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On Ambassadors and Advocating For (Your) Pit Bull Dogs

Here’s some stuff I’ve been thinking about lately:

1. Why is it so hard to find the perfect black hoodie? You know, not too baggy, not too tight, not too lightweight, not too heavy.

2. What is Terminus and how will I survive waiting another year for the new season of The Walking Dead to come out on dvd? No spoilers or I’ll stalk you when I turn.

3. What gets in the way of responsible people making smart choices for their dogs?

 

Since this isn’t a blog about zombies (yet), let’s look at #3:

We already know that it’s our job to stand up for our dogs and be assertive in protecting our dog’s physical and mental health, as well as the safety of those around them. Right?

We know that what gets in the way of us doing that is we often don’t want to be perceived as rude or “bitchy.” Not sure what I’m talking about? See one of my most popular posts of all time: Stop Caring What Others Think and Stand Up For Your Dogs.

But in addition to the regular worries about what other people think about us when we are standing up for our dogs, there’s this other thing that affects a really big group of dog owners that I love dearly and belong to myself. I’m talking about my pit bull peeps.

Many people who own pit bull dogs are concerned about how our dog’s behavior (or our own actions) will influence public opinion about all the other dogs out there that look like ours. It’s not just internal pressure. We’re generally encouraged to make our dogs into “ambassadors.” But here’s the thing:

Wanting your dog to be an ambassador can sometimes get in the way of you being a good advocate (for your actual dog).

 

For those of you who get to go about your daily business without ever spending a second thinking about your dog being an ambassador, please let me explain what that means:

Those of us who share our lives with pit bulls would love to bust stereotypes and change minds about our misunderstood dogs. We know that a positive, real-life interaction with our nice dogs can go a long way in undoing the myths that surround pit bulls. So we’re extra sensitive to how our dog’s behavior in public might either mistakenly confirm peoples’ fears or cause them to have a change of heart about pit bulls. We work hard for the latter. Every time we leave the house.

There’s a lot of pressure on our dogs to be “ambassadors” for all the other pit bulls and that’s a heavy load for the average dog to bear, because guess what?

Pit bulls are just dogs.

And dogs aren’t pre-programmed ambassador robots.

Dogs are, well, dogs. Even the very best behaved dog – no matter what their shape, size, breed, or political orientation – have boundaries that need to be respected. For example, few dogs (even very social ones) enjoy rude, uninvited greetings from out of control dogs and grabby kids.

The point is to say that even dogs that are excellent ambassadors still have needs. It’s our job to pay attention to them and speak up when they need us to, so they stay healthy and safe. We’re our dog’s everyday advocates.

And yet: our desire to change public perceptions of our dogs sometimes means that we ignore what our dogs need, because we’re afraid that if we speak up, that other people will think our dogs aren’t friendly or that we’re mean and that will reflect badly on all the other pit bulls out there.

Look, if you’re ever feeling icky about speaking up for your dog, here’s the deal:

Never put your desire to change public perceptions of pit bulls before your own dog’s needs.

 

Don’t do anything that will cause them to have a training set back or damage their own social tolerance of other dogs or make them uncomfortable or allow them to get hurt because you’re hesitant to speak up for their needs for fear that it will give people a bad impression of pit bulls.

That’s not your problem. Your dog’s needs come first.

problem

 

If your dog seems uncomfortable meeting a new person or dog or is uneasy at an event, please walk away. Don’t stick around because you want people to meet your nice dog and have an a-ha moment about pit bulls.

When someone wants to just “say hi!” but it’s not a good match for your dog, don’t agree to it because you’re afraid the other person will think that all pit bull dogs and their owners are unfriendly if you say “no thanks”.

It’s awesome when our well behaved, outgoing pit bulls are enjoying themselves in public and change some opinions in the process. I love when that happens and I’m super grateful to all the pit bull owners out there who are making a real difference through their public appearances and awards, therapy dog work, sporting events, and parade dance parties.

But our desire to have our dogs be ambassadors should never come at our dogs’ expense. All dogs, even UN World Happiness Ambassadogs have boundaries and emotions that need to be respected. Never put the needs of the “movement” before advocating for your individual dog’s needs, ok?

And for those of you who have pit bulls that you know are not “ambassadors” because they’re reactive, fearful, anxious, or whatever other common dog behavior issue you may be dealing with, listen up.

Please don’t hide at home because you’re afraid that if your dog has a meltdown on a walk that it will make people think bad things about pit bulls. Go on and walk them in public (if that’s what works for them) and practice their training, just like any other dog owner would do. Don’t deny your dog a chance to work on their leash skills or do some counter conditioning work because you’re afraid of showing the world a not-perfect pit bull.

You are not responsible for everyone else’s opinions about pit bulls.

You are responsible for properly managing and training your dog, as well as protecting their well-being. Just like all the other dog owners out there.

 

Focus on that. Do right by your dog and you do us all proud.

Side bar: If you need to muzzle your dog, just do it. Don’t get hung up on what other people will think about pit bulls because your dog is wearing one.

It took me a minute to be ok with the fact that Boogie, my sensitive, sometimes leash reactive, and fearful pit bull, was not going to be an ambassador. But I realized life is hard enough for him. I didn’t need to put any more pressure on Boogie by asking him to represent every other dog that looks like him.

boogie sun

Sweet Boogie seen here impressing the wilderness beyond the porch with his polite behavior.

 

My job is to be Boogie’s advocate. That means that sometimes people will shout out “Can my dog/kid say hi? Is your dog friendly?” and I have to say “No! Sorry!” and I’m dying a little because I want to say is:

“My dog is so sweet and he lives with another dog and three cats peacefully, but strange dogs and random kids scare him, so he needs his personal space respected. But please don’t think that pit bulls are aggressive or mean because my dog can’t say hi to you guys right now. He’s only representing Boogie. It has nothing to do with his breed. Thanks! Also, do you like the Walking Dead? Do you know what Terminus is? Wait, wait, don’t tell me!”

But there’s no time to say that, so I just say “No!” And I let them think whatever they’re going to think about my dog. Or make whatever generalizations they’ll make about pit bulls and short women with New Jersey accents, because we hustled to get away.

Just in case you’re wondering, I’m not saying you shouldn’t train your dog and help give them the skills they need to be better behaved or more comfortable out in the world. Or that you shouldn’t want your pit bull to be an ambassador. By all means, help them learn how to navigate the world with grace and if you can, change some hearts and minds along the way if they’re comfortable doing so.

