The Animal Adoption Center (AAC) is dedicated to saving the lives of homeless animals through rescue, adoption, education and spay/neuter. Founded in 2004, the AAC is a nonprofit organization located in downtown Jackson, Wyoming. Their highly visible location promotes excellent community interaction with their animals and programs. Visitors are greeted by happy, tail-wagging dogs and friendly purring cats.
Welcome to the ARPA Animal Shelter of the week podcast where we introduce you to incredible organizations around the country that are focused on helping animals. We’re proud to be sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal shelter.
The Animal Adoption Center was founded in 2004 and is located in downtown Jackson, Wyoming. Since their opening, 15 years ago, they have saved thousands of animals and placed them in loving forever homes! Their staff & volunteers take pride in understanding abandoned animals and their need to feel safe, comforted and loved again, which is why they opened a special Dog-Town and Kitty City. The hope of this new center was that people and animals could really get to know each other in a fun and comfortable setting.
Hey Carrie, welcome to the show. Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m really, really excited to have you. You are with the Animal Adoption Center in Wyoming. I love that part of the country. And so I want to just dive in and get started. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and your role with the organization and then a little bit about what the Animal Adoption Center does? I have been with the Animal Adoption Center for the past three and 1/2 years. It is a wonderful organization and one that I had been watching from afar for many years. I’ve lived in Jackson Hole for the last 20 years and have had the opportunity to adopt numerous amazing animals from the Animal Adoption Center in that time.
And then when the position opened back in 2015, I was excited to have the opportunity to share my background in nonprofits and nonprofit management with this incredible organization. Very cool. I love that you were a member of the community for 20 years and that your background is in nonprofit. I think it’s a perfect fit in the animal welfare industry. I’m really excited to jump in and learn more about what you guys do there. Tell us about your mission and kind of what you’ve been able to do over the last three and a half years since joining them.
The Animal Adoption Center is dedicated to saving the lives of homeless animals through rescue, adoption, education and spay and neuter. It is a truly special organization. We are a rescue. So we work with municipal shelters in our region and beyond to bring animals into our program that we feel, would be a good fit here in Jackson. So we work predominantly with Idaho Falls. There’s a wonderful shelter down in Star Valley, and then we also help with work around the reservation. We work with groups in Riverton and Lander, and then we’re blessed to get to have amazing partners like Dog is My Co-pilot, who actually flies in animals for us from places in California and Phoenix, Arizona. And then, you know, after a natural disaster, they often will be helping get animals out of those areas. And we’d love to have the opportunity to partner on that bigger national rescue work. So it’s pretty need to be able to work with those groups to help save the lives of those animals.
We also do outreach in our local schools and education programs, and then in 2009 we created a program called the Spay and Neuter Wyoming Program, which allows us to help provide free and low cost spay and neuter services to low income families across the state of Wyoming. And so this is our 15th anniversary of the Animal Adoption Center and we’re a fairly small organization. We usually only have maybe 10 dogs, depending on the time upwards of 18 to 30 cats, depending on capacity. So we do about 250 adoptions a year. But we also do about 2,000 spay and neuters across the state of Wyoming. Those are incredible numbers, given that you guys are so small compared to some other shelters out there. The impact that you’re having, though that’s amazing. 2,000 spay and neuters a year across the state of Wyoming.
Yeah, last year was the first time we broke in 2,000 and it was a big success for us. It’s wonderful to get to do the adoption work that we do in Jackson, but essentially we believe firmly that we can’t adopt our way out of the homeless pet problem. And so, in 2009 one of our board members at the time launched our Spay and Neuter Wyoming program to allow us to really attack the root of the homeless pet population. So obviously, we’re gonna continue to adopt and find loving homes as many animals as we can each year. But our board and leadership felt really strongly that taking that one step further and looking at solutions to really reduce the numbers of homeless pets was the right strategy for our organization.
Who are you reaching out to for this spay and neuter program and tell us a little bit more about how that works? Well, it started as an idea from Dr. Heather Carlton. She had visited Thailand and did some volunteer work for a group called Soi Dog. While she was there, she realized that in Thailand they were doing more to help control the pet population than we were here in Wyoming. So she came back and said, “hey, I’d like to start this spay and neuter program and really help especially low income families, be able to get their animals spayed and neutered,” so the board thought that was a wonderful idea. And Heather helped raise enough money to get us started and get our own equipment so that she could hold clinics.
