A Cat's the Only Cat Who Knows Where it's at
November 28, 2012 5:37 PM   Subscribe

My cat was hit by a car and had to have high risk emergency surgery. Once he has fully recovered, I am debating whether or not to let him roam outside again.

Background: I have a two 1-year-old cats (Floyd and Pearl). Last week Floyd went missing for about 24 hours and came home looking lethargic and breathing rapidly. We rushed him to the vet and after an x-ray they told us he had a ruptured diaphragm, most likely from being hit by a car. They performed emergency surgery and he is recovering well. We hope to have him home by the weekend or early next week.

Obviously he is going to be a very ill puss for a few weeks if not more. He will be kept in one room for a while, with food, water and amenities, until he begins to recover. He occasionally play fights with Pearl but generally they get along well. However I have heard that cats can become hostile when one returns from a spell at the vet's, as the patient loses its "home" smell. For this reason we will keep them separated for as long as needs be.

I feel strongly that cats (who live in low-traffic suburban areas) should be able to roam outside. I understand the arguments for keeping cats indoors, and I would never judge anyone for keeping a cat safe inside. However, I personally believe that cats should be allowed to roam. My cats have been allowed to go outside for about 6 months now, and I find that they seem happier, calmer and are more well-adjusted now that they have their "other lives" away from us pesky humans.

However: Floyd is a bit...well...special. When we first let him out he went missing, and it was days before someone found him and contacted us. After that he rarely left the garden, but he LOVED being outdoors and would get quite annoyed if we wouldn't open the door for him. He's not a great jumper, and he's dangerously trusting - he loves jumping on strangers' knees and having a cuddle, and I've come across many a neighbour rubbing his belly on the street. He's just not quite as savvy as Pearl, and I worry that this in some way contributed to his accident.

My housemates (all men, all besotted with the kitty) are saying that we should just keep him inside for good after he recovers. I am not sure that I feel comfortable keeping him indoors after I've he's had such a long, sweet, taste of freedom.

Does anyone have any experience in this matter? Any advice much appreciated.
posted by drunkonthemoon to Pets & Animals (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I never let my cats out, and my vets are adamant about this. At the least they can acquire fleas and all sort of other diseases and parasites and get into fights with other cats, become the prey of other species, etc.

I really don't believe that a cat needs to go outside.

However it's your choice -- a perhaps shorter, more turbulent life spent with some more freedom, or more peace for *you* and your cat.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:42 PM on November 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not sure if "I've he's" above is a Freudian slip
posted by drunkonthemoon at 5:43 PM on November 28, 2012

It's ok that you're not comfortable keeping him inside. But you then need to be comfortable with the possibility of something terrible (and avoidable) happening.
posted by lilnublet at 5:44 PM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

I've lost two cats (young cats, not old) to the outdoors. That was two cats too many for me and I still kick myself for letting the second one go out after the first was killed.

None of our four cats are allowed outside. My heart just wouldn't be able to take another premature death, especially if I could have prevented it by keeping them inside.

It's your cat, though, and it's a decision you're going to have to make on your own.
posted by cooker girl at 5:44 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Poor Floyd!

Theoretically, I'm with you, and my cat Sammy was indoor/outdoor for a long time. However, he also kept getting into fights, eating things he shouldn't have, and getting attacked by animals outside. He got stuck in neighbors' garages for several day stretches, twice. And he kept wracking up more and more vet bills. It was incredibly stressful, and, frankly, entirely too expensive.

We keep him inside now, and he gets a walk on a leash every other day or so. The leash keeps him fairly well adjusted and I give him lots of attention and playtime. He's no more or less obnoxious than he was before. I, however, am loads happier and less stressed without constant emergency vet trips and kitties going missing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:45 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to your cat. Cars a big weapons against little critters.

To your point about letting Floyd outside, we know that indoor cats live longer healthier lives. This is indisputable fact.

What you may not have realised is how many native creatures cats kill when they are outside. Its not their fault, it is in their nature to stalk and kill. But they do kill native fauna.