But I am saying:

It’s not fair when our desire to make a good impression or change public opinion comes at the expense of our own dog’s needs or their safety.

 

When we do that we wind up setting up our dogs to, at best, have a rotten time, and at worst, force them to make a choice that could get them in a lot of trouble.

Being a good advocate for pit bulls (and all other dogs) means that we make choices based on what our individual dogs need to succeed in our crazy world. Even if that means leaving our advocacy work at our desks when we take our dogs for a walk. Your dog is counting on you to stand up for them, not just on the big issues, but in life’s everyday occurrences. Be your pit bull’s hero and advocate for them first.

 

 

 

I Heart Boundaries: Compassion Fatigue Education

Earlier this summer I met the coolest bunch of rescue and shelter workers at BAD Rap’s Rescue Jam. There were 70+ people at this unique weekend-long event and they were all stoked to get to work using the new tools, ideas, and connections picked up during their time in Oakland.

I was there to give two presentations: one for DINOS and another on compassion fatigue. My compassion fatigue talk was a way to remind them, before they jumped back into work at home, that their most important tool – the one that is capable of making the biggest impact and doing the most good – is themselves. We are our most important tool and yet, we rarely take time to care for ourselves.

As far as our Make-A-Difference-Toolbox goes, nothing trumps the tool of people when it comes to making things better for dogs and their peeps. But generally speaking, our field doesn’t spend a whole lot of time, energy, or resources addressing the needs of the people who dedicate themselves to the difficult work of making a difference for animals.

So that’s why I’m hanging out in hot tents talking about compassion fatigue these days. At the Jam I shared strategies for managing compassion fatigue related stress. There are many, but setting boundaries is an important one. In fact, it’s critical.

Setting boundaries and taking care of ourselves allows us to engage in sustainable, effective, and ethical work.

 

jessica dolce

You can score “I heart boundaries” gear here  | photo credit: Maggie McDowell

 

I wasn’t the only one talking about setting healthy boundaries at the Jam. It’s such an significant topic that many of the other speakers touched on the importance taking care of ourselves and setting limits too. It’s the only way to stay in the game long term and do good work.

Ironically, I had “I heart boundaries” t-shirts made for DINOS a few years ago because I want people to respect the personal space of dogs. Turns out this tee is made for compassion fatigue work and was a big hit at the Jam.

So this brings me to my announcement: I’ve got a whole new website and new blog! 

The site is still a work in progress, but you can check out the new compassion fatigue resources I’m offering here:

FINAL_jd_web_header_950x250

 

Just in case you’re wondering, Notes From a Dog Walker and DINOS aren’t going anywhere! I just needed a separate space for all my compassion fatigue offerings, which are aimed at helping animal care workers, to live.

So, let me tell you a little about why this work is super important to me:

1. No one talked to me about compassion fatigue, stress, or self-care while I was working at the shelter. When I had trouble dealing with the work, I thought I was crazy and weak. Now I know I was having a normal reaction to the stress of constantly providing care for people and animals in need and that there are things I could have done to help myself.

2. Our industry has a very high turnover rate. When we invest in training an employee, only to lose them to stress and trauma (the pay isn’t anything to write home about either), we lose their knowledge and skills too. If we want to make progress, we need people to stick around long enough to make a difference.

3. I respect the hell out of animal care workers: animal control officers, shelter workers, foster families, vet techs. If they’re working hard at making things better for animals and their people, then they’re my heroes. I want to do what I can to support them. This is a way for me to give to others what I wish I had had for myself.

I believe that compassion fatigue education and self-care practices need to be made a priority in our field. We can’t do effective, ethical work if we’re depleted, stressed, traumatized, and burned out.

We need to be well to do good.

 

So that’s why I’m dedicating so much of my time to compassion fatigue education these days. I’ll be travelling to a few organizations this fall, but in between my live workshops, I’m whipping up what I think will be my best offering to date:

A multi-week online class for animal care professionals and volunteers called Compassion In Balance:

compassion in balance online class photo

 

The class will be a way for anyone who works with animals to easily access the resources they need to better understand and manage compassion fatigue. It’s going to be a safe online community where we can support each other each week, as we build our self-care toolbox and practice new strategies for being well, while we’re doing good. No one else is offering anything quite like it.

I’m finishing up the class design now and will be beta testing it this fall on a group of animal welfare bad asses. We’re gonna let them deal with all the first-run kinks. The class should be ready to launch this winter.

My goal is to get the class running for animal care workers and then later offer a modified version for people who own dogs with serious behavior or medical issues. Those of you who live with dogs like this may be suffering from compassion fatigue and you bet I want to support you too!

I still have a few months to go before I can roll out the classes, but if you’re interested in finding out more or just hearing from me every once in a while, may I suggest that you:

Sign up for my brand new e-letter!

 

Starting in September I’ll be sending out a monthly(ish) e-letter with news and notes on what’s shaking in relation to compassion fatigue and self care, plus highlights from DINOS and Notes From a Dog Walker too. It’s the best way for me to stay in touch about everything I’m working on, share the resources I think you guys will find helpful, and offer you special deals when the classes are ready to launch.

So that’s what I’ve been up to this summer and what I’ll be buried in this fall! I’m so excited to offer this to you guys – nothing makes me happier than connecting you all to life-changing resources that will support and empower you in your important work with animals.

So get psyched:

Boundaries are the new black y’all.

Roots, Rescue, and The Jam: Lessons from BAD RAP

The other week I got to attend BAD RAP’s 2nd Annual Rescue Jam in Oakland, CA. The Jam was the JAMMIEST. 

It was one hot weekend, filled with good people, powerful presentations, and complex questions about rescue work. We covered legal issues and contracts, the rising epidemic of hoarding and failed rescues, effective advocacy and community building, harm reduction as a model for pet owner support, media training, and so much more.  I’m taking some time to process it, so expect to hear more from me about these topics in the coming months.

Anywhoozle, I was there for two reasons. One was to talk about Compassion Fatigue and the non-negotiable self-care all rescue and shelter workers need to engage in pronto. I’ll cover that in a separate post.

photo credit: Maggie McDowell

BAD RAP Rescue Jam | photo credit: Maggie McDowell

 

The other reason I was invited to the Jam was to talk about my project DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space.

