Voice on Fire Blog

Home of Lira the Amazing Pet Therapy Dog


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Lira and I walked into a dark hospital room despite the sunny day outside and gorgeous view of Mt. Rainier out the window.  The young woman in bed was barely old enough to NOT be in the Children’s hospital next door. She encouraged Lira up onto her bed excited to be able to interact with her. Her arm was bandaged so she petted Lira with one hand.  She seemed sweet, her light brown hair up in the back with curls framing her round face. We small talked for a bit and then out of nowhere she said she was a heroin addict. When the young woman said she was an addict it got me to thinking…

In my neighborhood we have had more than our fair share of burglaries lately.  When I called the police department they stated that it was probably addicts trying to support their habits.  I was curious how much it actually costs to support an addiction such as this.  She said she started out doing one gram a day but was up to five or six grams a day now.  “How much is a gram of heroin? “ I asked. “Thirty dollars “she said. “ So it costs you $150.00 a day to support your habit? “ “Yes but my boyfriend can get a discount,” she replied in a matter of fact kind of way. Geez I thought to myself, addicts rarely work or can’t work and it cost around $300.00 a day to support a couple’s habit? No wonder the neighborhood is getting annihilated lately. In fact one of my neighbors actually got stabbed three times a couple of weeks ago.  He saw a man breaking into a car in his alley and confronted him. He said the burglar didn’t care if he took him down meaning killing him or not. I live in a supposedly “good neighborhood.” Always call 911 and don’t confront these people. The burglar and attempted murderer got away. Meanwhile I’m observing this young woman petting Lira enjoying her very soft coat of yellow fur. That’s one thing I love about Lira and dogs everywhere… the love they share is totally unconditional and non judgmental.

The young heroin addict went on to describe for me how heroin comes in a tarry ball. Addicts put the gram of tar substance into a spoon and heat it from underneath to form a liquid. Then they put a needle through a cotton ball and into the liquid.“Why the cotton ball?” I ask. She stated that was to filter out bad stuff from the drug.  Ironic

This young adult has been doing heroin since she was 14 years old.  She was kicked out of her family home at 16 years old. Now at 19 she has a heroin addicted boyfriend who is 39 years old. They don’t have a home and sleep wherever they can.  At the time they were “crashing” at a friend’s house.  The hospital staff was worried that whenever the boyfriend came to see her he was bringing her heroin. She has gone through treatment a couple of times but unable to remain clean.  The boyfriend has done the same but they have never been clean and sober at the same time.  Once when she came out of treatment her parents said they would take her back but only if she broke up with her boyfriend. She said she could do anything but that. “They just don’t understand how I am in love with him” she said. I pointed out that it is just about impossible to remain clean if you are still hanging out with people using. I reminded her that her parents loved her very much and how difficult it must be for them to say no.

Can you imagine the tough love it takes to deny housing to your own child? My heart goes out to those parents and parents everywhere dealing with this excruciating and similar circumstance.

My ex husband was an addict. Not the kind of addict living on the streets. He was a firefighter… a professional with a home and a family. He died a few years after our divorce of an overdose. To this day I always wonder… how do some people get clean and sober and some don’t. No one wants to be an addict.

Maybe just maybe this young woman was scared enough to get clean after having a serious reaction to shooting up heroin. Her arm ballooned up four times its normal size and a blood clot traveled to her lung.

I don’t have the answers but I wrote about this because it’s real, its ugly, it’s everywhere and it’s so very sad.

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Sometimes when you walk into a room you know you are going to be touched.  Whether it is physically, emotionally and or spiritually… sometimes you just know.   Maybe… just maybe one of you out there may remember from this little story… that if you happen across someone with cerebral palsy that inside that prison of a body they are like you and I in their minds.

Her brown eyes were special because I could tell by her eyes alone that she understood me.  She smiled brightly as if she was expecting me.  It struck me her smile… because it showed such joyfulness.  Her arms were moving uncontrollably, her fists clenched, she was making unrecognizable sounds and her long straight brown hair was stretched neatly on the pillow of her extra high hospital bed.

I asked her if she would like to visit with Lira.  She answered with a sound that I took as a yes.  Lira hopped way up into the bed beside her and the young woman squealed with delight.