And in the beginning in 2009 and for the next few years she and a team of veterinarians or four veterinarians and six techs volunteers that would participate. They would travel around the state when they did, I believe a clinic a month for a few years. So after being a road warrior and hosting 40 clinics or so Heather had the idea instead of you have to wait for us to come back next year, creating a low income voucher program. And through that we’re able to partner with vet clinics where there’s already all of the infrastructure in place. So we have partnerships with nine different vet clinics and more adding each year where they will provide us with a discounted rate and we pay half the bill, and then the low income person shows their W2 at $30,000 or less, and they pay the other half so people can get their cats fixed for, you know, $15-$30, and their dogs for $60-$75. And then we helped pay for a portion.
And in addition to the low income options that we have in cities across the state, we also make four trips a year to the Wind River Indian Reservation which is located between Lander and Riverton and Demopoulos. It’s about a 2.2 million acre reservation located in the center of our state, and we do free spay and neuter clinics there where we bring about six techs, about a dozen volunteers. And during those two day clinics we do between 180 and 200 surgeries for free. And then we also are able to distribute vaccinations to folks that come even if they aren’t getting their animal fix. They’re still able to come and get either a free Rabies vaccination or a $5 Parvo/Distemper vaccination right on site.
I think it’s fabulous that the work that you guys are doing, you’ve been able to sustain for 10 years, and with Dr. Heather Carlton and the idea that she had it’s something that is very normal now for organizations. Low cost spay and neuter clinics voucher programs. But 10 years ago, that wasn’t really something that was out there for everybody. I almost feel like you guys were on the front line of this kind of program. For her to have that vision and really put this all together and be able to do it every month. You said for about three and a half years. That’s pretty amazing. The dedication and the vision to see that.
Do you know her reason for going to Thailand? Was it a vacation? And she saw that, or did she go there with? I believe she went there to help and to volunteer her time as a vet, and it was incredibly inspiring to her. And so she brought back this beautiful idea to our state and then, like, just had the follow through to take it from an idea. It really turned it into something. But at this point, that program’s done over 12,000 surgeries across the state, and a lot of that is just her blood, sweat, and tears. You know, she is an amazing, inspiring individual, and we’re definitely lucky to have her as part of our dedicated team.
A few years ago, we decided to really help in new ways. So we began working with an incredible native volunteer who was willing to go into the neighborhoods higher risk locations when she began really canvassing and finding out about households that couldn’t make it to clinics, for whatever reason. So we launched a transportation component to the clinics. So we were able to go in, fill up our trusty Tahoe and head back to the clinics with these animals that may not otherwise be able to make it to the clinics and are often the same animals that are probably producing litter after litter of animals.
So that’s been a big transition for us, and I think that it’s gonna have some really lasting benefits. That same volunteer and a vet that lives locally down there also helps to do free spay and neuters between clinics now so that when an animal goes into heat or there’s a family that we find that has four adult dogs and a little puppies that were able to come and help. If we can get another 50 or 75 surgeries done, we’ve eliminated the need for a whole future clinic. So it’s the building on it and we feel strongly that the financial investment that we make to do these clinics is really a smart investment. When you think about the numbers and really, truly getting to the root of the problem. It’s something we’re very proud of, and we’re excited that we have so many amazing partners across the state that are willing to help.
No matter the neighborhood or the area that you’re going, there’s a vested interest in the people that you’re helping. You’re doing the footwork. You’re knocking on the doors and you’re asking how you can help them solve the problem and that gets people excited. And I love that, Carrie, I just get so great that you guys are thinking big picture and that you’re ahead of the curve. Oh, thank you, Yeah, it’s truly special work. We get to do and to get to work with people around the state, and it’s really fun and humbling. A lot of the folks that we meet on the reservation, they just have the most hysterical sense of humor. And they’re so passionate and loving towards their animals, and they want to help them, which is always neat to see.
