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In Mourning: Ginny 2000-2012

Ginny was my last Muttville foster and my first dog adoption since sweet, shy Sage – a Shepherd mix – spent a brief 18 months in my life in 2003. Volunteering for Muttville for nearly two years, I knew what to expect when adopting a senior dog and over the four months of our foster relationship, I had the opportunity to learn her health limitations. My biggest concern in giving Ginny a forever home was whether she had any internal issues that were, at this point, invisible – cancer, kidney disease, heart problems. But her blood work was clean. Ginny had other health issues, of course. She was deaf, she limped significantly in her hind legs, but neither issue seemed to bother her much and if these relatively superficial issues didn’t bother her, they didn’t bother me either.

About six weeks after officially adopting her, Ginny’s mobility issues became more serious. It became harder for her to get up, she became exhausted more easily on her walks and she panted heavily in the night. X-rays showed that Ginny had fused vertebrae in her neck and a lesion that had formed in the area. Her shallow hip sockets accounted for her strange, limping gait. Painkillers, muscle relaxants, and later, steroids, helped to bring Ginny back to her normal self. She began playing with her ball again and she rejoined her doggy buddies in her 3-day a week afternoon walking group.

Tuesday was a good day. Ginny scarfed her breakfast and dinner, greeted me with playful excitement when I returned from work, and relished the smells on her walks. That night, Ginny was tired. She slept soundly on the living room floor until bedtime. But in the middle of the night, Ginny became restless. I let her out to do her business and when she returned, her violent shaking and rapid breathing frightened me. About 30-minutes after, she settled down in another room (unusual but not alarming) and presumably fell asleep.

When I awoke the next morning, it was with surprise. Ginny, despite her inability to hear, always knew the second my feet hit the floor and would attempt to herd me to the kitchen for breakfast. This morning, she didn’t move. When I went to wake her, I found her with her eyes open, shaking, and panting. I offered her water and she turned her head. Super food-driven dogs like Ginny will only refuse treats if they are under severe stress or in deep pain so I brought her a couple. She ate them but took no pleasure in the act. I carried her in to the kitchen to prepare her breakfast. She took a couple of bites and then dropped her head. When I carried her outside to do her business, she took the opportunity, but could hardly stand or move her back legs. Later, she vomited several times.

By the time I took Ginny to the vet, she was paraplegic – unable to move her hind legs. She had lost significant function in her front legs. The vet believed she slipped a disk in her spine but couldn’t be certain without an MRI, technology that most neighborhood veterinary offices don’t have. Given her age and mobility issues, and we had to act fast; Ginny was in severe pain. Our options were limited. The first was to put Ginny on heavy morphine and keep her immobile for 6-8 weeks (i.e., in a crate) to hope that the slipped disk would adhere to its new position with scar tissue. If the disk acted as we hoped, Ginny might be able to walk again. More likely, she would regain some function in her legs and would need to be partially carried with a sling to keep most of her weight off of her legs. But even if she regained some function, Ginny would inevitably find herself back at the vet as her spine deteriorated and her pain increased. She would take morphine daily and would move around less and less. The second option was to put Ginny to sleep now, gently, and spare her from additional pain.

I chose the later. Ginny passed away a little before 11am on July 5, 2012.

Everything about this little dog in my life took me by surprise. Ginny came to me severely underweight, missing large patches of fur, covered in scabs. At her death, Ginny was soft and fluffy, her skin was clear, and her belly was soft. Ginny didn’t know any obedience when she arrived. By the time she left me, she had learned to sit, down, roll over and shake using hand signals. She walked by my side when off-leash and came to me when I motioned to her. Her initial fear of the car had dissipated to comfort and even joy. She was playful and loved to tug on her plush ball and chase it around the living room, giving goofy growls and barks. She was a constant scavenger; I’ve never seen a dog so good at finding “food” on the street or in the park. She had a spirit of a dog half her 12 years. She adored her walks and greeting dogs at the dog park.

And I adored Ginny. I often marveled at how much love I had for this silly little dog and how quickly it had developed. I loved being with her and regularly begged off of outings with friends or left early from events to go home to be with her. For eight short months, Ginny was the light of my life.