At this time the supervising nurse stepped in.  This woman is an angel in my eyes.  She is the kind of nurse that goes the extra mile in ways that count.  On this ward there are a lot of long term patients.  She will do whatever it takes to make the patient more comfortable emotionally, spiritually and physically. She told Vanessa that she would return later to read to her from the book of dog stories she had brought to her room.  She loves her nursing job and it shows.

When nurse Angel walked in she said, “Oh good, you’re here.  This is Vanessa, she is 22 years old and she has cerebral palsy.  She is essentially trapped in her own body but can understand everything you say to her.”  She introduced us.  She then continued to tell me that Vanessa loved animals.  Her dream was to grow up and be a veterinarian.  She was unable to accomplish this goal because she couldn’t find an assistant to help her in college.

As Lira was in bed beside her I could tell Vanessa was trying to touch her.  I must say that I was proud of Lira.  Even though the patient’s movements were sporadic and jumpy she remained calm and understanding as if she knew Vanessa couldn’t help it.  I was careful to protect Liras eyes and told Vanessa that I was doing so.  I took her clenched fist and assisted her in petting Liras head and very soft body.  I could tell that whenever she touched Lira that it ignited a positive emotion and that this would make her inadvertently move her arms in quick uncontrolled ways.  She obviously was enjoying the encounter very much.

What touched me about this patient? The joy she exhibited.  I can’t fathom what it is like to deal with this illness.  Can you imagine knowing everything that is going on around you but it doesn’t appear that way to the world? Everyone talking around you, about you, not to you… yet you can understand it all. It must be hellacious. What struck me though is Vanessa’s joy.  I could tell this young woman knew joy more than just about anybody I have ever met before. You could feel it… I was touched by it.




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Lira and I were almost done with hospital rounds.  We walked into the second to the last room and the patient was sitting on the side of his bed. Out his window you could see the trees brightly shining in their fall colors and a beautiful view of Commencement Bay.  This elderly man had a quiet assurance about him and his nose was the oddest shape I had ever seen but I must say it gave him such character.  I sat beside him on the bed and introduced myself. He said my name is so and so but everybody calls me Grandpa. He talked to Lira a bit as she sat beside him.  Lira started to lie down and I asked her to stay sitting but he said let her rest.  Grandpa gently rubbed Lira with his foot and as usual Lira is the conduit to a great story. He said, “Animals had always been a big part of my life. “

When Grandpa was 15 years old he lived on a ranch where is father worked in Oregon.  One of their jobs was breaking wild horses.  There was this one wild stallion that everyone in the area wanted to catch.  Grandpa said he wasn’t a really big stallion at approximately 15 hands but he was a beautiful rich red color with a white mane and tail.  Grandpa was enamored with the stallion and set out to befriend him. He wanted the stallion to be his horse.  He camped out for a week to try and find him.  Yes back in those days parents use to let their 15 year olds camp out for a week on their own. After a few days the stallion found him and watched him from afar.  Eventually the wild stallion came to the campsite and tiptoed slowly behind him and curiously nudged him in the shoulder. Grandpa gently rubbed his nose and the horse started a bit.  Grandpa got up and started to walk away.  The stallion came up behind him and mischievously nosed him in the behind. Here was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

It seems this beautiful friendship got off to a rocky start.  Grandpa took time to gain the animals trust.  After a day or two he was able to get a halter and saddle on him.  Well he decided admittedly too soon that he was going to get on his back.  The stallion promptly bucked him off.  This ticked Grandpa off so back in the day, cowboys tried a little trick of tying the stirrups together.    The idea was that if you kept your feet in the stirrups you couldn’t get bucked off.  Well the stallion wasn’t having it.  He bucked and bucked and bucked and bucked finally getting the young man off of him.  There was a problem.  The stallion was so determined that the young man was injured.  Luckily his father chose that day to go out and check on his son.    Grandpa described his injuries as his insides were all torn up. His stomach and intestines were separated from his cavity wall and he was out of commission for two months.