That is not an insignificant factor to consider also.

Truly hope Floyd is better soon.
posted by taff at 5:48 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yep, it's your choice: More exciting, arguably happier short life punctuated by various injuries, ended by (most likely) trauma of some kind vs. a more peaceful, arguably more boring long life, ended by (most likely) illness.

I think some of it depends on your cat - if he's clearly miserable inside and doesn't adjust, it might be better to let him outside. If he seems ok inside, that is the option I'd pick (and I have).
posted by randomnity at 5:52 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

First, it's nice to see how well you're caring for your pet. At the same time, I feel I must offer an impression that, by letting something you "feel strongly" about drive your decision, you're putting ideals ahead of creatures, in this case a much cherished one. Every living being is different, so every situation is different. It's not uncommon for a previously happy Tom to want to stay home after such an ordeal. I'm for keeping him safe, but if that's against your principles you might consider following his lead, though not into incoming traffic.
posted by Mertonian at 5:52 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can always start out keeping him inside -- you'll need to, for the recovery time -- and reconsider if he starts getting really upset about being indoors. He might not want to go outdoors, if he's been hurt. (Also, as cats age they tend to care less about getting to escape. He's too young for this to be a factor, but it will eventually solve the problem.)
posted by jeather at 5:54 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this is just a tradeoff you have to deal with - higher chance of major injury and sudden death vs. feeling like he's having a happier life. (I say "feeling like" because I think it's not totally possible to know - all the cats I've lived with have adapted fine to living entirely indoors, including the big orange tom who's been indoor-outdoor all his life when he moved to coyote country.)

My upstairs neighbor lets her cat out, and was just devastated when she learned Lily had contracted FIV. Her previous cat died eventually of extreme old age, but also required some hefty vet attention when he got mauled by a pit bull. I don't judge her for her choice, but I also don't have a ton of sympathy when she's griping about vet bills. (Me, I keep my girls inside, because the one who is interested in the outdoors is both dumb as a sack of hammers and not scared of nuthin', including dogs twenty times her mass.)

As for the vet-induced hostility, keeping them separated for a while should pretty much solve that. It doesn't usually last past a couple of days at worst, in my experience, and you're basically reintroducing them anyway.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:54 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hear you on letting cats go outside, but it's a simple fact that it's more dangerous that way. The more attached you are to having cats that go outside, the less attached you should be to any one who does.
posted by rhizome at 5:55 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Why not set up an outdoor cat enclosure? These can be anything from a mesh tunnel to a DIY multi-level cat mansion, depending on your living situation and budget.
posted by xyzzy at 6:01 PM on November 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

Best answer: All my outdoor cats growing up died on the street. We lived in the suburbs. AS an adult, I have all indoor cats. Honestly, I don't perceive them to be any less happy than the outdoor cats. Exercise is important, so we play with the cats to the degree they're interested. We also have birdfeeders which they like to watch.

If they roam outside, things like this will happen - and this is one of the good outcomes, where you know she was hit and were able to rescue her. Sadly, I think more often the owners just never hear what happened, and it worries me much more to think of my pet dying alone slowly on the street than to think of them frustrated at being indoors.
posted by Miko at 6:02 PM on November 28, 2012

I have six cats. They are strictly indoor only, for several reasons.

a. I can't keep them safe from car accidents, larger animals, accidental poisoning, intentional poisoning, and asshole humans when they are outside.
b. I can't stop them from destroying other peoples' property when they are outside.
c. I can't stop them from killing wildlife like songbirds when they are outside.

My cats are well socialized and like people. Most of them like dogs. They are not emotionally stunted or traumatized in any way by staying inside, and all of them are rescues.

Quite frankly, this question blows my mind. You were given a gift when he survived long enough to get home and then get to the vet. No way would I throw that away by letting him back outside.
posted by crankylex at 6:11 PM on November 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Like you, I think cats should roam.

But Floyd's pretty much proved he doesn't have the sense to do so safely, no?