The Zoomies


We were just finishing our walk in Glen Canyon the other day when Lambie* took off at a dead run. At this point in the trail is a small preschool only accessible by foot. The school is separated from the walking trail by a natural ravine and a small bridge and I had taken the precaution of putting the bigger dogs on leashes so as to avoid any accidents. Lambie always stays pretty close and I had never even seen her run so I hadn’t even thought about putting a leash on her tiny 10lb frame. That turned out to be a bad move. She galloped in circles around the children and parents playing outside, changing direction on a dime, and avoiding me at all costs until she finally ran inside the building. By the time I caught up with her (after tying up the other dogs), she was in the arms of a teacher with a very stern look on her face. Apologizing profusely, I grabbed Lambie and sheepishly hurried away. The episode lasted just a few minutes but it seemed totally uncharacteristic of this sweet, obedient toy poodle’s personality. So what happened? Lambie got the zoomies.

The zoomies, or Frenetic Random Activity Periods (FRAP), are sudden bursts of energy in which a dog will take off running at top speed, spin in circles, and then collapse, exhausted. The zoomies happen most often in puppies but are totally common for adult dogs too. In some cases, the zoomies may indicate that your puppy or dog is not getting enough exercise and/or mental stimulation and has excess energy to burn. If your dog gets the zoomies constantly, you may want to add an extra walk to your day or try feeding him out of a Kong or similar toy to get his brain working.

There isn’t much you can do about the zoomies but wait them out. If your dog zooms around the same time every day, make sure he is in a safe place where he won’t hurt himself. Resist the urge to chase your dog, this may make him think that you are in on the game, too. If your dog has good recall, he may come when called or he may be so excited his mind is somewhere else. As your dog ages, the zoomies will decrease, so enjoy it while you can; you can’t help but admit that crazy eyed play is SUPER cute…

Urban coyote safety

Nevada and Bertie survey Glen Canyon from its rocky cliffs.

Some people are surprised to learn that cities like San Francisco are home to lots of wild animals. And it’s not just in the parks, either; one rainy night I awoke to a racoon mama and two babies splashing in a puddle on the rooftop behind my bedroom window. Still, natural, open spaces draw the most life to them. Glen Canyon, where I take a small gorup of dogs every morning, is a major, self-contained ecosystem in the middle of the city. Both predators and prey live in the wooded ravine and on the grassy hillsides. The largest of these, the coyote, is also the most dangerous and last week I was asked, “what would you do if you came upon a coyote?” I had an answer, but it didn’t feel complete, so I thought it was time to do a little research.

First, what NOT to do:

Do NOT turn your back on a coyote and, especially, don’t start running. This could trigger their prey drive and send them running after you.

Do NOT move towards the coyote, especially in a space where he might feel cornered, like against a cliff.

Do NOT try to distract the coyote by throwing it food.

So what should you do?

Make yourself BIG! Extend your arms, stand on your tip toes, fan out your jacket, lift your backpack over your head…use anything at your disposal to appear like a giant, threatening creature.

Yell. Loudly. If available, throw sticks and rocks at the coyote while you yell.

Slowly move away from the beast…very slowly, one step at a time.

Coyotes can be especially dangerous to dogs, though they typically will only attack small breeds, and even this is rare. There was one incident in Golden Gate Park in 2007, however, where (officials speculated) a large breeding pair possibly trying to protect their young attacked a 100lb Rhodesian Ridgeback. Generally coyotes are timid and will usually run the other direction within a few seconds of coming upon you. A greater concern is your dog becoming nervous at the smell or sight of a coyote and taking off in the opposite direction. A terrified dog may hide or run blindly until it is lost, making it difficult to recover.

In addition to Golden Gate Park and Glen Canyon, coyotes have been spotted in the Presidio over the last decade. You are most likely to come upon them in the early hours of the morning and at sunset so it may be a good idea to keep your dog on leash while you are in the danger zone.

My name is Shoshi and my dog eats poop.

And she eats a lot of it. Her favorite flavor is cat. Despite all the barriers I have used to keep her out of the litter box – baby gates, blocking it with furniture and plants – her drive for cat poop reigns supreme. Yesterday, on a walk, I even witnessed her poop, then turn around and eat it before I had my baggie open and ready to go. I know that dogs like poop – my darling Franny was always on a hunt for human feces in the giant open-air toilet for homeless San Franciscans, the Panhandle. But since I haven’t found any poop in the cats’ litterbox in weeks, I wondered if the quantity of poop she is eating could either a) indicate an underlying health problem or b) cause one.