And so, my first DINOS PowerPoint was born. It was heavy on the silly and filled with cartoons (is it just me or does anyone else believe that single panel cartoonists are the truthsayers of our day?). I got to read My Dog is Friendly: A Public Service Announcement out loud which was super fun – we all shouted “My Dog is Friendly!” together a bunch of times. Very cathartic.

After that, I told the rescue groups about the message of DINOS and what they could do to support us. Specifically, I asked that, as animal care experts, they share dog walking safety tips with their community and adopters, so that being respectful of a dog’s need for space becomes common knowledge.

I also told them that you guys are AWESOME.

Team DINOS is one of the smartest, most compassionate, respectful, and helpful online communities in the whole interwebz. I shared that it’s my privilege to be able to crowd source Team DINOS and curate the knowledge that you’ve earned the hard way, so that others (like their adopters) can benefit from what you’ve been through.

photo credit: Maggie McDowell

Me at the Jam (am I giving myself a fist bump here? perhaps.) | photo credit: Maggie McDowell

 

It was a good time all around and I met tons of inspiring people from all over the country. There were lots of Team DINOS members at the Jam and meeting them in person was super cool for a Maine-based hermit like me.

Fact: It was a huge honor to speak at a BAD RAP event.

 

Gang, these guys are my teachers. Over the years, Donna and Tim (co-founders of BAD RAP) have had a tremendous influence on the work that I do. Truth is, I’m not sure that DINOS would exist without BAD RAP. For serious.

So it was a real trip to be in their house, sharing what I know and my message, when so much of it is rooted in BAD RAP’s work!

Let me explain how they’ve influenced what I do. Here are a few things I’ve learned from BAD RAP:

A dog’s social tolerance of other dogs is a fluid thing. Their dog tolerance level information was a light bulb learning moment for me years ago – giving me the language to explain what I had been experiencing as dog walker. They taught me how to better understand and talk about the individual social needs of dogs and the important role we have in protecting our dogs from rude, rushed dog-dog greetings. They taught me to stand up for my dogs.

Learning how to walk politely on leash can be a matter of life and death for many dogs. Their Pit Ed classes, where they run multiple dog training classes at the same time (we’re talking 60+ dogs/handlers!) are a joy to watch.  Many of the dogs attending class are reactive shelter dogs who have not yet been adopted and are there to learn the leash manners they desperately need, so that they can make it out of crowded, urban shelters alive. The volunteer handlers are dedicated to changing the outcome for these dogs in the limited amount of time they have to make a difference for the dogs. This taught me that smoothing out reactive leash behaviors can be the difference between leaving the shelter through the front or the back door.

Working with reactive dogs can be super fun. By watching and participating in these classes, I learned to find the joy in working with a variety of reactive dogs – especially the large, strong, and fearless ones. BAD RAP taught me how to appreciate their sass. To be fully present to the dogs and mindful of my own body as I moved with them. To reward the dogs generously with treats and praise. To not let my own fears of looking stupid prevent me from engaging and being enthusiastic with the dogs. To brush it off quickly when I bomb and keep trying. They taught me how to build better relationships (complete with soulful eye contact) with the naughty clowns dogs in my life.

Positive, long lasting, meaningful change doesn’t grow out of polarized, judgmental, either-or thinking. Five years ago I attended a BAD RAP community event serving low income families who, if judged by the standards of many of us in animal welfare, would not be considered ideal dog owners. Rather than chastise them, I saw how BAD RAP chose to connect and collaborate with the crowds of people lined up for help. They met them respectfully, as equals, offering care for beloved family pets without conditions. They taught me to look for the common ground – the love we all have for our dogs – even if it that love looks different on the outside. And to celebrate what people are already doing right, while offering assistance. Through their continuing owner support work, they’ve taught me the power of compassionate action and a positive approach with people (in real life and online).

BR will be out this weekend in Oakland making their corner of the world a better place.

BR will be out this weekend in Oakland making their corner of the world a better place for families who love their dogs.

 

BAD RAP has most definitely shaped my work. They’ve helped me to think about the big picture issues, but also to remember the needs of the people and dogs who are right in front of me.

Donna and Tim have been doing this hard work for a long time and are generous about sharing what they know. Getting to spend time with BAD RAP isn’t just fun, it’s an education in the history of our field for newbies like me who have only been around 2, 5, or 10 years.

I find it kind of odd – disorienting, really – to be in a business where there is so little discussion of our lineage as animal welfare workers: the origins of our field, the people who have stood before us, and the mistakes and subsequent hard lessons that have been learned along the way. I wonder if we’d be stronger and more effective as a community if we saw more clearly whose shoulders we were standing on, whose footsteps we follow in, and the work we are building upon every time we rise up to push for more change.

The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree, you know?

I consider BAD RAP to be a significant part of my lineage as an animal care worker and educator. I’m still working to understand the paradoxes and profound truths of our work with dogs and people. It’s a slow and winding road, this education. But BAD RAP makes the journey all the richer for being ahead of me.

So here’s a cheers to BR for all the lessons and the laughs. And to all the work they’ve inspired me and so many others to do. I know that 70+ people left the Jam last week excited to make a difference for pets and people back in their hometowns. We’re all mighty lucky to have these compassionate, smart rescuers among us. Thanks to all of you!

 

Up next: Compassion Fatigue at the Jam and an announcement…

 

 

Look Ma, No Hands! [contest]

Last week, I told you about a sweet deal Fit For A Pit is offering you guys: $10 off any purchase of $20+ through 7/31/14. See that blog for details + promo code to get your deal. 

Pretty swell me thinks!

But when it comes to you guys, I go for all the freebies I can get. So this week lovely Heather, owner of  Fit For a Pit, is giving one of you a FREE Squishy Face Studio Hands Free Dog Leash Belt.

squishy face belt

oooh, pretty.

Want to win one? Contest details are at the end of the blog. First, let me tell you about the belt, so you can decide if you want one.

Jessica, owner of Squishy Face Studios (another awesome small business) sent me a belt to test out last year before they were made available to the public. I got the belt for free in exchange for giving them my feedback on their new product. Guess what? In my opinion, they didn’t need to make changes because they got it 100% right.

This is not me or my dog, but they're both cute, right?

This is not me or my dog, but they’re both cute, right?