Sorry, Floyd. Get well soon.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:12 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

As an adamant pro-outdoor cat person, I think you should let him out under supervision only. There's nothing wrong with giving him limited outside time -- he might complain, but he'll be safer and still get his healthy outdoor time. Some cats are bad at being outdoor cats -- especially ones who have never lived outdoors. Also you could try harnessing him and taking him for walks -- I had success doing this with my cats when they were young.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:38 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

drunkonthemoon writes "I feel strongly that cats (who live in low-traffic suburban areas) should be able to roam outside."

The health arguments for keeping your cats inside have been well presented so I mention the good neighbor reason. Cats allowed to roam unsupervised outside are pretty well guaranteed to piss at least some of your neighbours off because cats are antisocial jerks. The outdoor cats (not just strays, at least two have collars) that visit my yard poop in my garden (Yeew! is the politest of my exclamations when I kneel in it) and get treed by my dog. Meaning I have clean up cat poop that doesn't come from my cats and I also often have to bring my dog in to let neighbourhood cats escape the yard. I'm glad my daughter is past the "put everything she can get a hold of in her mouth" stage (double Yeew!).

I'm fairly sure you would be at least annoyed if I regularly brought my dog over to your back yard to poop (which I'd just leave there for you to pick up) and bark for 15 minutes.

TL;DR: be a good neighbour and keep your cats under control either inside or outside in a run or on a leash.
posted by Mitheral at 7:03 PM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

This is my cat too! It is very hard to make an outdoor cat be an inside cat. Cat enclosure worked for us. Me mail me if you have questions!
posted by jrobin276 at 7:03 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My outdoor cat became an indoor cat in 2001 after she brought home poison oak to me...twice.

She is now 13 years old, and is the oldest cat I've ever had (I've had her since she was a kitten). She seems content enough staying inside -- the times she has gotten out, she has hidden under the deck and meowed until I crawled after her and pulled her out.

We have coyotes in my neighborhood (saw one in my backyard once and we've seen them trotting down the street) -- any outdoor cat doesn't last long around here and it's not the cars that gets them...
posted by elmay at 7:08 PM on November 28, 2012

I feel very strongly that cats should be indoors. I think that they're happier with other lives away from "pesky humans" is projection and part of this strange mythology we have about cats, who are pets just like dogs and other domesticated animals, who are usually kept indoors or outside with human supervision, all without controversy. Also things like cats getting hit by cars is a thing that unfortunately happens when they are outdoors. Also other animals, diseases, unsavory humans.

I have two very happy indoor cats. They have more than enough room to play, they have each other, things to look out outside the windows, and are not overweight.

I know it can be difficult to transition them indoors, but even feral cats have been brought indoors successfully, and I'm not familiar with enclosures but sounds like a good option.
posted by sweetkid at 7:11 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Cat enclosures don't have to be complicated...we lined our fence with chicken wire and left it loose at the top so it kind of flops in\down. I think he likes being able to go out without feeling compelled to roam. Also, he is bat sht terrified of cars now.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:13 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm very much in favor of cats being indoor-only, but I grew up with indoor/outdoor cats so I know how hard it is to take them in from outside permanently. Could you use outdoor enclosures or walk them on a harness to get their fix?

My four childhood suburban indoor/outdoor cats liked being outside, but from a medical standpoint it was horrible:

Cat 1: Subject to maulings, parasites, massive infections from maulings, eventually eaten by coyote

Cat 2: Hit and killed by car at 1 year old

Cat 3: Also subject to frequent maulings and infections. Eventually voluntarily became indoor only except for maybe sitting on the porch. Died of old age and fatness.

Cat 4: Still going at age 13, but since his last mauling four or five years ago he changed from a gregarious, happy, friendly cat to a terrified scaredy-cat who spends all of his time in the basement and runs away from everything.

I keep my kitties indoor these days. I can't afford the medical bills and don't want them dying horrible lonely deaths on a road or from another animal.
posted by schroedinger at 7:37 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

My vet has a chart in her office showing the average lifespan of indoor vs. outdoor cats and, as you might suspect from all the posts before mine in this thread, indoor cats live over twice as long.