Catching Ginny in the act. She is the black blob wearing a bandana and squeezing under the table and babv gate.

The art of dog poop eating is called Coprophagia. Eating feces is a behavior embedded in a dog’s genetic make-up. Before domestication, poop was a perfectly normal part of a dog’s diet, providing nourishment. Some experts even believe that poop eating both in the past and today is a way for dogs to restore enzymes that help them to digest their food better. Female dogs with a litter of puppies will eat the poop of their puppies to keep the nest clean. In households with several dogs, those lower in the hierarchy may eat the poop of the higher ups as a submissive gesture.

Though some studies have found that dogs that eat poop have a nutritional imbalance and eat poop to acquire vitamins, particularly the B vitamin, in many cases dogs eat poop just because it is delicious. Because of this, it is extremely difficult to train a dog not to eat poop; if you drop a piece of food on the ground, of course your dog is going to eat it. The good news is, poop eating is not dangerous to your dog and shouldn’t cause any health problems. The only exception is eating feces from a litter box during which your dog is likely to ingest cat litter along with the poop. Clumping litters, in particular, can clump inside your dog’s belly. In this case it can’t hurt to switch to a natural cat litter like America’s Best Cat Litter or FelinePine.

If your dog is scavenging the litter box, there are a few options. Placing it behind a baby gate lifted a few inches off of the floor may work but if your dog is anything like Ginny, she will find a way to knock it over if it isn’t completely secure. Putting the litter box up high may be an option for some homes. A great idea from Kathy Diamond Davis is to put a large cardboard box over a covered litter box with a cat-sized opening in the back of the box (the opposite end from the litter box’s entrance) creating a little tunnel for your cat and a dog-proof barrier (as long as your dog is larger than the cats).

If your dog is a connosieur of dog feces and you have a yard, clean up poop as often as possible so as not to tempt your pup. You could also try sprinkling some hot sauce (make sure it’s super hot) or bitter apple spray on feces. Outside of controllable areas, like at the park, your best defense is a strong “leave it” command.

No matter what your dog’s taste, sometimes it’s best just to turn a blind eye and remember that poop eating is perfectly natural for our canine kids.

There’s a (dog) app for that… (Part II)

Some of the more useful free animal apps for the iphone have to do with maintaining the health of your pets and yourself.  So here they are, in no particular order…







When I notice something unusual in my pets – a limp or excessive water drinking, for example – my first instinct is to research what might be wrong. ipetvet makes this process easy for you by allowing you to point out the area of concern on/in your pet’s body then gives you a number of potential symptoms to check off before offering you some possible diagnoses that provide information on causes, symptoms, and treatment. So, for example, if I notice that my dog has a new rash and hair loss, the app recommends reading up on Allergic Dermatitis, Allergies, Fleas and Ringworm. It’s definitely not an exact science but it can help to educate you while determining whether it is worth giving your vet a call.









This app is an easy to use system for keeping track of your pet’s vaccinations and medications. You can set reminders for administering things like flea meds and vet visits and keep track of them in a simple calendar. There isn’t much more to it, but for those with unhealthy animals, it could be an invaluable tool.







PetMD Finder

Find a vet, emergency clinic or other dog care related business with this simple app. That’s the idea, at least, but as with many of these kinds of apps, the listings they offer are extremely limited. In the “Emergency Clinic” category, for example, they don’t have a single listing in the entire city of San Francisco!  Since I know of three emergency clinics off the top of my head, I also know that this app means well but falls short of its goals.




Dog Walk

There are dozens of exercise related apps out there but Dog Walk takes these one step closer to the animal kingdom by helping you to track your walks with your best friend and decipher the calories you burn. Not only can you record the routes you commonly take, this app also has a nutrition feature to log your meals and water intake that directly subtracts your calories consumed from the calories burned on your walks with your dog. It’s a win-win for both you and your canine family!