Grandpa was more determined than ever.  He went back as soon as he could.  He even went back about a month early before he was completely healed.  Kids!!  It sounds like the stallion felt bad because this time he let the young lad ride him and that is what Grandpa named the horse, Lad.  Lad was his horse from this day on.

He took Lad on the cowboy circuit and rode in races.  Lad NEVER EVER lost a race. Grandpa said the horse would not accept second place. On one fateful day Lad was racing and another horse was on his tail.  He gave it his all and then some. Just before the finish line Lad collapsed and slid across. Lad had over exerted himself and died instantly. He was only five years old. Grandpa was heartbroken.

This memory was so fresh in Grandpas mind seventy years later.   As I was sitting alongside Grandpa telling this thought provoking story Lira and I were mesmerized.     

Grandpa told me he got to go home the next day to his wife of 57 years. Thanks Grandpa for your story.

Pet Therapy Stories

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Lira and I hear many stories about amazing animals when we visit patients.  I thought it was time to pay tribute to some of them.

A very nice woman lying in her hospital bed petting Lira told me that she and her husband rescued a snoodle dog.  They were calling the female dog Sherlock because of the whole we found you she found us scenario.  They were debating for a couple of months whether to change her name because a few people had commented that it was a strange name for a female.   Well one day a woman was playing with her dog in a vacant lot nearby and Sherlock was playing with them.  She happened to be a dog psychologist.  She came over and knocked on the door telling the couple that she couldn’t leave because the dog insisted that she come over and tell them two things.  One was that Sherlock was very happy with them and two don’t change my name.  Now I have never been a big believer in dog psychologists and asked if Sherlock had a tag on.  She said that she did but that it only named her address.  Needless to say they did not change her name. 

Another woman told me that she helped a black lab mix as a child.  The dog didn’t belong to anybody but ever since she helped that dog he would meet her everyday ½ way home from school and insisted on carrying her books for her in his mouth.  Everyday!

The collie that came to the window of a woman blow drying her hair and barked incessantly out at the barn.  She nonchalantly went to a window to look out and the barn was on fire.  The fire had just started in the shavings bin and she was able to get the fire out in time. No his name wasn’t Lassie… it was Collie J

Then there was the local nursing home cat that lives in the facility. He always seems to know when it’s time for someone to pass on.  He comes and lies on the person’s chest to just be with them until they go.

Then there is the story of Dixie who was at the time approximately a 4 year old Dalmatian that got dumped by the side of the Puyallup River with 10 pups. (Kudos to the Puyallup Rescue Facility that saved them) The dog really took to her husband.  One night her husband had fallen asleep in the recliner.  Dixie came up to her bed and insisted that she come downstairs.  It turns out that her husband was unresponsive and had a massive stroke.  Dixie coming to get her saved her husband’s life.

My own personal story.  I had a dog named Rascal many years ago.  He was an all black lab shepherd mix.   I always teased my son at the time that Rascal had been around since way before him.  When Skyler was born Rascal took on the role of protecting him.  He was one of those dogs that couldn’t be contained but was never very far from you. He lived to the ripe old age of 16. I loved him very much.  One day my husband called and said that Rascal was having a very hard time and seemed embarrassed about it. For awhile now I had dreaded this day was coming.  He hated going to the vet so I told my husband that I would call the vet to come out to the farm to put him down. I remember driving home that morning after a 24 hour shift at the fire station remembering all the wonderful times I had with Rascal.  How thankful I was for his companionship, protection and loyalty. What would days be like without him by my side? It was going to be so hard to be by HIS side when it was time but I would be there to tell him over and over what a good boy he was.  I had mentioned to my husband where I wanted to bury him.  While I was driving home he went out to weed eat the area and Rascal drug himself out there and died.   It was his last gift to me. 

And of course there is Lira.  How does she know which patients need special attention, which patients want a kiss on the lips, a snuggle in the neck, their hand held or a paw on the arm, which patients are in pain and to be careful of those sensitive areas, which patients love dogs and the ones that don’t and how does she get those non dog lovers to love her, which patients need her rapt attention or a snooze with them on their hospital bed, how does she gets patients to respond when they have been unresponsive, how does she know when someone is about to pass on and how does she seem to remember every single person she has ever met.

