Help me help this dog part 2!
June 14, 2012 10:31 AM   Subscribe

How can I help my foster German Shepherd Dog chill out, have fun, move past an abusive past, and find a forever home?

Last week I asked this question, and I was unable to find a foster family for the senior-ish German Shepherd I found running around a park. He ended up on the high alert list, and I picked him up from the shelter on Tuesday.

Things have been . . . all right. Not terrible.

The good:

-He's housebroken! No accidents inside and reliable pooping and peeing outside. Hurrah!
-Not aggressive
-Doesn't bark
-Not terribly destructive
-Once he bonds to me, I think he will be a total sweetie pie.
-I took him to the vet, and he's pretty healthy.
-Cute cute cute

The bad:

-He is very anxious. Panting, pacing anxious.
-He jumps up on me when I come home, and he's a big boy. And I'm a small person. Not really a big deal, and I figure it's early to really do much training, but any suggestions for now?
-He's not really eating.
-He is a little restless at night, and while he's not sleeping in my bed, I'd like him to get used to sleeping in my room. Honestly, in just two nights he's improved enormously.
-He needs some dental help according to the vet. Worried about $.
-He follows me, and my roommate, through any door. Getting out the door to work has been a bit of a challenge.

And now, the super bad:

My roommate was really gung ho about bringing him in, but didn't tell me that she's allergic to dogs and that she'd never lived with a dog before. I made sure that she was on board with my dog rescue mission, and I have not asked her to do anything other than keep the bathroom door closed. I talked to her last night, and she said that he's "a bit much," "smell bad," and "she's just not an animal person." Wait - what?

I told her that I'm trying to find a home for him, but I'm pretty much stuck with him at this point and wouldn't have brought him home without her permission. I've also given her the okay to lock him the spare room if he's bugging her, and if I'm home, I keep him occupied and out of her face. But the big problem is that she doesn't like dogs, and led me to believe otherwise before I made a financial and emotional commitment to this dog.

I leave him at home when I'm at work, but I've been taking him on long walks (40+ minutes) every morning and evening, with some running. He's not a good running partner yet, and he might be too old for that.

I'm trying to find a home for him, but in the meantime, how do I make sure he's a happy dog and my roommate is a happy person?
posted by ablazingsaddle to Pets & Animals (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and any tips on finding a family for him would be extremely helpful, as well.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:32 AM on June 14, 2012

First off, make sure you're getting him lots of exercise. Next, realize he is dependent on you and periods of separation probably add to his anxiety. Try leaving him for short periods of time (minutes) and slowly extend the time you leave for. Do this after healthy exercise periods.

When there is behavior you don't want, such as following you or jumping on you, you need to correct it with a stern, deep voiced "no." Good behavior should be reenforced with high pitched praise and petting. Honestly you should find a trainer to help you with this. You'll find that with proper amounts of exercise and structure this dog will surpass your expectations quickly.

Talk to your vet about how to get help w/the $. If it is not urgent, the eventual adoptive parents may be able to take that on as part of the TCO.

Managing your roommate is completely different, and frankly not something I've ever been good at. I would suggest getting her to list all of the issues and then work through what an acceptable solution is together. Make sure you are both clear on timelines and responsibilities. Handle it like you would handle any issues that come up in normal projects.

Good luck, and consider posting photos for us.

Contact rescue groups (I assume you're already working with one) and make sure they're promoting his adoptability on their websites, etc. Consider posting fliers with your local shelter. I would avoid craigslist as there are a lot of sketchy people trying to adopt out animals on there so lots of dog-industry people frequently advise against looking there.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:42 AM on June 14, 2012

I'm so glad you took that dog in, I've been wondering about that ever since your first question last week. Go, you! I'm sure someone will come along shortly with more experience and expertise than me to help yo uout, but right off the bat I wanted to address your "it's early to really do much training" comment. What makes you think it's too early? In my experience, training - and by training I mean positive reinforcement training, NOT Caesar Milan-style stuff - is a great way of giving a dog confidence, helping them to bond to you, and helping them work on things (like jumping, or stopping the door dashing) that are important in helping them find a forever home. It can also be a whole lot of fun. Karen Pryor has some great books on clicker training, or if you'd rather see some online stuff, I really like the library section of her Clicker Training website.

