personal statement that I would receive a response in a few days.  As of this posting, I have received nothing from Best Friends in response to my e-mail aside from the auto-reply.

My questions still stand.

What are your thoughts?

Discussion: Can a New Campaign Make Los Angeles No Kill?

NKLA is “a coalition of animal rescue organizations, city shelters and passionate individuals” working to end the killing of healthy/treatable animals in Los Angeles.  The plan, according to a piece in the L.A. Times, is to combine a major ad campaign to increase public awareness, adoption incentive grants to rescues and neuter assistance to pet owners who need it:

As part of the NKLA effort, Best Friends has allocated more than $1.2 million to make grants to area rescue leagues to encourage more adoptions, and to provide financial assistance to help people who don’t have money to neuter their pets.

Nissan, a client of TBWA\Chiat\Day, donated a vehicle which has since been dubbed “The Neuter Cruiser” that will be used to ferry pets to the procedures.

What is your take on this project?  Do you think it can work?  Will Los Angeles be a no kill city by 2017?

 

11th Hour Social Media Blitz to Fight for Shelter Pets’ Lives

On Wednesday February 15,  Assembly Bill A05449A will be introduced in the NY state Ag Committee.  This quick kill bill is expected to pass and we need to make our voices heard tonight to keep that from happening.  This quick kill bill is of immediate concern to NYers because it affects their community pets but it’s also very worrying for pet owners everywhere because it sets a legal precedent for more needless shelter pet killing.

And once again, it falls upon “the irresponsible public” to stand up for the lives of pets because the multi-million dollar animal welfare groups won’t do it.  Where is Alley Cat Allies, the nation’s largest group advocating for feral cats?  They should be mobilizing their forces in opposition to this bill which will legalize instant killing for every feral cat in NY.  Where is Best Friends?  They ask people to donate so there will be “no more homeless pets” but this bill might as well be named “no more living homeless pets”.  Why aren’t they mass e-mailing members to take action against this?  HSUS?  Tuh, I know better than to ask.  And of course ASPCA is the group that is leading the coalition to get the quick kill bill made into law.

It’s up to you and me.  Again.  No matter where you live, please take action and voice your opposition to the ASPCA’s quick kill bill.  Then pass this information on to your compassionate animal friends.  Every voice counts.

As always, please keep your comments respectful.

With permission, I am sharing Nathan Winograd’s most recent post on the subject, complete with action items, below.  This is the most succinct explanation I’ve seen.  If you aren’t familiar with the quick kill bill and need more information, there are links at the end.

From Nathan Winograd:

If the ASPCA and Assembly Member Amy Paulin get their way, feral cats and scared cats can be exterminated immediately on intake in New York State shelters.
The ASPCA is pushing legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Amy Paulin that would allow New York State shelters to kill animals immediately if shelter staff determine that the animals are in “psychological pain.” There is no definition of what constitutes psychological pain and no standards to how it will be applied. For the first time anywhere in the U.S., shelters will be allowed to kill animals with no holding period of any time based on the animals’ perceived state of mind, giving regressive shelter bureaucrats unlimited discretion to immediately kill animals based on unenforceable, unknowable, and completely subjective criteria. Not only is this a real and immediate threat to shy and scared animals, as well as feral cats, but it is a very dangerous precedent to introduce in the animal control laws of our nation.

Whether you are from New York or not, please speak up for the animals:

  • Post comments to twitter: @aspca

Learn more:

Gone in 60 Seconds

The ASPCA Fights for More Shelter Killing in NY

Best Friends Calls Out ASPCA

Francis Battista of BFAS does the right thing:

Instead of cooking up fevered fantasies about an Al-Qaeda-like no-kill operation that is on the loose and may be coming to a community near you, one would hope that the ASPCA would be rattling the cages of local SPCAs and shelters and using their considerable influence in those circles to get such organizations to address the actual cause of public unrest, which is not an extremist agenda, but the killing of healthy, treatable pets.

Will HSUS address ASPCA’s shameful attempt to strategically smear no kill advocates?  Because silence sends a message too.