You know, you roll up. It’s 7:30 in the morning at these clinics and you know we’ll have 100 kennels inside. I’ll set up in our anesthesia machines and whatnot. It’s, you know, a gymnasium and there’ll be a line of people and you see them come in and they just hold their babies and they’re just they’re so happy to be there. And to have the help, you know, if you see a whole range, it’s definitely a collaborative approach, which I think is the right answer when you’re trying to tackle a serious problem like the homeless pet population. So it’s neat to have so many people that are willing to jump in and on the other side of the state, there’s a group doing amazing things in McShann and Lander. We’re working to build a state wide coalition to try and do even more amazing things in our state. So it’s really an exciting time in Wyoming. And I feel like people are very into helping their animals and make it a great place for them to be.
Two things popped out to me when you were talking about that is: 1) No matter who I talked to, I feel like there’s a perception out there that they don’t care about the animals, and that’s not true at all. If anything, they probably care more for their animals. It’s just that they’re in a position that doesn’t allow them do the things that they should be doing medically to care for their animals. And so I love that. That’s what you guys are seeing in this. Everybody cares and loves for animals the same way. Doesn’t matter what neighborhood you live in. That’s absolutely right. I feel like sometimes you see the beauty even more in those places where people are making hard choices and they choose to feed their animals before they choose to feed themselves often times, and that’s why we added a food drive.
So when we come now we can pass out 1,000 pounds of dog food. We pass out people food. One of our local places, called Browse and Buy is now coming and passing out other resources clothing, toys, for the human kids because you know animals don’t rescue themselves. Right, I know it’s true. And these people, they love their animals. So to be able to come and give a hand up and give them some things that maybe they didn’t have access to is something that our vets are really willing to do. I mean, oftentimes of these clinics, they’ll do a surgery, you know? I mean, if the doctors have these animals under anesthesia and they see another problem. It’s a great time for them to just take that extra step and be able to help these animals, and often if the condition is such that you can’t repair a leg while we’re at the clinic.
So when we see those special medical cases often will offer to bring the animals into our rescue program and bring them back to Jackson and get them the care they need and then find them a loving home. So we’re blessed to have donors who support that piece of our rescue work to allow us to go into those situations. We don’t receive any government funding, so our ability to say yes is totally based on the generous support of our donors. And I felt like the foundations that help us make all that possible which is such a gift to be able to take those dollars in turn them into like happy endings for these dogs and cats. It’s special, what we get to do. I’m glad you brought that up because we’re talking so much about helping other communities in the Indian reservation and other communities across the state.
And so I’m curious as a small organization with no government funding. How are you guys able to continue helping and growing with the programs that you have? Where does that support come from? We hold an annual fundraising event, and we have some longtime donors who help us a tremendous amount at our annual fundraiser. We have a little fun match where dollar for dollar of the $40,000. So it was a huge deal for us this year, and then we’ve got some relationships with foundations that helped fund the different pieces of our work.
And then in Jackson, there’s an event called Old Bills Fun Run for Charities, which is a collaborative fundraising event that all of the nonprofits in town participated. And that’s a large revenue stream for us. But part of how it works also for us is that we have a very small staff. There’s only four of us on our team, and our facility is paid for. So all of the funds that we raise essentially go to program, and we rely super heavily on our volunteer base.
One of things that makes our adoption program so unique and our community so unique is that all of the dogs in our program go home with fosters every single night, so we only have seven kennels, and obviously we’re over that number fairly regularly. So puppies will stay in foster care until they’re adopted, essentially, and we schedule meet ingrates for people. But we don’t have them in the facility just to keep them healthy. And then the dogs, they come to work just like we do. You know, they get dropped off by their fosters between nine and noon, and then they get picked up between four and six every day It’s like a pet daycare you guys are running. It is.
It’s wonderful for the dogs because they get a break. It really gives them a chance to decompress. So oftentimes the situation that came from wasn’t quite as luxurious as their new rescue situation, and you can really see them, you know, the first day they get here, they really stressed, and the third day, they’re like, “hey, this is pretty nice. I guess this is a good setup. I like this,” you know.
Is that always how it’s been? Yeah, When you guys opened the doors, was that kind of the vision? Obviously you didn’t have a big building to start with. I feel like you had to be kind of creative. Our founders were so amazing. Rebecca Tinnes was one of our one of our founders, and the Animal Adoption Center was truly her vision. And she started on a trip to Idaho Falls one day and realized how many animals needed her help. And so she started pulling them and fostering them from her home. And then eventually it evolved into what became the Animal Adoption Center. And she would ask her friends to foster. And that was the model was like, “let’s get these dogs out of these high stress situations,” especially at that time, and shelters were so, so full and euthanasia rates were really high at that point.