 

3 Reasons The Squishy Face Hands-Free Belt Rocks:

  • It’s super strong. Jessica shared that the belt had been tested with three dogs at once and they’d done a 165lb strength test.
  • It’s really comfortable. The belt is 2″ wide, so it doesn’t cut into your chub (not that any of you have any chub, but if you did, it wouldn’t bother you). And, it’s pretty darn cute.
  • It’s simple to use. You put on the belt. You open the colored nylon strap via the quick release buckle. You loop the handle of your dog’s regular leash handle in there and snap the buckle shut. It works with any leash.

Here’s how it works:   Simply put the belt is: Easy, Comfortable, and Safe.

8 Reasons to Give a Hands-Free Belt a Try:

  • You aren’t holding the leash, so you won’t be sending your tension down the line to your dog.
  • Your hands are free to give your dogs treats, wipe ice melt off their paws, scoop poop, or pull chicken bones out of their mouths (city dog walkers I know you feel me on that last one).
  • They make it easy to obey leash laws while doing whatever you want to do with your dog – hiking, running, snow shoeing, biking, pushing a stroller, or yoga. No excuses, yo.
  • Instead of dislocating your arm, your dog is attached at a spot lower on your body, closer to your center of gravity, where you are stronger and more stable.
  • If you’re teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash, this will help because you won’t be pulling and jerking the leash.
  • You can use this with a new dog in the house when then aren’t crated. Back when I fostered dogs, I would attach the newbie to my waist for the first few days to help them avoid making naughty choices around the house (like tasting my cats).
  • If you take your dog to a picnic, eat too much macaroni salad and fall asleep under a tree, your dog will remain attached to your waist until you wake up and get your act together. Not that any of you would ever do that.
  • Here’s the #1 best thing: You don’t have to worry about dropping the leash. This is a big one for any of us that are anxious about walking our reactive dogs. With a hands-free belt, you don’t have to worry that the leash will be ripped out of your hand because you were relaxed (for once!) while walking your dog, when — BOOM! another dog sneaks up and your dog goes bonkers and you drop the leash. Yeah, you won’t have to worry about that.

BTW, If you want to, you can still hold the leash in your hands while it’s attached to the belt. Whatever floats your dog walking boat.

leash-belt-standardi-dog

Dog (and lovely small waist) not included.

 

The contest has ended. Booo.

Congratulations to Sarabeth Tolbert  who won the prize!

Here’s the CONTEST!   

Leave me a comment answering the question below and one lucky person will be chosen to win a Squishy Face Hands Free Belt from Fit For A Pit!

A movie about your dog is about to hit the big screen. What’s the title?

Share your answer in the comment section between now and Thursday, July 10th at Midnight EST. One entry per person please (you can name as many movie titles in your comment as you’d like though!). One comment will be chosen at random and the winner will be announced here and on the DINOS Facebook page on Friday, July 11th.

You know, you’re already all winners because with that special offer from Fit For a Pit, you can take $10 off any purchase of $20+ this month (including this belt)! See this blog for your promo code + offer details.

(p.s. My dog Birdie’s movie would be called “The Moderately Paced and The Curious” – kind of like The Fast and The Furious, only with an old Beagle – and Boogie’s would be “Romancing the Ball.”)

I’m Busy, You Win! [A Special Offer From Fit For A Pit]

Hiya! It’s been a while, huh?

Here’s the scoop: I’m juggling 2 bazillion projects this year (some of which you’ll be hearing about soon) and I’m so overwhelmed this summer that it’s a tiny miracle that I’m able to wrangle enough brain cells to write this at all.

Quick story: I donated blood the other week and during the rigorous interview to make sure I was safe to give up a pint of blood, I got so confused that the tech and I started joking that I was going to be turned away from donating because I was just too dumb. Really, my brain is that compromised from multitasking related-stress. Don’t worry. In the end they took me and my befuddled blood. And I enjoyed getting to lie down for a few minutes. Plus, free cookies! I highly recommend donating blood if you need a break from work.

Here’s the thing, stuff is only getting busier for the next two months, so despite the fact that I’m dying to write stuff here, I just CAN’T. Grad school, presentations for work, dog #2 in physical rehab (yep, it’s Boogie this time – more on that later), and a sorta secret project will do that to a gal.

These days I’m working at finding the positive – noticing the pear, if you will-  so I want to tell you what I CAN do:

Give you stuff!

 

That’s right. To celebrate my inability to write a substantial blog post, I’ve got a deal just for you! I’ve been feeling bad about not hanging out here with you guys, so I asked my friend Heather who own Fit For A Pit if she could hook y’all up with a deal. Heather, Champion of Generosity that she is, said “Hells Yeah I can do that!” and thus the DINOS discount was born.

 

fit for pit

This dog is super psyched that you’re getting a sweet deal.

 

Shop for anything your heart desires over at Fit For A Pit and:

Take $10 off any purchase of $20+ now through July 31st!*

All you have to do is use the coupon code: DINOS  

*Limit one per customer (because we don’t want to put Heather out of business)

 

Despite the name of her store, Fit For a Pit carries stuff that ALL dogs love. But if you do happen to have a blocky-headed, chesty, bull of a dog, they carry products that fit. My dog Birdie – not a pit bull – can’t fit into anything because she’s really busty (she got that from me), but that’s no problemo here!

Let’s do some window shopping together, before you head over to grab your discounted loot, ok? Here are just a few of my favorite products that Fit For a Pit carries:

 

The Flirt Pole (read my blog on them here):

 

flirt_pole_4__82304.1394318267.1280.1280

Dog Tees – that really fit:

fit for a pit tees

Goughnuts and other durable toys (read my blog on them here):

GoughNuts_01

 

Books from Patricia McConnell and Ken Foster (I like him):

good dog

And everyone’s favorite dog walking accessory Spray Shield! (I mention that one all the time):

spray-shield

 

There’s tons more cool, high quality stuff, like Doggles, backpacks, Chilly Dog sweaters, sunscreen, and even the Freedom No-Pull Harness. You can take $10 off on all of this stuff! Frankly the chance to get a flirt pole on the cheap or restock your Spray Shield at a discount is enough to head on over there and get clickin’, ammirite?

Heather carries just about everything I’ve been sharing with you all these years, so I’m genuinely happy to be connecting all of you to her store. You may be wondering, savvy consumers that you all are, is this an affiliate partnership? Why yes it is smarty! If you’re counting, I now have two affiliate partnerships: this one and Your End of the Lead.