Good luck, and I hope you update us with more pictures now that your GSD buddy has found a foster home with you!
posted by DingoMutt at 10:42 AM on June 14, 2012

Okay, one of your roommate's complaints that you listed is something you can fix right now. Might as well start there right? Wash that dog. You can bring him to a self-washing place for like $10 or do it in your shower if the roommate is okay with that. If you have never washed a dog before it's really important to make sure you use a lot of soap and get him very well lathered up all the way down to his skin because otherwise he's going to smell like wet dog and that's probably even worse.

If he's not cooperative with being bathed then you can give him a "dry bath" with dry shampoo you make yourself based on baking soda.

If she meant it's his breath that smells, you have a lot of options there as well. Also, taking care of his dental issues will help this when you have the money for that.
posted by cairdeas at 10:42 AM on June 14, 2012

Response by poster: Re: Clicker training - he doesn't seem to be terribly food-motivated. He's had a rough life, and treats are not that interesting to him yet.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:45 AM on June 14, 2012

Oh and for finding him a family -- if I were you I would contact veterinary oncologists and see if they have any boards where people can post animals for adoption. People who are at the veterinary oncologist are often the most hardcore of the hardcore of animal lovers, and they are also often about to lose a well-loved pet. I think there is a not-insignificant subset of those people who are going to cope with that by getting another pet. After my dog died I caved and adopted 2 more dogs after about 3 weeks. And I spent quite a bit of time in those waiting rooms with nothing much to do but look at what they had on the walls.
posted by cairdeas at 10:47 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Re: Clicker training - he doesn't seem to be terribly food-motivated. He's had a rough life, and treats are not that interesting to him yet.

Have you tried things other than typical dog treats? Little hot dog 'coins' or other super-smelly treats can be tempting to dogs that turn their nose up at Snausages and the like ... Otherwise, do you have a sense of what types of small, immediate things he does find rewarding? Toys? Love and attention from you? Food-based treats are usually the easiest/most obvious reward, but if there's something else he enjoys you might be able to substitute that instead.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:53 AM on June 14, 2012

Response by poster: He likes love and affection, running for short distances, and a squeaky toy.

Not so interested in the other chew toys I got him.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:55 AM on June 14, 2012

A lot of his reactions sound like stress to me. It's only been a few days and the poor guy has had a lot of changes and is probably worried you will leave too. Staying calm and keeping up routines is one of the best ways to help. Our Rat Terrier was a rescue from an abusive situation (he had broken bones and teeth from being hit) and it took him a few weeks to settle down and stop pacing and over reacting to everything, and probably six months to really open up and trust us (and almost a year from us getting him to realize that toys and playing games were fun). Now I know you aren't keeping him, but keeping his time with you as routine as possible will help him relax and trust people again and make settling in with his full time family easier too.

It isn't too early to start training, and having a guideline on how to behave and what is and isn't acceptable behaviour will actually help the dog feel secure. He'll be more comfortable with a few rules, and knowing that doing them pleases you will also help him relax.

The trick for leaving for work is a nice kong or other chew stuffed with Peanut Butter (I have yet to meet a dog that doesn't find PB as addictive as crack) to distract him as you slip out the door. You can get pheromone collars for dogs that can help calm them, we used them with our other dog that had separation anxiety, they helped a bit.

Dogs that have been in kennels and stressed tend to have a really doggy smell and having a bath will help with the smell and might help with the allergies a bit too. You can wash him in the bath, run about 6 inches of lukewarm water, stand the dog in it and using a container pour the water over him. Lather well with a dog shampoo, you can get that cheap at a supermarket. Late like made and rise using the water he is standing in first, then clean water from the tap when that gets too soapy. Dry with an old towel.

Affection alone can be a great training tool. A good boy and a pat from you is reward enough for good behaviour. When he does something right, just say "Good Boy" in a happy voice and love on him like mad, this will also help with his sense of security.
posted by wwax at 11:02 AM on June 14, 2012

We have had good luck with using Kongs stuffed with kibble and topped with peanut butter to train the dogs to be calm in the house. We use Ian Dunbar's methods and you can find several helpful PDFs here. The new adult dog one and home alone are ones to look at first I think. Also, it is never to early to work on training. Seriously. It not only helps the dog learn to behave but it exercises their minds which helps tire them out. As for food motivation, there is something that will motivate this dog. Try cheese or hot dogs, something better (and stinkier) than kibble. Or maybe this dog would be motivated by a toy? Fetch?