Action Alert Regarding Community Cats

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) hates feral cats.  As such, they are opposed to the only proven program – Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) – aimed at eliminating feral cats over time while minimizing costs.  That does not make sense, but then The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t exactly known for applying common sense to feral cat management.

In November, The Wildlife Society will hold its annual conference in Hawaii.  Among the workshops will be this one:

Influencing Local Scale Feral Cat Trap-Neuter-Release Decisions
Organizers: Tom Will, USFWS, Fort Snelling, MN Mike Green, USFWS, Portland, OR

In short, the USFWS is sending two staffers to Hawaii to conduct an all day workshop on how to combat compassionate citizens who are advocating for TNR in their communities.  If you pay taxes in the U.S., you are paying for this.  If you don’t like how your tax dollars are being spent here, Best Friends has an action alert all set up for you.

Where Will The Big Three Fall on TX CAPA?

I am so excited about the bill introduced in TX to protect shelter pets.  It’s such a great piece of legislation and I really hope it gets passed.  But the 6 o’clock news doesn’t care what my opinion is on TX CAPA.  Typically, mainstream media outlets will contact the well known animal organizations who have national name recognition for their take on any pet related news.  So this has me wondering, where will HSUS, ASPCA and BFAS come down on the TX bill?

Given their history of opposition to laws which limit the discretion of shelter directors as to which pets they can kill, I don’t expect HSUS to embrace CAPA in TX.  Nor would I anticipate support for the bill from ASPCA, given that they oppose Oreo’s Law – which would grant rescuers the legal right to save pets from kill shelters – in their home state and in fact have offered a faux rescue access bill of their own in an attempt to quash Oreo’s Law.  Best Friends – who disappointed so many of us by failing to support Oreo’s Law last year and this year asking for it to be watered down before they would consider supporting it – well I’m not sure what their reaction will be to the TX bill.  Will they ring the hoarder bell and/or demand that the legislation be weakened before they could possibly support it?  Or will they be the Best Friends of old – the group many of us supported and wanted to believe in for so long – and side with rescuers and the rights of shelter pets to be saved from death row?

Come on HSUS, ASPCA and BFAS – one of you step up and give me good news.  The TX bill is too great to let slip away without getting major support from at least one of you.

From Nathan Winograd’s blog:

Versions of CAPA have been passed in California and Delaware.

And now a version has been introduced in TX.  Noticing a trend?  It’s becoming fashionable to oppose killing and support rescuers.  Will HSUS, ASPCA and BFAS keep fighting CAPA forever – even if/when it gets introduced in more states?  Or will they get on board finally and throw their support behind such bills?  I’ll be keeping an eye out for a show of support or opposition from the Big Three on TX CAPA.  Watch this space.

Best Friends and Oreo’s Law Redux

For those of you who work with or know of rescues, try this little exercise:  Add up all the rescues you’ve worked with (or known) in your head.  Hang on to that number.  Now, of those rescues, add up the total number of them who are hoarders.  Using those two figures, please share in the comments the percentage of rescues you have worked with or known over the years who are hoarders.  I’ll start:  Zero.

Now I’m certainly not saying it’s impossible for a rescue group to actually hoard pets, I’m just saying I haven’t known any personally.  If I broaden my query to include the many rescues I’ve read about in doing research for this blog, I would come up with a different number.  It would have to be an estimate, mind you but I’d suppose that figure would be less than 1%.  I would say probably 99% of the rescues I’ve come across in the course of blogging appear to be legitimate groups, trying to adopt out pets saved from kill shelters.

So to my mind, the concern that if we don’t make rescues jump through enough hoops in order to pull from shelters, the pets will end up in hoarding type situations – is actually not a significant worry.  I think reasonable screening is a good idea to make sure they’re not some kind of scammers trying to make a buck selling the dogs or people who’ve been convicted of cruelty, etc.  But when it gets down to the point of this-pet-is-about-to-be-killed, frankly, I’d be willing to take the risk with an unscreened rescue and hope they fall into the vast majority category of legitimate groups.  Not saying that would be my first choice but since we’re talking about life and death here in conjunction with an extremely small risk, I’d rather err on the side of life.