After losing so many of my childhood indoor/outdoor cats to cars, other animals, or mysterious disappearances, I've kept mine indoors exclusively since moving out on my own, and they are completely happy and healthy. You may go through an adjustment period but I promise you, indoor cats are not sad animals. They like to be comfortable and warm and safe and be around people and look at birds out the window. You aren't being mean keeping them indoors.

Also, it's important to remember that cats are kind of dumb and after a while he probably won't even remember that he used to live outside.
posted by something something at 7:53 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I really don't think this thread should become an indoor vs outdoor cat thread. There are pros and cons to both, and it depends a lot on the circumstances and being smart about it. I grew up with an indoor/outdoor cat who lived to 18, because we lived in a quiet suburban neighborhood. In fact, there was not a single animal death due to cars/wild animals growing up, though a kid got hit by a car once.

Fact is, there's a lot of debate about what is better, but little actual research about it. The best you can do is know your cat and do what's best for that cat. Cats have all different personalities, some will be happy being indoor-only, just as some are happier being only cats and some are happier with a companion.

And the stats on indoor/outdoor cat life expectancy is rather skewed, since they include strays in that number.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:11 PM on November 28, 2012

When I had the ability to do so, I gave my kitties supervised outdoor time. If we had a contained area with a high enough fence, it was free-roaming in that area while I read or gardened or whatever. If not, they figured out the harness pretty quickly.

Otherwise, I'm another who lost too many cats and treated too many terrible injuries to be convinced that they really need to be outdoors on their own. If I played with them and otherwise gave them an enriching environment (cat condos, a mix of rotating toys, regular 'nip parties), they didn't get nearly as neurotic. And the benefits of less physical trauma coupled with fewer ameliorative treatments (fleas, worms, etc.) made them a lot more content, overall.
posted by batmonkey at 8:29 PM on November 28, 2012

I grew up with outdoor cats but after losing two to outside problems, I said never again and had a cat run built which meant they could still eat lizards and grasshoppers and make rude noises at neighbourhood cats. I've moved from there now to a unit with a tall courtyard fortified by bird netting so that El Gordo (dr Gordon freeman) has outdoor time and complete safety. I recommend the feeling.
posted by b33j at 8:38 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm in the supervised visits outdoors camp. I have two cats and I let them outside at least once a day, but I walk around with them and they don't venture too far away. Fortunately, they are terrified of the street and the sound of vehicles. I find this is a good compromise between keeping them safe indoors pretty much all of the time and letting them outside for some supervised stimulation.

I don't know if I just got really luck with two cats that don't bolt at the first opportunity or what, and it probably depends on the disposition of your kitties, but I'd try and see how that works. You'd probably want to take them outside one at a time until you see how they're going to react.
posted by Fister Roboto at 9:34 PM on November 28, 2012

Best answer: My take: What is best for the cat is what is best for that specific, individual cat. I have 4 cats. Two are indoor-only; one by choice (he doesn't like the outdoors and actually slid open the screen door and let himself back in when I brought him out to nibble grass!), and one because she came home 2 years ago one day with a snapped-off tooth and a massive abdominal abscess (clearly acquired in some sort of fight). She has accepted the indoors and is not depressed, but there was an adjustment period. The other 2 kitties here get supervised backyard playtime whenever I'm up for it, because they love it, but I never leave them out unattended because we live parallel to a busy main road and neither of them has any experience with cars. I know "indoor vs outdoor" is a very contentious issue, but please, whatever you decide, base it on what your cat's circumstances, personality, and tendencies call for, not on your personal philosophy about "cats in general". You don't have cats in general; you have specific cats. Best of luck, and hope your hit-by-car kitty has a speedy recovery!
posted by aecorwin at 10:11 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can you financially afford to foot the bill for another expensive accident? Not that Floyd can't get into expensive trouble indoors (writes the person who paid $1300 to retrieve a craft puff stuck in her indoor cat's GI tract) but the opportunities to keep racking up unexpected vet expenses seem more numerous outdoors than in.
posted by jamaro at 11:07 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My cats are also indoor/outdoor. When I lived in NYC and had different cats, one in particular did well outside when we visited my dad out in the country, and the result was he needed to be walked around the neighborhood in a sherpa bag at least once a month to keep his sanity. He was originally a stray.