As for the roommate, definitely get the dog a bath. Then, get the roommate involved in training. If you can both work with the dog on basic commands, the exuberance and "too muchness" can seem more manageable.

Now, door manners. We taught our dogs to sit and wait at every threshold (car, door, gate) and it was probably the best thing we taught them. If you look online, there are videos on training a wait. It is basically a temporary stay. Also, having a leaving routine will help keep doggy calm and away from the door. When we leave for the day we have the dogs lay down away from the door, give them stuffed kongs, say "I'll be back" and calmly leave. It works most of the time. And, as mentioned above, it is good to practice this with short absences and work up to longer ones.

Good for you for taking the pup in and saving his life! It has only been a couple of days, he should calm down a bit. Heck, when I watch my friend's dog for the weekend, she is restless at night for the first night and we have known her for YEARS! Good luck!
posted by rachums at 11:06 AM on June 14, 2012

He jumps up on me when I come home
What worked for my dog was completely ignoring him when I came home. Didn't look at him or talk to him, just went about putting my purse away and so on. Don't talk to him or pet him until he has all four feet on the ground and has calmed down. When he jumps on you, turn you back to him and then walk away. Keep doing these things consistently and he'll figure out he only gets attention when he's acting calm.

He follows me, and my roommate, through any door.
This is what sit/stay is for. If he's already house-trained, he might also know sit/stay. My dogs have to sit and stay whenever we open an outside door and they wait until they get an "okay" before they go out. You guys can practice this inside the apartment with inside doors too, if you're afraid he's going to bolt. If he's not interested in hot dogs as a reinforcer, then gobs of affection or a chance to play with his squeaky toy can be employed instead.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:07 AM on June 14, 2012

Also, start vacuuming a lot to get rid of his fur and dander around the apartment. That should help at least a bit with your roommates allergies and with the smells too. I would thoroughly vacuum everywhere at minimum once a day in this scenario. Also, if there are places around the apartment where the dog often sits or lays, you can get throw rugs from Goodwill for him to sit on and wash them often.
posted by cairdeas at 11:08 AM on June 14, 2012

Rescue dogs can have abandonment issues (for obvious reasons) -- he's probably afraid that you just won't come back. It took our rescue beasts a few weeks to really learn that yes, we really will come back, and there's no reason to be afraid when we leave.

A tired dog is a happy dog. Lots of exercise will help tremendously with anxiety issues.

Good for you for saving the dog! Buy your roommate some OTC allergy meds, thank her for being so understanding and supportive of your dog rescue mission even though she's "not a dog person," give the dog a bath, and keep looking for a forever home.
posted by erst at 11:08 AM on June 14, 2012

I also adopted a rescue with an abusive past. No aggression, but 100% anxiety-filled. He had a lot of the same issues yours does--constant panting, pacing, didn't eat much and wasn't interested in treats. Unlike yours, he barked nonstop when he was left alone due to separation anxiety. But he *was* housebroken, which was a lifesaver.

We've had him for 3 years now and there were a couple times in the first month where I was on the verge of giving up--"I'm not the right owner for him, he'd be happier elsewhere, I'm just making things worse."

In the end, the solution was a very regular routine + time. We worked regular hours M-F and he eventually realized that we'll always be back home at 5:30pm. He learned that when we got a treat out for him at 8:00am (after lots of exploration, we finally found a treat he can't get enough of), he knew we'd be leaving the house--but also that we'd be coming back. He also learned that 7:30 am means "time for a walk!" and so did 5:30pm and 9:30 pm.

We've actually put a webcam on him during the day to see what he does when we're gone, and he really perks up around 5:00 pm when he knows we'll be home soon.

After about 6 months or so, he was a changed dog--I couldn't' believe how much he improved! And now I can't imagine life without him.