So getting them out of there, getting them a chance to see people. So our fosters often serve as our biggest advocates for the dogs is because they’re out in their life and people get a chance to see that. They’ll share information about them on Facebook and social media like “oh we had a great weekend with so and so and took him camping.” In that scenario, we get to know a lot more of about that, and then it gives us a chance to do some matchmaking or whatever it is. That’s the formula for that specific dog. Having them have the home experience in the evening really allows us to get to know them better through the eyes of our fosters.
And the other neat thing is, before anyone can adopt through us, they have to foster. We want it to be the right fit. So they’ll foster for night fill out an application and then we’ll give him a few more days and they can see if it really does make sense in their life. And a lot of times it does. But sometimes it doesn’t and that’s okay. We don’t want people to feel guilty. It’s like we’re gonna find all of these animals awesome homes. So if this one is not your dog, great, let’s try this other dog over here. No, if this one’s not the right one, what are you looking for? And let’s talk to our partners and see if we can work on getting a dog like that on a transport. So that people get paired with what they’re looking for so that the people and the pet have that great connection.
Honestly, I think it’s really important, and I think it’s a cool way of going about it. And we also think that it’s important that if it doesn’t work out, even if it’s in a year or it’s in five years, bring it back to us like once they’re an adoption center, dog or cat, they’re always in adoption center animals, so they always have that safety net. I mean, obviously that’s not our first choice, but just so that the people know we understand that life can change and that things happen and we don’t want it to be a guilt filled environment. You know, we want people to come into the adoption center regardless the reason and have a really great experience and to know that like we know that they love the animals too, and that we all want what’s best for them. I think a really special part of the center.
It’s fascinating to me. So I want to kind of learn a little bit more about the size of your volunteer program and then I want to talk about the youth side of things. So we have essentially different volunteer opportunities for different people. We’ve got some cat ladies, and they have a shift every week, and there’s six or eight of them, depending on what’s going on, and they help us. When we’re closed on the weekends they give the cats the weekend care. So when the building’s closed, they come in and feed the kitties and give him love and scoop.
And then we also have youth volunteers. In the summertime, we’ll have two shifts a day, sometimes three, where a kid can sign up. For that shifts, so they can get on a schedule where they’ll come every Tuesday at 10:00 or similar. Or people can just come by daily and walk dogs. And so for people to walk a dog they need to be with an 18 year old. So that’s not a kid piece. But it’s wonderful because people will come and visit the dogs and then take a dog for a walk.
We’ve got all of those pieces, and then we have the nightly fosters, so every day our team will call probably 80 or so people may be even more that have signed up to be a foster, and so depending on who we bring in. They’ll pair them with the fosters. And so our team will make phone calls every morning to see who the dogs can stay with each night. You don’t sign up for a dog until they’re adopted. It’s a daily thing, so the dogs move around. Man, that’s a lot of legwork. You guys are picking up the phone calling every day. Our team is amazing. They’re amazing. They do such a beautiful job organizing the foster program and all the volunteers like it’s a huge piece of what we do. It’s definitely a labor of love, but our fosters are hysterical and they’re amazing, and they tell you the funniest stories about what the dog was doing. But, yeah, it’s definitely no small undertaking to find foster care for all these dogs every night.
How are you continuing to grow your foster base? You know it rotates, but we’ve got some people, some amazing people who have been with it since the start. These people are incredible, you know, they have their own pets, but this is their way of helping move the rescue conversation forward, and they love being part of saving lives. They want to help make sure that these dogs get homes. And then we always are having new people come in who are like “what? I can foster a dog?” And then we’ve got part time residents who will come for two weeks every summer and the whole time they’re here they’ll have a foster dog, even if they’re not fostering regularly throughout the year. When they come to town, they foster, so it’s pretty special and some people will foster one and then people, they take their time and then they’ll find the right match. So it’s definitely a mixed bag of people who just foster and people who are fostering to adopt. I think we have 14 dogs and puppies in a program right now. Half of them are with potential adopters, so it varies.