These are just a few of the wonderful stories that Lira and I experience. I know you all have your special story.  Please feel free to share.

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Made In America

Yesterday’s hospital visit tore at my heartstrings.  Lira and I walked into a room where a young pretty Asian woman was sitting in a chair by her bed with a pillow held to her stomach.  Her husband was sitting on a cot on the other side of the hospital bed and her sister was in a chair in the corner of the room.  Her sister had just flown in from the East Coast. You could tell that this young woman had the total support of her family. Her husband was thrilled to have Lira visit them.  He came over to the other side of the bed to greet her. He proceeded to tell me how he had been involved in pet therapy and emergency medicine when he was in the military.  He asked his wife gently if she minded the telling of their ordeal. You could tell and feel how much this young man loved his wife as he gently stroked her cheek while telling their story.  Lira hopped onto the hospital bed beside the patients chair so she could be stroked while we visited. I not sure why but Lira seems to be the conduit to peoples stories.

About 8 days ago his wife had excruciating pain in her abdomen.  He took her to a VA hospital and it appears that there was a misdiagnosis.  The couple was told that there were no signs of cancer.  His wife continued to be very sick.  He took her to a civilian facility and they found that she was indeed very sick.  They had one big problem… no insurance.  He told me with pain in his eyes how he literally begged and pleaded to hospital authorities to help him. “I’ve served my country; I’ve saved lives, I done everything right.  Please please help me save my wife.”  He said he felt so humiliated as he begged.   I’ll never forget the look in his eyes.  I tell you… when I hear a story like this my stomach tightens up and I feel ashamed.

One of the doctors that specializes in this field was suppose to leave for a conference that day.  The hospital told the patients husband they would help them and not to worry.  They would do what needed to be done and that they would worry about the other later.  The doctor postponed her trip and performed a major operation on the young woman. I’m proud of the hospital that Lira and I volunteer at.    

The young man told me how his wife was from Asia and dogs are not as revered there.  When she came to the United States she was apprehensive about having a dog.  Now the little dog sleeps with her every night and she misses him terribly.  She smiled as she stroked Lira and talked about their little dog.  Her husband commented how this was the first time he had seen her smile since the whole ordeal started and how good it was to see that smile. They were very grateful for the visit. 

Did you know that if major companies paid the taxes they rightfully owe that programs such as the VA  could be properly funded?  So many company’s funnel their money through other countries legally I might add.  They call it income shifting. Google alone has funneled money through Ireland, then to the Netherlands, and then through Bermuda who has a corporate tax rate of zero.  Microsoft does similar funneling and Face book is in the process. This is costing the United States 60 billion dollars every year. This money could pay for example 48,000 miles of highway,  1.2 million teachers for one year, one year of college for 8.5 million students and programs for our veterans just to name a few of the possibilities.  I am only mentioning three companies here in this little blog. It seems to me that they should want to give back to the country that enabled them to flourish.  How much money does one entity need?  

What can we do?  Congress is well aware of this legal loophole.  Contact your congressional representatives.   It’s so easy to contact them online now. Here is a congressional email directory.  http://www.webslingerz.com/jhoffman/congress-email.html

If we all spent just $5.33 dollars a month (64.00 a year) on Made in America merchandise we could create 200,000 jobs.  YES that’s 200,000 jobs!  Here are a few links to help you find Made in America products.  

http://www.americansworking.com/     http://madeinusaforever.com/



This is just one story of a veteran and his family.  These veterans are Made in America with pride, sacrifice and the rights of freedom to write a blog like this.  Thank you to each and every one of you AND your families for your service and sacrifice.