When Heather started accepting affiliates, I asked to join her program. I want to shop from a small family business like Heather’s (instead of big anonymous drone-loving Amazon) when I can and I’m happier when I can link to small businesses here too. Heather has been involved in dog rescue for years and goes out of her way to support animal welfare groups, so I’m super proud to be working with her and supporting her business.

If you use the links in this blog to visit the store, I make a buck or two. But guess what, if you’re not into that, you can visit the store without using my links and you still get the $10 off with the DINOS code. Wheee!

Wait, a sec….now what was I talking about?  I believe that we will win! Where are my pants?

Oh yeah, you guys get $10 off this month. Say what?! That’s really generous of you Heather. Thanks pal!

 

But hold on, that’s not all. Next week come on back to look for a secret giveaway here on the blog. One of you is going to win one of my favorite new products…

Okay okay, you beat the secret giveaway right out of me: it’s a hands-free belt from Squishy Face. Next week I’ll share my experience testing the belt out on my dog walks and you can enter to win one!

See, life is good for you guys when I feel guilty about not writing anything new. My loss (of sanity) is your gain. Hip hip hooray!

 

Walking and Reading: 6|13|14

It's lupine time in Maine.

It’s lupine time in Maine. Not too shabby.

 

For the Humans:

I just discovered Evernote  (I know, I’m kinda late to the party). It is flat out rocking my world.

One of my oldest friends, photographer Ryan McGinley, just gave a fabulous commencement speech at Parsons. If you’re an artist, you’ll want to watch it. If you’re not, watch it anyway.

“Don’t compete. Find what’s uniquely yours. Identify what that thing is and do it.” – Ryan

 

For the Dogs:

It’s that time of year here in Maine: bug bites, rashes, and other dog boo boos abound. Bad Rap’s classic post has some good advice. 

Dogs Out Loud reminds us to catch our dogs doing something good. Amen to that.

Did you know dogs used to (literally) rule? Meet the Dog Kings.

 

For the Laugh:

Finally, I have a pro wrestling persona (I bet a few of you can relate)!

 

And Offline:

I just listened to the audio version of Into Thin Air, which had me running to Netflix to watch the IMAX Everest movie. And I’m currently laughing my way through Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog  by Delia Ephron. What about you?

 

 

Are You Giving or Taking Space? It Matters.

It’s Dog Bite Prevention Week again. Hey! Ho! Let’s Go (look at some ways to not get bit)!

There are a million ways to prevent dog bites. Fortunately dogs aren’t really into biting us all that much. Did you know there are more than 70 million dogs in this country? That’s a lot of teeth. And yet, they rarely use ‘em on us, even when we act like fools. But occasionally, due to a variety of factors, dog bites do happen.

One of the ways that we can prevent dog bites is by thinking about space.

Specifically, how we take space from dogs.

 

When I started talking about Dogs in Need of Space a few years ago, I was looking for a simple way to communicate that all dogs have a right to their personal space and we should do what we can to avoid taking that space from them without permission.

Dog bite prevention tips are often about space (even if that’s not how they’re framing them). That’s cuz how we give and take space can influence the likelihood of a dog tasting us. Let me show you how space plays a role in reducing dog bites:

 

Body Language: The way we move our bodies can help change how dogs are feeling about a situation. For example, we can take a step back, turn our bodies sideways, or crouch down to reduce the amount of space we take up and appear less threatening.

This week I was charged by a loose and under-socialized dog. I slowed my pace and turned my body 3/4 away from the dog to minimize the confrontation. I rocked my weight back, avoided looking directly at the dog, and kept my hands at my sides. I gave him as much space as I could in that moment through my body language. I got sniffed and he left.

Dear human, I am watching you carefully for clues.

Dear human, I am watching you carefully for clues.

 

Leash Laws: Using a leash helps to create space between your dog and other dogs or people (including the elderly and the disabled). When we leash our dogs and keep them by our sides as we pass others it maximizes the amount of space between both parties. This allows the person or the other dog, who may not appreciate meeting another dog while they are on leash, the opportunity to pass by calmly.

Leash laws can reduce bites between dogs, but also to humans (since we’re the ones who usually get bit when we try to intervene in a dog-dog brouhaha).

Not leashing your dog and allowing it to approach another dog  or a person without their permission robs others of their personal space. When that happens, many dogs and people will act in ways that will increase the likelihood of a bite (think: screaming, running away, and hitting or threatening your dog).

Not sure when to leash you dog? Ta-dah!

Proper Containment: Dogs that are properly contained on their property cannot escape to chase passing dogs and people. When we keep our dogs on our property using a fence, a lead, or a rock solid recall/proper supervision, we can create enough space between our dogs and passing pedestrians, playing kids, dog walkers, etc., so that they can all whiz by safely and without incident.

The other day while I was walking two dogs, I was chased by a loose dog that was not happy that we were walking by his lawn. I retreated into the street and up the block a bit to give him as much space as possible. I did not want him to feel as though we were in “his” space and that he had to protect his property. He followed us for 3 houses, then turned back. I gave him space, but I was at risk. You know what would have been a safer way to give that dog space near his property? A fence.

Don't makes us leave our yard.

Guard Wieners say: We see you. Just keep moving and no one gets hot dogged.

 

Being Polite: Every single time you pause to ask permission when meeting an unfamiliar dog you are creating space on multiple levels. You’re creating physical space by stopping your body/hands/your dog from moving forward without an invitation. You’re creating the space to observe by allowing enough time to look at the dog’s body language for clues about how the dog really feels about meeting you or your dog. You are creating the space for a response by allowing the dog and the other owner time to respond to your request, which might be “no”. In which case, you are giving them the space to leave. 

Seriously, just being polite and respectful by asking first is a real winner in the preventing bites category.

 

Kids and Dogs: When we teach kids that they are not to go near the dog when it’s eating or chewing a bone, we’re teaching them to give a dog space. Same goes for teaching them not to use dogs as full body bean bag chairs, not to hug them, not to approach loose or chained dogs, and also to get the heck out of the dog’s crate. It’s all about teaching kids to respect the dog’s space.

Kids, please give this dog space. Then tell your parents to call the SPCA.

Kids, please give this dog space. Then tell your parents to call the SPCA.