There’s a (dog) app for that… (Part 1)

I hate to admit it but I am one of those people who sleeps with their cell phone. In my defense, it is my alarm clock; it’s also the first thing I see once my eyes are open. I find it luxurious to lie in bed, half asleep, browsing my email and the day’s weather and news headlines before rolling out from under the warmth of my covers to the demands of hungry animals. The added bonus of sleeping with your phone? It’s right there to entertain you when you can’t sleep. This was me at 3:30am the other night so I did what any animal lover would do…I looked for useful doggy apps!

It is unbelievable how many animal (and dog specific) related apps there are for the iphone (and presumably for Android). I’m talking hundreds… I’m a fan of free apps. I know, I know, the best apps often cost money but I hate spending on something I don’t know if I will use. Fortunately, many have “lite” versions that allow you to try them out for free before purchasing. Still don’t want to sift through an endless list of animal apps? Well, my friend, you are in luck because in this blog entry, straight from the comfort of my bed, I bring you reviews of some of the most interesting FREE apps available!*






Perfect Dog

There are dozens of apps to help you to learn more about dog breeds and figure out which breed might be best for you. Perfect Dog not only gives you information about AKC, rare and “designer” breeds, but it indexes them with surprisingly useful silhouettes of each type. So, if you aren’t really a fan of lanky, thin boned dogs, you can immediately rule them out without having to dig deeper into the photos and information of each breed. It’s also super useful at helping you to find that breed you’ve admired at the dog park but the name of which you’ve never figured out. The “Fetch” feature is a fun way to learn about breeds that might fit your lifestyle by allowing you to input on a sliding scale the size of your living space, the amount of exercise you are able to give, and so on. The “Groom” feature isn’t quite as useful. It’s meant to allow you to “describe your perfect dog from head to tail” but also warns you that for the best result, you can only choose one to three physical characteristics you are interested in but each time I tried this with different combinations I was confused by the results (can you say, Silken Wind Hound?).








Dog Clicker

Forgot your clicker? Never fear, there’s an app for that. Several, actually, but my favorite comes from the Continental Kennel Club. Super easy to use with no fancy features to get in the way, just open and click to your heart’s content.








DogGoes Dog Parks

I’m a sucker for a good dog park. Even before I began fostering for Muttville, I would lurk around dog parks watching the fascinating canine interactions and, admittedly, judging the humans for their strange handling techniques. San Francisco is an incredibly dog friendly place and I regularly go to several different dog parks around the city but I had no idea that there are 35 of them within the 7×7! This app maps locations, gives you reviews, and tells you whether each park is fenced or open. If you are travelling with your pup, it has a search feature to find parks in the city or zip code. For me, the free version is definitely a keeper, but DogGoes also has an upgraded version offering listings of “over 12,000” dog friendly businesses for $1.99.






Dog Friendly

If I could, I would have a dog with me every time I left the house. With Dog Friendly, you could tailor your life to do just that…well, theoretically at least. With listings of restaurants, hotels, stores and bars you can find out where you can take your dog in any neighborhood. Unfortunately, Dog Friendly has not exactly done it’s homework. In my neighborhood, there are several dog friendly businesses, including Mini Bar, 821, Ziryab, the outer sun room (or outside) at Bean Bag Cafe, the list goes on. Not one of these can be found in Dog Friendly’s app. So, while there is a lot of potential here and I love the idea, this app falls a bit short.



Stay tuned for Part 2 of doggy app reviews!

*The author is not affiliated with or compensated by any of the app makers.

To neuter or not?

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon as Ginny and I crossed the Bay Bridge headed to Walnut Creek for a Muttville adoption event*. Two different families were interested in meeting my sweet girl and our hopes were high. Ok, well Ginny’s hopes were probably at the same level as usual, but mine were soaring – there is never any rhyme or reason as to why some dogs are adopted more quickly than others. At one month and counting, Ginny has been with me longer than any foster dog since Franny.

Adoption events are high stress environments for dogs. Many are overwhelmed by the number of unfamiliar furry bodies smooshed together in a small space and each handles this stress differently; some dogs get barky, some become overstimulated and can’t settle down, others prefer to curl up somewhere quiet and ignore the chaos. The most energetic dogs, however, are often those that have not yet visited the vet to be neutered. These new arrivals to Muttville are not just dealing with the excitement and stress of losing their homes but with years of testosterone surging unchecked through their doggie bodies.