We still have difficulty during the times when our lives don't go as scheduled or when something changes (like when we moved apartments), but those have also decreased so much in intensity.

In my experience, if you are going to take care of an animal, you have to go all in. I think it would be very tough to try to help the dog while simultaneously trying to rehome him. The more you help, the more attached you will become; the more you try to rehome, the more you'll distance yourself. I think you'll probably have to first decide which path you're going, and plow in.
posted by dede at 11:09 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and most dogs need some dental work. If it's not urgent (infected loose teeth that are causing pain and eating problems), it can be put off.
posted by erst at 11:10 AM on June 14, 2012

Here's an article on using play as a reward; I would imagine you could adapt it to other forms of attention/affection from you, as well. If you can find something that works for him, I'd suggest teaching the basic (and relatively easy) 'sit' first, and work towards using it every time you or your roommate approaches a door. This has helped immensely with our own little door dasher.

In the meantime, as I was thinking more about your question I was wondering if the dog has any 'personal space' of his own in your home? I would defer to more experienced dog people on this one, but I know my dog loves having an open crate with a blanket in it that she can retreat to when she's feeling tired or just wants to withdraw for a bit. We don't shut her up in it when we're gone (and if I remember from your last question, you're gone for fairly long stretches so it would probably not be a good idea to shut your dog away when you're gone), but just having a place like that seems to cut down on anxiety. If you could get him a crate, you could keep it in your room to help with teaching him to stay with you at night - or if a crate is a bit too expensive right now, maybe just having a blanket in an out-of-the way spot that is his (again, in your room) could help.

Finally, in addition to the above advice to bathe him, be sure that you brush him frequently with a good undercoat rake or brush - GSDs have an undercoat that gets all over the place if left unattended, and that seems to add to the overall 'doggy smell' of a home at times. Besides, brushing can be another form of calming him and bonding if he likes it!
posted by DingoMutt at 11:13 AM on June 14, 2012

As far as your roommate goes, I might suggest a sit-down with her where you hammer out a compromise for the dog. You can explain to her that you now feel that he's your responsibility and you can't just abandon him now that you have him - but that you're totally willing to figure out something that will work for both of you. You can address the smell and "annoying" problems if you can get to the bottom of what exactly annoys her.

Some suggestions of things you can offer:
-Regular baths, perhaps 1-2x a week, to keep the dander and smell down. Bathing a dog is easy if you have the right equipment, and a major pain otherwise. If you don't have a detachable showerhead, get one, or one of those showerheads that clips over a faucet. This is also great bonding time.
-Vaccum at least once a day. If you can spare the cash, getting a vacuum designed for houses with pets will work wonders.
-Crate train him. He can't be annoying when you're not around if he's settled in his crate.
-Brush him weekly - keep the dander down.
posted by zug at 11:31 AM on June 14, 2012

Oh, and get him looking his best and post him to petfinder.
posted by zug at 11:33 AM on June 14, 2012

Can you discuss possible timetables with your roommate? Obviously you don't know exactly when you'll be able to rehome him, but you might have some idea of the scales involved.

Also you can set a time limit on rehoming *yourself* if you can't rehome the dog-- that is, if you don't have a place for him in e.g. 6 months, you'll find new housing for yourself and the dog. Might help your roommate if they know that you're serious about the temporariness of this situation.
posted by nat at 11:35 AM on June 14, 2012

Oh another comment re: the roommate; you might consider getting her involved in training, too. Training goes better if all people in the house are in on it, and it might give her a way to interact positively with the dog.

Of course this depends on how severe her allergies are, how good you are about keeping the dog and house clean (you should be increasing your share of cleaning duties, since cleaning up after dog hair can exacerbate allergies), and etc. I know for myself, I would have no idea what to do with a dog, and having some rules and instruction on what to do would be really helpful.
posted by nat at 11:40 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be too worried about the eating yet. The stress of moving around, coming to a new home and adapting, can definitely cause them to not eat as much. When we brought our second dog home, who can be an anxious dog at time, she had the same problem. After a few more days hopefully he will come around, if not then it may be time to start worrying. We also coaxed her into eating by mixing in some irresistible wet food with the dry just to make sure they get something on their stomach until they adapt.