Oreo’s Law has reasonable standards set for rescues who want to pull pets off death row in NY shelters.  In summary, the group can’t have an “officer, board member, staff member or volunteer” who is either facing dogfighting/cruelty/neglect charges or has been convicted of same.  There is a provision for inspection when serious suspicions of neglect or cruelty exist.  And the rescue has to be a 501(c)(3).  That’s enough to my mind.

Best Friends is apparently worried that hoarders are going to establish themselves as 501(c)(3)s and beat a path to NY to collect more animals.  Because that would be the easiest way for a hoarder to get more animals, right?

And so, immediately after the re-introduction of Oreo’s Law to the NY state assembly, Best Friends came out against it.  Last year, they said they were against it because of the danger of – you know, hoarders.  This year, they leave out the word hoarders but instead list demands for verbiage to be included in the bill before they would endorse it.  The demands are things that all 501(c)(3) rescues already have unless they are – you know, hoarders.

I wouldn’t like to see Oreo’s Law add much more by way of rescue requirements because I fear that some kill shelters might exploit any perceived deficiency in the list of requirements and use it as an excuse to refuse to release death row pets.  Nothing in life can be guaranteed.  Reasonable precautions can and should be taken.  For the rest left to chance, I’d rather give more power to the rescuers who want to save lives than the so-called shelters determined to kill pets.

C’mon Best Friends.  This is dumb.  And NY’s shelter pets are being needlessly killed while you play your games.

Q & A with Patty Hegwood of BFAS

Regarding the recent incident of a dog death at Best Friends, I contacted Patty Hegwood, Director of Animal Care at BFAS, for some clarifications on the information that has been put forth regarding the circumstances of the case. With her permission, I’m sharing the exchange below. My questions are in italics and her responses are in bold.

1.  What is the standard of care for housing sanctuary dogs with known aggression issues?  Is it double fencing? Something else?
Answer to No. 1:
All of our runs at Dogtown are designed to provide a secure environment and since we operate a sanctuary that houses upwards of 1,700 animals, we are always re-examining our facilities, including fencing and borders, to see if changes are needed. A dog with aggression issues may be housed in a variety of fencing environments, some of which include double fencing and some of which include single fencing in a variety of thicknesses. As a result of the incident, we are planning to take a close look at the enclosures that house our more aggressive dogs to see if we can make improvements.

2.  While you did respond at length to Holly Smith’s comment on your blog, I felt you really didn’t answer her specific allegation that “The dog died because there was no double fencing and the care givers were warning the management that this could cause a serious problem.” Could you please clarify in a simple yes/no format whether Holly Smith’s assertion (that caregivers were warning the management that the lack of double fencing could be a serious problem) is true?

3.  Regarding the comments on your blog from “Vicki McDog” (“I worked at BFAS and I know how hard it is to get a request for fencing or whatever for the dog’s completed.”) and “Marti” (“Many of us tried so hard to get double fencing put on all the lodges. But management said that there was no money to do so. Again and again, we saw dogs with chewed off ears, tails, legs-all wounds done thru fences. (Example: Nicole got her lip totally damaged because a dog in the next run pulled on Nicole’s lip and tore it to pieces.) We begged, we cried for double fencing, but the answer was always the same, “No money.”)
You responded to these in your post from yesterday by saying, “
For the record, there has never been a request for fencing that has been denied due to lack of funds, period.”  Could you clarify/expand on that?  Are both of these people mistaken or lying or…?  Has there ever been a request for double fencing for aggressive dogs that was denied for some reason other than lack of funds?  Has there ever been a request for double fencing for aggressive dogs that was not denied per se but perhaps postponed for an extended period?  I think you can see what I’m getting at here – basically trying to reconcile your assertions against these other assertions.  If it’s a matter of wording, let’s clear that up.  If it’s your contention that these people are lying, let’s call a spade a spade.
My answer to both 2 and 3 above
Some employees, both past and present, have differing views on the best way to house dogs and some have weighed in through the social media pipeline. While we always need secure environments for dogs with aggression issues, we also make it a point to keep in mind that we don’t want barriers to adversely affect the emotional well-being of our animals. So we are always trying to find that delicate balance in using the right materials for and combinations of fencing, but still allow our dogs, as much as possible, to interact and become more social.