 

Avoiding Surprises: If you are a jogger or cyclist, please give dogs physical space by not zooming right up on them. When you make a wide arc around them, you maximize the space between you. Dogs are dogs – they don’t understand why you are running full tilt right at them. When they are surprised by your approach, it increases the likelihood of a bite. Even the best behaved, most well socialized dogs can have a bad moment when they are surprised by having you suddenly in their space.

Good Management: Making good choices gives our dogs the space they need to succeed. When we have guests come over, workmen, unexpected deliveries, etc. we can give our dogs the space they need to feel safe by using crates, gates, leashes, and old-fashion doors to separate them from people. Same goes for on-leash walks. You may need to say “no” when someone tries to approach your dogs. You’re making a smart choice, so don’t worry if  it pisses someone else off. You’re in charge of doing your best to create the space your dog needs to succeed. Always stand up for them.

Rocket Ships: Or, we can forget everything I said and just put us all on a rocket. Blast us into space. The dogs would miss us, but we’d prevent lots of bites if we were on Mars. Also, would I get to hangout with Neil DeGrasse Tyson if we were all in space? That would be so rad.

 

This here is a BAD ASS.

This here is a BAD ASS.

 

Wrapping it all up: The next time you’re with dogs and not sure what the best thing to do would be, you can ask yourself: Am I giving space or taking it away? How can I create space so that everyone stays calm and safe?

And so, another Dog Bite Prevention Week comes to a close here on Notes from a Dog Walker with this thought:

SPACE: It’s not just about the cosmos, it’s also a great way to prevent a lot of dog bites.

 

Things You Might Have Missed

Psssst. Come here. I want to tell you something. Just between you and me:

You’re missing out.

 

I know because I see you while I’m out walking dogs every day. You’re walking your dog too, but you’re not really there.

Your dog knows it. I see them looking at me and I smile at them, hoping you’ll notice me noticing them and then realize that at the end of your arm is a leash attached to everything you’re busy chasing somewhere else. You really matter to your dog, you know. If you pay attention, you might feel how important and appreciated you are. It feels real good.

I see you with your head down, eyes fixed on your phone’s screen, one arm fully extended behind you. You’re not aware that you’re dragging your dog along who is trying to sniff something very important. When you get home, maybe you realize that you forgot to pay attention to your dog the whole time you were out. It’s almost as if that walk never happened.

How did I get here? 

You’re missing out. I know because I used to miss out too. I was so caught up in my thoughts or in a phone conversation that I ended every walk feeling uneasy. Unsatisfied. Disconnected. Like I hadn’t been there at all. I wasn’t. I was everywhere but where I was: walking the dog outside.

Over more than a decade of walking dogs every day, I’ve learned how good it feels to be totally present, as best I can, during my walks. I’m happier, less stressed, and not to toot myown horn but: TOOT! The dogs think I’m the best when I’m paying attention.

No matter how crummy stuff might be in other areas of my life, when I’m fully in the moment I notice amazing things about the world around me, the people in it, and the dogs next to me. I wind up feeling grateful for all these nuggets of greatness sprinkled around me. Plus, I know that no matter what happens on the walk, I was totally there for my dogs.

I don’t want to get all yoga pants on you, but what I’m talking about is mindfulness. It’s not always easy to pay attention on purpose, but it feels hella good when you drop into it. Not sure how? Your dogs are great mindfulness teachers.

As Eckhart Tolle says, in one of my favorite books Guardians of Being, illustrated by Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell, “Millions of people who otherwise would be completely lost in their minds and in endless past and future concerns are taken back by their dog or cat into the present moment, again and again, and reminded of the joy of Being.”

I want you to try it. Put down the phone. Stop having an imaginary argument with the clerk at the DMV in your head. Tune in to what’s happening right now. Stop trying to distract yourself or multitask. Pay attention. Be fully present to yourself, your dog, and the world around you.

You’re missing all kinds of beautiful, important, stinky, funny stuff that will leave you feeling mighty fine.

Don’t believe me?

Here’s what you’re missing:

1. Your dog walking at your side, looking up at you with joy, hoping you’ll look down at them.

2. The feeling of the year’s first warm breeze across your skin.

3. This little bird at the bottom of a fence post:

bird

Spotted in Portland, Maine

 

4. The sound of bumblebees buzzing in the flowers.

5. That your dog just pooped in someone’s beautiful flower bed and you didn’t clean up.

6. The patients in the hospital building who are looking out of their fourth story windows at you.

7. The blossoms on the trees above you: 

blossoms

Spotted in Portland, Maine

 

8. The mailman who just smiled at you.

9. The smell of freshly baked cookies and crusty bread floating down the block from the bakery on the corner.

10. The “lost cat” fliers that someone posted in the hopes that strangers like you would keep an eye out.

11. The art. The art. The art. All of it:

philly murals

Spotted in Philadelphia, PA

 

12.The birds singing back and forth to each other.

13. The sweet old ladies sitting in lawn chairs quietly saying to each other that your dog is beautiful.

14. Your dog’s wagging tail because she heard her fan club’s compliments.

15. The weight of the snow on the branches:

Snow on trees

Spotted in Maine

 

 

16. The butterflies circling in and out of the bushes.

17. Me. Look up. You almost walked right into me dude.

18. Your dog’s nose twitching in the wind, eyes half-closed, as he decodes a smell that has washed over him.

19. The feel of moss on a city wall. Touch it:

moss

Spotted in Philadelphia, PA

 

 

20. The car you stepped out in front of that almost clipped you.

21. The elaborate changing holiday displays in row-home picture windows.

22. The squirrel your dog just spotted and is going to launch itself at in a second.

23. The chance to say “Yes! Good boy!” when he decided to ignore the squirrel, like you taught him.

24. The flowers, the grass, the whole shebang:

birdie sniffs

Spotted in Maine

 

 

This is just some of it. There’s so much more, but you gotta put down the phone, let go of the endless conversations you’re having in your head, and pay attention to everything around you. It’s worth it. Promise.

Life is one dog walk at a time. Don’t miss it.

 

 

5 Ways to Stay Accountable In Online Classes

Have you ever signed up for an online class, but never got around to doing a thing with it? You’re in the right place. We’re gonna talk about online class accountability today.

Hold up, first I’ve got a plug (and for once, I’m not talking about dog hair in the drain):

Your End of the Lead is a new online class for owners of reactive dogs. This is a self-paced class and the materials – all 15 lessons – will be available to you for an entire year from the time you sign up. That means that you can sign up now, get 6 months of free access to the online community The ACE Owner’s Club, and start taking the course when you have time to really dig into it.