Dogs like Buddy, a 15-year old Aussie mix that arrived at Muttville this week from a broken home and a history of neglect, spend the adoption event trying to get close to the eligible ladies and posturing around the more high-strung males. Muttville, like nearly all rescue organizations and shelters, spay and neuter their pets prior to adopting them out. In part, this is to slow down the cycle of dogs producing puppies that eventually turn in to unwanted dogs that wind up right back in the shelter. But neutering and spaying is not to stem the tide of needy dogs, it also has health and behavior benefits.

Buddy is available for adoption at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue.

In male dogs, the second leading form of cancer is testicular and enlargement of the prostate effects 60% of intact males over the age of five. The most common malignant tumors in female dogs are found in the mammary glands. It is more than three times more likely that an unspayed female will develop mammary cancer than a spayed female. The strong desire to roam to find sexual partners in both male and female dogs is also greatly decreased by spaying and neutering. In urban and suburban environments, dogs that roam are much more likely to be wounded or killed by cars than those that stay put. Spaying and neutering can decrease wanderlust but up to 90%!

And then there is the matter of behavior. Neutering and spaying has not been proven to decrease play, activity or the desire for affection and attention. It has, however, been proven to decrease aggression and behaviors such as mounting which can quickly deteriorate from play to fight. It also decreases inappropriate peeing such as excessive marking. There are very few risks associated with spaying and neutering adult dogs**, besides the unavoidable risk of the anesthesia the dog receives to undergo the surgery. Since breeding becomes dangerous for females over the age of 8, spaying may curb the slew of potential problems that could arise there, as well (such as ruptured uterine walls). Once spaying and neutering in an adult is complete, it will take a few weeks for testosterone and estrogen levels to drop and, during that time, your dog may continue to display intact behaviors like wandering and mounting.

A dog is essentially never too old to reap benefits from spaying and neutering. And if it’s the look of an intact male dog you worry about losing, check out neuticles – prosthetic testicular implants made just for dogs!

*Muttville holds a monthly adoption event at Pets Unlimited in Walnut Creek. Visit Muttville or Pet Food Express for more information on dates and times.

**There is some evidence that neutering a dog too young leads to health problems that may include distorted bone structure, hyperthyroidism, and obesity, though not all veterinarians agree that there is a link.

Ear infection

Yesterday Ginny and I took a trip to see the vet at Pets Unlimited. In addition to identifying her skin problems as a chronic allergy that has probably plagued her all her life, she diagnosed an ear infection. Ear infections are commonly associated with allergies. Ginny’s scabby, speckled skin chronic allergies have probably given her ear infections since she was a puppy.

Ear infections look different. My cat Phoebe also has chronic ear infections which look like she has extra dark brown wax in her kitty ears. The visible part of a normal cat’s ear should be clean; no wax, just healthy and pink. Yesterday I noticed that a client of mine, Moma* (who also has severe chronic allergies), also has an ear infection; his ear was crusty and scabby with a pool of mucus-like wax at the entrance to his ear canal. Ginny’s infection appeared somewhat less severe than Moma’s with dark crusty wax and what looked like severely dry skin around the edges.

Ear infections are frustrating in and of themselves – they can be painful and itchy for your pet. But chronic ear infections also have a sinister secondary effect: they can lead to a ruptured ear drum, deafness or facial nerve paralysis. My theory is that Ginny’s deafness is the result of failure to treat her chronic ear infections because, at the age of 8, she seems too young to have lost her hearing due to old age.

Long-eared dogs and those with hair in the visible area inside their ears are more susceptible to ear infections than those with pointy ears that don’t fold over. Other than allergies, drug reactions, the build up of hair or dead skin, the development of bacteria or fungus or excessive moisture caused by swimming. Common symptoms include pain, head shaking, scratching at the ears and a bad smell. In more serious ear infections, the inflammation spreads to the inner ear and can cause your dog to tilt his head, become uncoordinated, vomit or even develop anorexia.

If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, it is important to have it diagnosed by a vet. For less severe infections that have not entered the middle ear, she will probably prescribe drops to be massaged in to the ear canal a couple of times a day; this is the treatment Ginny is now on. These infections typically clear up in three to four weeks. For more difficult infections, oral antibiotics and/or antifungals may be prescribed.