But you had mentioned that you work with Dog is My CoPilot. I want to talk a little bit about what that looks like for you. What made you guys decided to transfer animals from outside of your state, and how did that get started? And what does that look like today? That got started way before my time and it’s been essentially part of the culture. And we want to help animals that are at risk of being euthanized are in overcrowded shelters, get a bright future. When we have the opportunity to partner with somebody like Dog is My CoPilot. They’ll be flying through Driggs. It’s wonderful to be able to say yes. So Peter Dork and Dog is My CoPilot is actually from Jackson, and their Executive Director used to be the Executive Director of the Animal Adoption Center.
So we have a really close relationship, and they essentially serve as the transport element. And then they will connect us with these other groups that are coming from the store’s shelters. So places that have lots and lots of animals our team will work directly with their team to pick which animals make the most sense to bring to Jackson. You know, we are looking for dogs that are great with other dogs, great with people would be happy in an off leash setting in our community. There’s a lot of people that are in the back country in a significant amount of time. So oftentimes athletic dogs and but we also have a huge demand for little dogs. When we do these flights because the shelters in our area don’t typically have them.
So yeah, it’s been a long standing relationship and one that’s pretty special. So we run transport in our region with vehicles and with oftentimes volunteers and then to be able to have a few flights a year. come in is wonderful. To have a partner like that who’s able to take animals from places where they’re so, so many to places where there’s the need is pretty neat. I mean, they even are transporting cats at this point, which is crazy to think, you know, that there’s parts of our country that actually need cats. So I believe that this transport piece just like spay and neuter is sort of those next steps and solving the overpopulation problem and being able to get animals out of places where they’re in huge danger. Yeah you guys are definitely looking at the big picture on this, and I appreciate a little bit more just considering your size. A lot of people think shelters are these big, massive organizations.
So another thing that I want to talk about is what the future looks like for you guys and the partnerships that you currently have and kind of what your focus is going forward. What’s the next couple of years look like for you guys? I think that we will continue to spread news and information about adoption and rescue in our adoption center, obviously, and work to continue to adopt a couple 100 or more animals each year. And then, of course, we want to continue to expand our statewide work, continue to build partnerships and help spay and neuter as much as we can. We’re always looking for ways to implement our Spay and Neuter Wyoming Program and the Wyoming Shelter Project with different shelters.
And that’s a project that we were able to put in a place in Rock Springs where we funded all of the spay and neuters there for one year, and the goal with that was they would then implement spay and neuter as part of their culture and as something that happened before all animals were adopted, and they’ve done just such a beautiful job running with the program. We did it with them three years ago, and their euthanasia rates, at the time when we first started partnering with them and doing clinics went from upwards of 80% euthanasia rates for cats and close to 40 for dogs, and now they’re at 2% for dogs and think 12% for cats, and I have to give them so much credit for the work that they’ve done. We helped to get it going, but they’ve really run with it.
So, you know, we’ve talked to other municipal shelters in the state that still adopt out animals that haven’t been spayed or neutered. To try and help get this program in this idea and place. I think that’s an exciting piece. I also think that we will continue to work on helping folks on the reservation, continuing to expand that transport piece and really help them address the homeless pet population there. That’s important to our organization, our leadership and our donors to be able to continue to put resources and time and energy in that part of the state. And just really looking ahead to build on those things and up our transport and save more lives.
Things don’t happen overnight like we all wish they did. It takes a lot of relationship building and a lot of conversations and a lot of next steps, and those aren’t easy things to achieve. How are you reaching the shelters and getting them on board with your program and seeing what you’ve done. Is that an easy conversation for you to go to them with? How was it perceived? Is it a one and done and they jump on board. They love your idea like that? Or is it several conversations and getting them to see how successful it can be? It’s definitely work in progress. So Rock Springs hopped on board and they were into it. They have established this as their culture, and there’s other parts of Wyoming that feel very similar in terms of making sure animals are fixed before their adopted out. And then there’s some shelters that that’s just not their strategy at this time.