Speaking of taking the class whenever it suits you, here’s why I’m really writing you guys today: Accountability.

Taking an online, self-paced course is awesome because you can do it at, you know, your own pace. But let’s be honest: sometimes our pace turns out to be…never.  If you’ve ever registered for an online class and not actually taken it, then we have something in common.

Somewhere out there lives an entire village of untaken, unopened class lessons on everything from: How to Excel at Selfies When Your Arms Are Short to How to Make a Million in 30 Days Selling Miniature Soap Sculptures of Jon Hamm on a Motorcycle.

jon hamm

Won’t you please take your online class for this poor fella’s sake?

 

I don’t want you to buy a class and not take it. I want you to benefit from YEL or your soap sculpting class. I take a LOT of online classes and over the years I’ve figured out how to stay accountable, so that I actually get something out of them.

In honor of the final days of the YEL sale, I wanted to share a few tips with you guys! Here we go:

 

1. Enroll with a Friend:  Ask a friend or colleague with similar interests to take the class with you. Start the course at the same time and make a schedule together, so that you’re both progressing through the lessons at about the same pace. Then hold each other accountable by planning to discuss it on a regular basis. You can do this in person over brunch or by email. Or try a quick daily check-in message (“DONE!”) with no need for a reply to one another.

Have a lot of friends? Ask a bunch of them to enroll in the class and make it a work project or a book club-like event.

Hooray for Accountability Partners (and Keith Haring)!

Hooray for AccountabilityBuddies (and Keith Haring)!

 

2. Go Public: We’re more likely to stick to our commitments when other people know about our goals. Tell people in your life that you’re taking the class and what you hope to achieve. Make it known.

You can also use social media to hold you accountable. Sometimes just the act of posting your goals and progress to an audience is enough to keep you plugging away. If you want to raise the stakes a little, try an online site like SticKK where you can get a community of people to hold you accountable to your commitments and cheer you on. You can even put money down on yourself – fail to reach your goal and you forfeit the money (to charity – yay!).

 

3. Create Content:  Bloggers, this one is for you. As a spin off to #2, if you already have an audience, think of the class you’re taking as content fodder. It can be tough to find new things to write about every week. Use the structure of the class to create new content. You can write weekly posts to correspond with each lesson and share your progress. Or your can write a wrap-up post when you finish the class to share what you’ve learned. Announce to your readers early on that you’re in class. Knowing your readers are waiting for your thoughts on the topic will help keep you in school.

 

4. Schedule It: Before you get started, look at your calendar and life. Is this the right time to start or should you wait a couple of months to dive in? Where can you block out time each week to do the lessons?

Plan to start the course when you feel like it’s realistic for you, but then stick to it by blocking out time in your calendar to do the work. Make a commitment to start each lesson on a specific date and mark down any live calls or webinars. Do this in advance – so your schedule reflects your commitment.

 

Personal_Accountability

I can never get enough of these chickens. They really speak to my soul, you know? (source)

 

5. Set Intentions and Goals:  Be clear about why you’re taking the class. We’re all so busy and have a trillion things pulling at our attention. Reflect on why you really hit “buy now!”, so you know why you’re willing to pass up New Girl reruns to do the homework.

Here’s a question to help you figure out your intention for the class: What do you hope to be able to do differently because of this course? Try to be specific.

Once you know why you’re in class, set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based) to help you get there.

For those of you interested in Your End of the Lead, there’s a place just for this called the Take Action forums (part of the ACE Owner’s Club). Janet, the instructor, writes, “The Take Action forum is intended to help you set personal goals and get support from the community to achieve them. This works best if you identify a clear, specific and actionable goal that can be achieved in a reasonable timescale (usually weeks rather than months).”

Here’s an example: I will complete the 15 lessons in the Sculpting Hunky Stars From Soap course over the next four months so that I can improve my Jon Hamm soap miniatures and start charging double for them. To do this I will spend 20-30 minutes per day, after work but before dinner, doing the practice lessons and whittling tiny abs out of Ivory bars.  

Now that’s a SMART goal.

 

So that’s it folks – a few ideas for how not to fall off the online-class wagon!  What about you? Do you have any tricks or tips for staying accountable and engaged in online classes? Share them in the comments so we can all benefit from your knowledge!

And if you and your friends want to sign up for Your End of the Lead, here’s how you can do it!

 

 

Interview with Janet Finlay of Your End of the Lead [contest]

janetandlewys-300x237

This is Janet! I’d go for a walk with her.

So, the other day I told you guys that Your End of the Lead is now being offered as an on-demand online class and that I’ve partnered up with the creator Janet Finlay, to offer you a great deal on the class through April 30th, 2014.

You can read all about that here, if you missed it.

I had some questions about the class and I figured you’d want to know the answers too, so I put together this interview with Janet for all y’all.

Wait a sec! Before you start reading, there’s a contest too. You can win a free spot in the class! Details are at the end of the interview.  But check out the Q+A first (you might learn something):

 

 

Jessica: You’re a certified dog trainer, but Your End of the Lead isn’t a training course. Why did you choose to focus on addressing the human end of the leash?

 

Janet: In my work as a trainer, I was regularly meeting people who were stressed out by their dog’s behaviour. They could no longer even enjoy going for a walk with their dog and often things were also difficult at home so they had no break from it. Even the most committed owners, who were working really hard to help their dogs, were telling me they felt guilty because of what their dog couldn’t do and many felt that it was their fault. And of course well-meaning people – even trainers – often reinforce that feeling by saying things like “he’d be better if you could just relax…”  – but of course you can’t just “switch off” all that stress. So it becomes a vicious circle that leaves people feeling useless and isolated.

While there is a lot of help out there for how to train your dog, I couldn’t find much specifically helping people with this problem. As a qualified coach for people, I know that reframing the way we think about a problem can fundamentally change how we respond to it. And as a TTouch practitioner, I have a whole toolbox of techniques for reducing tension and stress. So I put together a face-to-face “Your End of the Lead” workshop, which was very popular – and later this online course.

 

 

J: The new version of the course is “on demand.” Can you describe what that means and how that’s different than the full support version?