Some ex-employees, I’m sure, are not aware of changes that have been put in place in recent years to monitor our animal care spaces. Many of these ideas for change came from the employees themselves through a mechanism that’s in place for such suggestions from caregivers all the way to upper management. For example, for quite some time now we’ve had regular bi-weekly team meetings to discuss various aspects of Dogtown, and what improvements might need to be made to address things like medical, training and maintenance needs, including fencing and enclosures.

Regarding your question on previous requests for additional fencing, in my blog last week, I said that there have never been any requests for fencing that have been denied because of lack of funds, and that’s true for all the years I have been at the sanctuary. It is possible that quite a few years back, under different management and budgeting levels, improvements may have been put on hold. But that certainly has not been the case in the last four and a half years.

The assertions “Again and again, we saw dogs with chewed off ears, tails, legs-all wounds done thru fences” and “We begged, we cried for double fencing…” are exaggerated misrepresentations.  It is certainly true that there have been some injuries through fences, and it is those incidents that have given rise to changes to more secure fencing methods, but ‘again and again’ gives a completely erroneous impression.

4.  Can you clarify the housing the three dogs were in the night of the incident?  Were they each in regular dog runs similar to other dogs at the sanctuary who do not have aggression issues? What preventive measures were in place that night and were they the same as every night or, for example, is there usually a nightwatchman who patrols specific areas but he was out sick that night?  In other words, did BFAS have 3 dogs with aggression issues in runs w/out double fencing, left unsupervised at night so that if they got out, serious injury or death might result?
Answer to No. 4:
The dogs were in their regular, separate runs with fencing of various kinds that has always been adequate for our needs. As you know we’ve had 22 of the Michael Vick dogs in our care since early 2008. They are part of a canine population that is usually between 400 and 500 dogs. We use many types of fencing, depending on the dog, the type of housing (individual or group), the terrain, and other factors. It is also true, despite some ill-informed postings to the contrary, that the holes that were made in the fencing that night could also have been made through double-fencing.  That being said, although we couldn’t have predicted it, something here was clearly inadequate, so we are in the process of determining what changes are needed.  One possible solution would be to reinforce areas that house our aggressive dogs with thicker, stronger wire.  Should we find this to be necessary, we will make the immediate changes and send out an update.

Running an animal sanctuary as large as Best Friends (more than 1,700 animals on any given day) is no small task and our experience tells us that there is no such thing as being incident free. Most of our animals come to us from abused and abandoned backgrounds. They have emotional or medical issues that challenge us every day. Our constant is keeping the safety and well-being of our animals and staff at the forefront, and at the same time striking a comfortable balance between absolute physical safety and enriching opportunities for social interaction and a strong emotional life.

I want to emphasize that checking fencing and barriers is something that’s a constant process. Beyond the approximately 50 caregivers at Dogtown, we have three dog experts who live right beside the dog areas at the sanctuary. In addition to this, we now have an all-night patrol as an extra security measure.

Best Friends Responds to Fencing Issue

A blog posting regarding the death of a dog this week at BFAS elicited some comments from ex-staffers who basically stated that double fencing had been requested for certain dogs but denied due to cost.  In a post dated October 14, BFAS responds to this allegation directly:

For the record, there has never been a request for fencing that has been denied due to lack of funds, period.

So I guess that’s that?  The former staffers who spoke out to the contrary are all mistaken or perhaps dishonest?

My impression after reading the post is that there does seem to be a certain spin, including the title, to cast Beans (the dog who was killed by one or both of the Vick dogs) as the primary responsible party.  Your take may be different but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

 

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