Some of them offer vouchers. Some of them do some other techniques to help alleviate the constant influx of animals. The municipality is not interested in making those changes. You know, we can help in other ways, so I feel like there’s ways that we can make steps forward. Yeah. Even if it’s not with the shelter project because some organizations are just not there jams, it’s not the solution that they see for their community like this is one tool that we have. And if that’s cool, is not of interest to you, like we can show you why it might help. But if that’s not for you, that’s okay. Maybe we can set up some low income opportunities for folks in your community. I feel like everyone is seeing progress in terms of reduced euthanasia rates, and we want to help move those conversations forward. And we want to help in the ways that makes sense in those communities.
I feel like you are going to them with one proposal, and my friend Chris always tells me, well, maybe they’re just not thirsty now. So maybe in six months, or maybe in a year. But it’s interesting to me that they’re not interested in that program, and you’re saying, “okay, well, that’s not the right one for you. So let’s see what else we can do.” You’re not taking that no and walking away. You’re saying how can we work together to help with the problem? That’s certainly our hope and then to say “okay, well, maybe we don’t have something set up in this area, but so and so does,” you know, I feel like so often if you could give somebody another way to say yes like “oh, we can’t take these dogs. But Green River has been running a lot of transport. Maybe they could—“ connecting people and other options.
We have a wonderful partner here in Jackson called Paws of Jackson Hole, and they fund all the spay ane neuter in Teton County and in Teton County on the other side of the past in Idaho. And they also help with it in Star Valley. So those areas they work and so we don’t, you know, like we may do a clinic there, but it’s complimenting other programs and then connecting those dots for people. I mean, I feel like that’s the biggest piece to your point about collaboration, to be able to just connect people. Maybe we don’t do that, but these guys could probably help you. Here’s their information. That network is hugely important and valuable, especially the state like Wyoming, where things are so spread out.
I love where you guys are located. I just think the area is beautiful and there’s just something so welcoming about Jackson Hole and that whole area. So Carrie, I really loved my time talking with you. I’ve learned so much before we wrap up, I want to ask you for a memorable story. It can be anything you want, but this is my favorite part of the entire show. I just love hearing those stories that impact people. Do you have one that you want to share with us? I would love to tell you about a story that we had recently. We had this wonderful dog named Yoshi. We were able to get him from the Idaho Falls shelter, and he had some sort of break in his leg when he was young, and so his leg had grown at a bow. So when you looked at him, one leg was perfectly straight, and this other one kind of turned off like a C. And our team goes over there and he’s jumping in yipping and having a blast. And they’re like, “we should pull him, right?” and I’m like “yeah, you should pull him.”
So he comes back to Jackson. He goes with us to our fundraiser and all these people see him, and he’s just the star of the show. And he’s fabulous. And we have a wonderful fund called the Nightingale Fund. That was set up to help us with animals that had special needs like this. So there’s a surgeon that comes in from Sun Valley, Idaho, once a month, and he comes and he sees this dog. He’s like, “yeah, we can totally fix it, but I want to take him back with me.” So he comes. He stays and then, you know, Yoshi heads back over to Idaho with him, and he’s scheduled to get surgery the following week. And we’re like, Awesome. He gives us, of course, a wonderful price to help because you know that it’s rescue medicine and he’s like, “this is a really great dog. He’s so sweet, We should definitely do this.” And we’re like, “we totally really agree, he’s awesome!”
So anyway, it takes a couple days to get him in. So the staff at the Sun Valley Veterinary Clinic also fall in love with him because he’s adorable. Dr. Baker calls us, and he’s like “Yoshi did great, and one of our vet techs wants to adopt him,” and we were like, “what?” It was really fun to be able to take a dog from one place, bring him to Jackson, it made me smile. He’s doing really great. He was a fun boy that we had this summer, but we definitely got a lot of special animals in their program. And he was just one that made me smile. I like the ones where you kind of just look at him and, you know, I mean, they’re all special, but there are just certain ones that you look at and you get a feeling. We impact animals, and they impact us just the same. So thank you for sharing that story about Yoshi. He’s good boy.
So Carrie, I know we talked about a lot of stuff today. Is there anything we missed that you want to mention before we wrap this up? No. I just want to say thank you so much for including us. And really grateful to share a story and to, have the opportunity to work with so many amazing people across Wyoming and beyond, so I’m feeling lucky. So thank you for thinking of us, including us. You’re very welcome, Carrie. Well, I’ve really enjoyed my time, and we’ll make sure that we stay in touch and we watch the progression of your programs here. Thank you.
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