 

Janet: I’ve run Your End of the Lead Online twice now as a fixed session course, where all the students start at the same time and work through the lessons at the same time, as if they were in a class. This works really well but limits numbers and isn’t very flexible. Each time I have run it I have had people ask if it was it possible to do the course at a different time or to fit their particular schedule – and up to now this hasn’t been possible – partly because I feel strongly that online courses are next to useless if they just provide content without any support structures to help students actually complete the course. But I’ve now come up with a support package that will allow people to choose to do the course when they want but without being left to do it alone.

So with the On Demand version you get the whole course immediately and you can follow it at your own pace and in your own time. You’ll get prompts by email reminding about the course, there’s a Q&A page, and I’m running monthly webinars to answer questions live. And as a bonus I am also including 6 months’ membership of my private online community, so that people can discuss what they are doing on the course with other students, past and current. And I’m there daily too. So I am confident that the On Demand package has the flexibility people wanted, but without losing the support that is so important.

 

J: You’re a TTouch practitioner. Can you tell us a bit about TTouch and why it’s included in YEL?

 

Janet: TTouch is a very respectful and gentle training approach that recognizes the connection between physical state, emotional state, and behaviour. It uses a combination of observation, light body work, body wraps and leading exercises to increase an animal’s awareness of themselves, to reduce physical tension and to shift them out of habitual responses. It is well known as a way of calming dogs (and people – it works on any animal that has a nervous system), but it can also help change behaviour by improving the animal’s physical and emotional balance.

It’s included in Your End of the Lead because it offers a really valuable set of tools for owners of reactive dogs. It can really help with stress reduction for both dogs and people – it can reduce the overall level of stress, as well as providing tools to help owners calm themselves and their dogs before, during and after challenging incidents. It is also a great foundation for other forms of training as it reduces physical tension, pain and postural imbalance, all of which can make behavioural issues worse. And the leading and handling techniques we use in TTouch really enable people to keep a loose lead and avoid introducing the tension in the lead that can often trigger reactive behaviour.

 

parallel walking-footloosiety

Photo credit: David J Laporte on Flickr – CC-BY 2.0 license

 

J: What does it mean for a dog to be out of balance in their body – particularly for dogs that are fearful or aggressive? How does TTouch help?

 

Janet: A dog may be out of physical balance in many ways. They may have tightness in the muscles, which limits free movement and results in stiff posture. They may be weighted unevenly, so they are putting more stress on one or more limbs. They may have poor awareness of some parts of their body, so they may appear uncoordinated. They may have tension in the body that makes them uncomfortable about being handled or touched in that area. They may be out of balance for lots of reasons – such as old injuries, their physical conformation or life experiences – or we can inadvertently throw them out of balance by the way we lead them (pulling into a collar for instance or holding their head up and back).

These physical issues affect how a dog feels and how they behave. For example, if a dog is tight in the neck and head, so that their posture is stiff and their head carriage inflexible, they can be reactive when approached and their posture is also more challenging for other dogs. If we can reduce that tension then we not only make them more comfortable and less defensive, but we also change their posture to make them less threatening to other dogs. Fearful dogs often have tension in the hindquarters and tail – again we can release that tension and enable more relaxed posture.

TTouch helps because it gives us a set of tools to work on these physical and postural issues and ways of leading and handling dogs to encourage them to stay in balance.

 

J: I love the sections of the class that cover human psychology – from why people invade our dog’s space to how our own thinking can get in the way of positive changes.

One lesson covers the power of language and labels. With DINOS, I’ve tried to give people a more neutral or positive label for their dogs, but as you say in one of the YEL lessons, all labels (positive and negative) can affect our behavior and thinking about our dogs. I agree! Can you share a little more about that idea?

 

Janet: When we label our dogs it can make it more difficult for us to see them clearly. We tend to interpret their behaviour according to our labels. So if we call our dog “stubborn”, for instance, and they stop in a particular situation, we are likely to think it is because they are being stubborn and so may miss the fact that they are actually frightened.

The same happens with positive labels. How many people tell us their dogs are “friendly” when in that moment they are being rude and inappropriate? Positive labels can also be deceptive.

So I would rather ditch labels altogether and focus on learning to be more observant of actual behaviour. That way we don’t fall into a fixed mindset about our dogs. We can see them as they are in any given moment and can more easily notice when they change.  And we can respond to how they are actually behaving rather than to what it is we think they are.

 

J: If there’s one thing you want DINOS families to know about the YEL class, what would it be?

 

Janet: Just one thing?

That it is possible to enjoy being out and about with your dog – even if he or she can be reactive.

The secret to being able to relax is to know you are able to manage any situation you find yourself in calmly and confidently. This is what Your End of the Lead aims to do for you. It will complement whatever training you are doing  to work with your dog, by making you a more aware, calmer and more effective handler, enabling you and your dog to really make progress.

 

Thank you Janet! 

logocompleteyeotl

 

Want to sign up for Janet’s class?

You can register for Your End of the Lead using the DINOS affiliate link. Through April 30th, the class is only $99! That’s a savings of 40% off the normal price of $165.

There’s more – you’ll also score a free 6 month membership to Janet’s ACE Owner’s Club which offers a ton of extra support, monthly training challenges, and a community forum. All for $99

Update May 1st: The “early bird” special is now over, but you can still register to take Your End of the Lead anytime! For $165 you’ll get all 15 lessons, monthly webinars, and 6 months FREE access to the ACE Owners Club. A great deal!

And here’s the CONTEST!   

The contest has ended – thanks to everyone who entered. Congratulations to Val Appiani and her dog Lilly – they won the free YEL class!

Leave me a comment answering the question below and one lucky person will be chosen to win registration to Your End of the Lead for free! And, because so many of you have registered already, we want to open it up to you too. If you’ve already paid for the class and you win the contest, Janet will refund your $99 so you can take the class for free.  So everyone gets to play. Neat, right?

Leave a comment between now and Wednesday, April 23rd at Midnight EST. One comment will be chosen at random and the winner will be announced here and on the DINOS Facebook page on Thursday, April 24th.  Please make sure your comment or gravatar includes your email contact info, so we can notify you directly as well!

Tell us your answer in the comments for your shot at the prize:

If your dog won a gold medal, what talent or skill would it be for?

 

(My dog Birdie would win a gold medal for staging an effective  nonviolent  pool resistance movement or maybe couch cushion management. Boogie would win for completing a successful Wubba water extraction mission.)

 

 

 

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