Lira the Amazing Pet Therapy Dog Blog “Think Safety”

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Lira and I are fortunate enough to live walking distance to the hospitals that we volunteer at. On this particular day in Seattle it was raining cats and dogs or should I say just dogs since this is a doggie bloggy. I drove this day.When we left the hospital it was dark, gloomy and raining hard. I was driving in front of a popular drive in hamburger joint that is always busy rain OR shine. I saw through the cars windshield in front of me a woman in scrubs with an umbrella crossing the street. She was in the middle of the street when I said to myself do they see each other? At this exact moment the car in front of me struck her. I heard a loud thump and the woman went up into the air like a rag doll twisting and turning until she hit the windshield of the car and tumbled to the ground. It was a slow motion moment that happened in seconds.
Being a retired firefighter I immediately pulled over and went to assist the woman. I must admit in all my years as a firefighter it was rare where you actually see the trauma occur. Actually seeing the woman hit shook me up a bit and the scenario replayed in my head for days afterwards.
Why am I blogging about this? Well Lira and I had a little talk and we thought we should share this experience so that people remember to :

1) Turn your headlights on day or night

2) Use crosswalks and always be alert to traffic

3) Be aware of crosswalks in the area so that when you are driving you can slow down

4) Wear reflective clothing and reflective leashes when walking after dark

I do not know the outcome of the accident victim. I know she was conscious which was a freaking miracle considering there was a crack in the windshield from her head. I am hoping that someday Lira and I see her back to work at the hospital. Be safe out there. No amount of time saved is worth what Lira and I experienced that dark rainy day.




Lira Blog Top of the Dog Chain

Lira Blog “Top of the Dog Chain”

 It’s been awhile since our last Lira Blog.  We’ve been waiting for just the right story. 

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  A couple of months ago Lira and I were visiting the adult oncology ward.  We entered the room of a gentleman who was about seventyish and had a  big smile on his face when he saw Lira. You could tell that he and his wife were very nice people and dog lovers.  He so enjoyed it when Lira hopped up into the hospital bed and cozied up to him.  Sometimes Lira will put her paw on a patients arm as if she knows that they particularly love dogs or they are very ill. It’s always a very tender thing to watch. His wife was so tickled that she started taking pictures of Lira snuggling with her husband on the hospital bed.  He kept saying such wonderful things like, “You are just on top of the dog chain aren’t you.”  Sometimes after a day of visiting, a particular patient stays on my mind.  I thought it was so nice of him to repeatedly state how Lira was an extraordinary animal, how special she was and he must have said at least three times how he thought Lira was on top of the dog chain. This nice man and his wife stuck with me that day.

Last week we were at the elevator of the children’s ward.  A staff member came up to the elevator and said that this must be the dog that visited her father on 6 north a few weeks ago.  She said her father talked about Lira a lot after the visit. She was very grateful that Lira helped make her father more comfortable and that Lira made him so happy. She said that her mother even had a picture of Lira and her husband on the home page of her phone. At the time I didn’t make the connection.  Lira and I see a lot of patients.  In the back of my mind I knew I remembered this person but it wasn’t connecting.  I told her to give our best to both of her parents.  She said with tears in her eyes that her father had passed away a few weeks ago.

 A couple of days later while I was enjoying some sunshine in my back yard for some unknown reason I made the connection that this was the same man that kept saying Lira was on top of the dog chain. I think it was the cell phone picture. I remembered that nice lady taking the cell phone picture and saying she was going to put it on her phone home page. I understand why she did that. For the twenty minutes that we visited her and her husband it was like he wasn’t sick at all. Most of the time we don’t know the outcome of patients and I have always thought that best.  I think it was meant to be that we knew this outcome.  It was bittersweet.

“Technically I’m not on the couch”

Make A Wish

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When Lira and I go to the children’s ward on Tuesdays, unfortunately we visit the same patient numerous times through the weeks.  One of the youngsters that we visit is a young girl who is 16 years old by the name of Ariel. When I think of what this young woman has had to endure in her lifetime… well it truly makes you think when you are complaining about inconsequential things that are happening in your own life. Instead of hanging out with friends, talking and texting and generally just being a teenager this courageous and peaceful ray of sunshine has had to endure 3 weeks of chemotherapy in the hospital and 3 weeks off at home for NINE treatments with some complications along the way.  You do the math.

One day a few weeks ago I walked into her room and she was so excited about a trip that “Make a Wish Foundation” was sending her and her entire family to.  They were off to Orlando to visit all of the theme parks. It was their first family vacation, the first time they had all been out of the state of Washington and their first plane ride together. Lira stretched out on her hospital bed as she usually does for belly rubs while Ariel happily told us all about her upcoming trip. A few days before the trip her fever spiked and she had to return to the hospital. The staff did everything in their power to get her well enough to go on that trip and they were successful. Yea!!