The lack of food motivation could also be because of that same stress. Again, we had the same issue with our dog, and I thought she was just going to be difficult to train. You can use the squeaky as the motivation in the mean time just like you would a normal treat. Get his attention, and reward by letting him have it.

If you can swing it a crate in this case may work some wonders. Its not the negative association that some seem to think it is. Dogs are den animals, and giving him a crate (a den) a place that he can make comfortable and be his own place, can actually relieve a lot of the stress. It gives them a controlled environment, and can really help stressed out dogs. Not to mention it could give your roommate a little less pressure with the dog while you are out. For a stressed dog I would recommend the airline crate style rather than the wire crates just because they provide a more enclosed feel for them. Problem is they can get a bit pricey. If you are working with a local rescue group at all you can ask them for help (its entirely possible that with all the fosters they have out they may have an extra lying around) If not, try craigslist. That is actually where I got my most recent one for a fraction of the price of a new one. You can even post a wanted ad, which is what I did, and received tons of responses.

As much exercise as you can manage. I know you have a crazy schedule so you are probably doing everything you can at this time, but as everyone has said tired = happy.

For doorways, as people have recommended, training a sit-stay at the doorways will work well for that, once you can find something that motivates him. Even praise for some dogs can work, if he is people pleaser.

As for the jumping, just ignore him unless he has four on the floor. If he jumps turn your back and cross your arms, don't even make eye contact. If he follows you around when you turn and jumps, turn back the other direction. Any kind of attention can be a reward at that moment, and unless you have been working on a no reward marker (which should be explained in the clicker training article link above I would think) I wouldn't say anything at all. Eventually he will learn that he is not going to get what he wants (your attention) unless he has all 4 paws on the floor. Consistency is key.

Anyway, I am so glad that you are helping this dog out, if I wasn't across the country I would offer to help out more ways, but for now I'll do what I can on MeFi. :)
posted by Quincy at 11:53 AM on June 14, 2012

Like this!!! You are in LA right?
posted by Quincy at 12:04 PM on June 14, 2012

Oddball thought to help with his separation fears: when you get him that crate Quincy found, you'll want to line it with a blanket so he's nice and comfy in there --- have you got an old blanket of yours, one that smells like you, that you could use for him?

And I think it's a requirement that all pet questions include pictures!
posted by easily confused at 12:25 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

oh yeah, and about doggie day care: I know you say it's out of your budget these days, but maybe (since he's a well-behaved older dog) you could try calling one, throwing yourself on their mercy, and just plain begging for a day or two a week free for an older gentleman rescue doggie? After all, what's the worst that can happen, they turn you down?!?
posted by easily confused at 12:28 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keeping a regular, predictable routine will probably help him a lot. All dogs, particularly older dogs & rescue dogs, feel more comfortable when they know what to expect when. If you can establish a morning routine (6:30 am = breakfast, 7:30 am = walk, 8:00 am = human leaves for work) you will probably notice a difference in his demeanor in just a week or so.

As far as stinkyness, that's easily solved by a bath. Go slow and easy -- lay down a towel in the bathtub/shower and let him stand on that, rather than the slippery bottom. Use a detachable shower head, or an empty gallon milk jug filled with warm (not hot) water, and gradually introduce him to the water, being sure to monitor his reaction so that he doesn't get too anxious. If he's tolerating the bath okay, then you can soap him up gently and rinse. A simply homemade doggie shampoo is made from 1/3 Seventh Generation liquid dish soap, 1/3 apple cider vinegar, and 1/3 water. You can add a few drops of glycerine as well, if you like. Once he's dry, he'll be stink-free and super silky soft. Go careful around his eyes, and of course handle his muzzle very gently, since he has dental issues.

Speaking of dental issues -- that may be a source of his lack of appetite and general restlessness. In the Midwestern US, a good dental cleaning (with anesthesia) should run between $200 - $500 with per-anesthesia bloodwork, depending on how bad his teeth are. Don't underestimate how much of an effect a sore mouth and infected teeth can have. We rescued a dog in January and, after treating him for heartworms, just sent him to our vet for dental work two weeks ago. 2-fewer rotten teeth, he is like a different dog. (Happier! More engaged! Sleeping soundly! Eating like a champ!) If money is tight, many vets will work with you on a payment plan. You may also want to let them know his back story, and see if the vet or staff know anyone who might be a good forever home. Our vet has been in practice for 30 years, and in that time has become a sort of match-maker for area animal lovers + rescues.