In short, I agree with you whole heartedly that cats are happier with access to the wild, unless that has totally been bred out of them.

My one crazy cat refuses to be indoors now here in LA.

We went through an extensive process when she was young of teaching her about cars and crossing the road. Specifically, I went outside with her at the beginning at all times. When she strayed onto the road, I picked her up by the scruff of her neck like a momma cat (while supporting her from underneath) looked her in the eye, and growled, "NO." Then, I walked her away from the curb.

Crazy Cat is crazy. But she is savvy about danger, nowadays.

If Floyd wants to venture out again, let him, with supervision. Go over the rules.


I made a deal with myself long ago that if Crazy Cat got injured or didn't come home one day, I had to take comfort in the fact that when she was alive, she was happy and healthy. She can break out of any dwelling, still brings home the occassional mouse or bird, and is super fiesty!

7 years later, she's (again) super healthy, makes leaps our other 4 year old mostly indoor (by her preference) cat could never make. Crazy Cat looks and acts younger than our other cat, who prefers the indoors.

Both cats are healthy. Indoor Fat Cat has a weight problem that Crazy Car does not have. My friend's cat who is mostly indoors, but occasionally escapes, was recently diagnosed with FIV. Thankfully, friend's cat has no symptoms. We share a vet in common and are in the same neighborhood. Years ago when I was a kid, my first cat who was indoor/outdoor was put down at 18 years old with FIV. I understand the risks involved with being an outdoor cat.

I believe it is not my place to enforce lifestyle on my cats - they indicate or demand indoor or outdoors, I facilitate with wisdom.

I wish Fat Cat would be as active as Crazy Cat, but she's a homebody. For sure she is less healthy than Crazy Cat who makes more use of the outdoors.


In short, with proper training, I think letting your cats outdoors ROCKS. You can't prevent disease transmission, necessarily, but you can teach a cat to be wary of cars. I bet Floyd has learned his lesson there, and he may stick to the garden from now on.

If you re-introduce him to the outdoors, be around to supervise and provide guidance.

If Floyd no longer wants to go outside, that is cool, too.

Just do what Floyd wants.

I'm so glad you are open to his needs. He is very lucky!

(They are both super cute! Thank you for observing protocol and posting pics!!)
posted by jbenben at 1:44 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Am I right in thinking you're in the UK? Indoor/outdoor cats are very much the norm here, in a way that they aren't in the US, where most of your answers are coming from. I'm in the UK and I have an indoor/outdoor cat (who in practice is a 99.5% indoor cat, particularly in this weather) and it wouldn't have occurred to me to do otherwise unless there was a health problem like FIV in play.

Having said that, I recommend that you play it by ear - keep Floyd in for a while once he's home, then see how he does. Once he's well he might drive you crazy wanting to go out, or he might be happy indoors. I hope he makes a good recovery.
posted by altolinguistic at 6:54 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had indoor-outdoor cats for years so I understand you feelings. Cats have natural rights, etc. But I've come to believe its not good to let them out, for the reasons mentioned above and for the havoc they wreak on the wild bird population. Now our four cats stay indoors. One of them bitches about it audibly sometimes, but at least he's still alive and we don't have fleas (as we did for weeks after he got out for a mere hour last year). We want them to live as long as they can.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:25 AM on November 29, 2012

First off, good luck to Floyd and a speedy recovery.

When my husband and I were be-catted by our friends, we initially had an indoor-only kitty. However, both husband and I grew up on rural farms with free-roaming cats, and we are pretty much of the opinion that many to most (but certainly not all) cats prefer to have at least some outdoor time. The catch being, we live close to open space in the Colorado Rockies, where we have any number of predators: large raptors/owls, coyotes, foxes, cougars (all hardee har jokes aside, an adolescent male cougar was recently relocated from a tree near the CU freshman dorm less than a mile from our house) and bobcats (we just saw one on a trail run a few weeks ago), plus all manner of rabies / plague vectors like skunks and raccoons and prairie dogs.