Last week Ariel excitedly sought Lira and I out in the hallway.  We settled into her room with Lira in her usual place with head in lap and belly easily accessible. She told us in minute detail every aspect of her trip while she loved on Lira.  She and her family were set up in a special hotel just for kids with illnesses. The hotel was fully staffed with recreational event planners and professional health care workers. The pool was wheelchair accessible and the “Ice Cream for Breakfast” and “Christmas in July” parties were a real hit.  She said there were so many fun activities at the hotel that it was hard to make all of the theme parks. They were able to get VIP treatment at all the theme parks. She met new friends one of which was a young man 16-17 years old who has been waiting for a liver transplant his whole life because he had a rare blood type.  She remains friends with him on social networking. 

After her rendition of her fabulous trip Ariel got rather philosophical. She said that the whole cancer experience has changed her.  I asked her how and she said she use to be an angry teenager.  This experience had given her focus and purpose in life.  I told her how impressed I was with her attitude. She now wants to volunteer at the same ward and has career aspirations of being a RN on a children’s cancer ward. What a life lesson that is. She is excited about being able to start her junior year in high school and begin a normal life again. When Lira and I left at the end of the visit I told her that it was nice not to have to say goodbye. I would see her on the ward when she volunteers.

A big shout out to “Make a Wish Foundation” and “Give Kids the World Resort” and to all the volunteers that help to make kids dreams come true!

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 Lira Blog “Back In Time”

 I walked into one of the hospital rooms overlooking commencement bay.  There was an elderly gentleman in the bed closest to the door.  In the area closer to the window was an oriental woman typing in notes onto a computer. She had a short pixie haircut and a white staff jacket on.  I had noticed this nurse before in previous visits but she had never said anything to us and was strictly business in our encounters.  

When I asked the patient his name it was as if he had forgotten it and it took him about 15 seconds to remember.  He obviously loved animals.  He had doggie biscuits on his hospital tray.  This was a first.  Lira was ok with it. 

 During the visit he took me back in time to the 1940’s.  He told me in detail how he went to war and “traveled the islands” meaning the islands in the South Pacific.  Tears started streaming down his face when he told me about his cocker spaniel mix named “Marks” that he missed terribly during this time.  He was so upset that I asked him if he wanted to end the visit. That if he didn’t want to continue… that was ok.  He wanted to tell me his story. When he got back home after a three year stint he was told at that time that his beloved Marks had died of cancer.  His family couldn’t bear to tell him while he was off fighting in World War II.  Here was a man that could hardly remember his name but he could tell me in minute detail his experience and love for an animal over 65 years ago. His pain was so fresh… so real. 

Toward the end of the visit the oriental lady came over to wash her hands.  She had been quietly working as the man told his story.  She petted Lira as she walked by and patted me on the shoulder.  I think she was touched by his memories.  

I would like to give a “shout out” to the veterinarian Dr. Walia in Tacoma Washington for his generosity.

Lira Blog #3 Oh Happy Day (Audio 1:32 Below )

Lillie went home today. I have watched this very sick little five year old Hispanic beauty live at the hospital for the last couple of months.   I have watched hospital staff treat her like one of their own taking her on wagon rides around the ward, teaching her one English word a day ( one day the word was glamorous to go with her princess motif ) and letting her just hang out at the nurses station with them for hours. These nurses are angels in my mind and heart.

Imagine this… a little girl sitting cross legged on the bed attached to a multitude of tubes petting Lira who is on the bed with her.  Her hair done perfectly by her mother, two little shoulder length pony tails with different colored rubber bands every couple of inches.  Whenever she saw Lira she would smile from ear to ear framing chubby cheeks. This smile can only be described as a joyful brightening of our world.  A tiny youngster who understandably was cranky some days and a precious little girl who definitely always knew exactly what she wanted.   

What a blessing it was to happen to walk in as she and her family were preparing with the hospital staff to go home.  What a joy it was to see this kind of happiness shining through every pore of her being.

Lira Visiting the Hospital Rose Garden                      

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