Best of luck to you & your new charge -- he's a lucky fellow to have such a thoughtful and kind rescuer!
posted by muirne81 at 12:43 PM on June 14, 2012

Response by poster: So I'm not a huge asshole for not immediately getting rid of him because of my roommates allergies, yeah?


I will post pictures when I can figure out how to do it without a flickr account.

Does a peanut butter stuffed kong get messy?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:48 PM on June 14, 2012

Put the peanut butter in at night and pop it in the freezer! It lasts longer, and less mess. Although there usually isn't much mess anyway because they will lick up everything possible
posted by Quincy at 2:04 PM on June 14, 2012

You'd be a huge asshole if you hadn't asked the roommate first, or if the roommate said "Nope, allergies, don't take the dog" and you did it anyways.

You could also be a bit of a jerk if you aren't cleaning up after the dog (hair can get kind of everywhere, baths for the dog itself help reduce allergens) and if you're letting the dog in her sleeping area (not so good for the allergies). Do what you can to minimize the problem, keep her updated about your time schedule for placing the dog, and if worse comes to worse, either you or she moves.

Oh, also, hardwood floors are much easier to keep allergen free. If her bedroom has carpeting and yours doesn't, consider switching. If only a small part of the place is carpeted, consider doggie gates to keep the dog in the carpet-free area. Furniture covers for any common-area furniture that's hers might be polite, too.
posted by nat at 3:08 PM on June 14, 2012

Response by poster: If this clarifies things, and it probably does, our lease is up at the end of July. I'm a little worried about trying to find another roommate with a German Shepherd, but she'd only have to live with the dog for a month and a half.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:46 PM on June 14, 2012

Response by poster: Here he is!

Oh, and here he is again!

And here is discovering his reflection in a mirror. A dog becomes self aware.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:31 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ah! He's so handsome!

And yes I think that your roommate should be able to handle it if you do your part for the short time that you guys will be together if you aren't planning on renewing the lease. And maybe it is just because I am a dog person, but I would assume that most people wouldn't have a problem with entering a living situation with a dog. Especially one that is well behaved, as yours seems to be. Most of his issues can be easily dealt with and should be of little consequence to a roommate if he stays in your space for the most part.
posted by Quincy at 4:37 PM on June 14, 2012

Gaaah the cuteness!!!

One of my dogs also does that thing where he will position his body on the (huge) dog bed and his head and shoulders on the floor, even if the floor is cold and hard. What's up with that??

About finding a roommate, I don't think you will have any problem with that. Finding an apartment to live in with a dog can be hard. But having an apartment and just finding someone to move in with one, I don't think will pose any challenges. Plus, you could always get a roommate who has a dog of their own and isn't having luck finding places where dogs are allowed. I'm sure in LA there are hordes of people dealing with that problem.
posted by cairdeas at 4:53 PM on June 14, 2012

I was so happy to see you saved this dog!

I wanted to say that the anxiety, panting, and restlessness at night, and following you around sound a lot like my German Shepherd rescue. Give it a bit of time and I bet he will chill out a lot. The first couple weeks for us were somewhat stressful as everyone adjusted. As people mentioned above, one thing that helped our dog was developing a schedule, e.g. walk around 8:00, breakfast around 9, etc. so she kind of knew what to expect. She also jumped on us when we came home, and our trainer said don't fuss over her when we come home, and this did help.

As far as your roommate, yeah, she agreed to it! So I think if you're making a good-faith effort to address the issues -- and it sounds like you really are, you are obviously a conscientious person or you wouldn't even be asking these questions -- it's on her to deal with it until your lease is up. I'd bet you won't have trouble finding a new roommate who'd enjoy moving into a place with a nice dog like this. He sounds like a basically well-tempered and trained pet. You've really done a good thing for this poor soul, bought him some valuable time to find a good home if you do decide to rehome him; and he is also a very lucky dog if you decide to keep him.
posted by asynchronous at 5:37 PM on June 15, 2012

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