Commercially bred puppies

Puppies rescued by South Paw Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Tennessee.

With today’s news from Arkansas about a puppy mill raid that rescued 175 puppies from filthy and dangerous conditions, I wanted to know a little more about the hard facts of commercial puppy breeding.

Seven states are known as “puppy mill” states for the large number of puppy mills they harbor: Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. In these states and elsewhere throughout the country, over 4000 kennels are federally licensed to breed dogs. Approximately 500,000 puppies are sold by puppy mills each year, primarily in pet stores. The puppy industry in Missouri, alone, is estimated at bringing in $40 million dollars a year!

The U.S. Animal Welfare Act (AWA) provides some protections for commercially bred domestic animals like dogs, but the standards are the bare minimum in housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather and temperatures. The AWA does not cover retail pet shops (unless they sell exotic animals), animals used for food or agricultural purposes, and cold-blooded animals like snakes.

Despite the law, most puppy mills are extremely under-regulated. Puppy mill dogs are often rescued covered with matted and filthy fur, rotting teeth, and with ulcers in their eyes. They are kept in small wire cages – many breeding dogs have never touched solid ground or run and play. Several dogs are often kept in the same small cage, making fights (and injuries) common. The cages also cause problems for some dogs who panic when their feet get caught in the wires, causing them to lose feet and legs. Unregulated temperatures mean many dogs freeze in the winter or die of heat stroke in the summer; when wire cages heat up, they can “cook” puppies in their cages.

The dogs used for breeding in puppy mills are bred from the first time they come in to heat until their bodies give up. This is often by the time they reach five years of age, at which point they are killed – sometimes by being bashed in the head with a rock. Other brutal techniques, like ramming a metal pole down a dog’s throat to rupture the vocal cords and debark the animal are common. Puppies are shipped to pet stores between the ages of 5 and 8 weeks (a prime socialization period) often without adequate food or water. The food fed the animals in the facility is typically bought by the truckload and often contains such a high level of things like floor shavings, that it has little to no nutritional value and causes rotting teeth early on. Man puppy mill puppies have hidden genetic problems and are susceptible to disease. Emotional problems are also par for the course, given the lack of socialization and proper nutrition they are subject to.

Before you buy a dog from a pet store, even those that claim their puppies came from reputable breeders, be sure to ask the right questions. If a pet store will not show you paperwork on the puppy, the dog has come from a puppy mill. The only way to stop the cycle of abuse in puppy mills is to stop buying dogs from pet stores.

All they want for Christmas is….

With all these great dog toys, your pup doesn’t have to miss out on the festivities this Christmas*.

Put a treat in Jolly Pets’ Monster Mouth and watch your dog problem solve while he plays! Monster Mouths come in different sizes and are made of 100% non-toxic rubber.

Cost: starting at $7.00

Chuckit’s are old school. Get some serious ball throwing distance with ProBall’s Go-Frrr Ball Fetch Kit. The slingshot  saves your shoulder from overuse while playing with your dog and comes with two balls.

Cost: $20.00

Many dogs love chasing sticks but they can be dangerous, splintering and puncturing the inside of your mutt’s mouth. With Safestix Original Fetch Stick, your dog gets the fun of a stick (it even floats on water!) without the risk of accident.

Cost: $17.99

You’ve switched to organic materials for your towels and pillows so why continue to let your dog chomp on toys made of plastic and chemicals? Several companies make adorable organic stuffed and chew toys including Simply Fido, whose adorable rope toys are made of 100% bamboo.

Trainer Kelley Filson at DogEvolve discovered this awesome new product: Lickety Stik by PetSafe. Treat your dog on the go without gooping up your hands. The liquid formula is “all natural” and works like a roll-on deoderant; your dog licks the tip for a yummy taste of Smoky Bacon, Savory Chicken or Braised Liver. There are over 500 licks in each bottle and only one calorie per ten licks.

Cost: $8.00

While it may not be as nutritious as peanut butter, with the new Kong Stuff”n you no longer have to struggle trying to fill up a Kong toy for your pup when you leave the house. This paste is dispensed just like classic Easy Cheese, so your hands stay clean and you stay on schedule!

Cost: $4.00

*I am not affiliated with or paid by any of the companies listed here. They just make fun toys!

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