So we compromised, and fenced in our backyard with a specially designed cat fence. Yes, it was expensive, but we have the luxury of being homeowners and having decent income. Additionally, I took the time to both harness and clicker train the furball, so that now he really does enjoy going for leashed walks around our neighborhood.

We just got a new cat for our cat, and are now clicker training and teaching Newcat to accept a harness too. Because he is so much younger and smaller, we never let him out in the backyard without one of us being right there, as we've gone over the enclosure with a fine toothed comb, but he is both more agile/athletic and more of a tunneller/burrower than Cat #1, so we're worried about the chances, however small, that he'd find some small hole or escape route that had been otherwise ignored. And our neighbor to one side has large dogs that have shown aggression towards other neighborhood cats that are allowed to roam freely, and in fact one recently charged my husband while he was walking our cat, fortunately my husband interposed himself between dog and cat, and cat was smart enough to zip up an adjacent tree, where we coaxed him back down with the clicker once the dog was gone. Neighbor came back from taking dogs for a walk, and just randomly let them out of the car without leashing them first... don't get me started, I though my husband was going to kill the stupid jerk.

Every month or two we see flyers go up around the neighborhood for someone looking for their lost cat. The kids who moved in next door to us over the summer lost their pretty, ultra-friendly ginger boy kitty within a month of being here. It breaks my heart because I've seen the sad little clumps of fur and stray vertebrae that are all that's left of someone's beloved pet out on the open space trails where I run. And it's not just the predators, or the other neighbors' asshole dogs, but the fact that we also live within 2 blocks of a 6-lane arterial with heavy speeding traffic, too.

We never let the boys out when we're not home, and we never let them out at night unless we are right there in the enclosure with them. They seem to be quite content with the compromise, and willingly come in when called (seriously, clicker training is a godsend).
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:01 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

oh and additionally, back when I was a broke-assed apartment dweller, and we didn't have the option of building an outdoor enclosure (because cheap apartment) my roommate had an awesome cat who was both harness trained AND he had somewhere procured a nice folding (child's) playpen that he'd take kitty downstairs to the apartment commons on nice days, flip the playpen open, then place it upside-down on the grass with kitty inside. Both the harness training and the playpen idea offer cheap, workable options for a tenant situation. Granted not as awesome as the ability to let your cat roam free-range, but yeah here in the Western states the coyote thing is a real problem.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:06 PM on November 29, 2012

I have two cats too, one is firmly (firmly! as in freaking out and spitting and twitching like a mad thing when I try to take him outside) an indoor cat, and one (boba) spent his first 7 months of his life on a farm, coming and going as he pleased. he HATES that I keep him inside.

Everytime I try to open the door to go in or out, he runs out, meowing madly. he's an explorer, he gets into everything he can. he loves being outside.

I had extreme guilt about keeping him inside, since he seems so desperate to get out there, but I can't handle the idea of him getting attacked by a dog or a coyote, or just disappearing and never coming home.

so, we've "compromised" with a harness and a long long leash so he can roam all around our fenced yard. it works pretty well. I leave him out there with some water for a few hours on days when I am at home, he roams around, watches birds, eats grass, does cat business, and seems happier than when he wasn't allowed out anymore at all. he CAN get off the harness (has managed it when something has spooked him and just sort of showed up back in my flat) but has never pulled out of it without a reason. so I think he tolerates it because it's not bad. and it keeps him safer. I'd recommend it.
posted by euphoria066 at 11:01 PM on November 29, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. Floyd is home and doing well. He is still quite subdued and sleeping a lot but he appears to be on the mend.

After much soul searching I have decided that he will be an indoor cat from now on. After going missing a few months ago, and now the car accident, I think he has proved himself to be a little too "special" to venture outdoors again.
posted by drunkonthemoon at 9:13 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

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