Filed under Animals

Farm Animal Care Conference 2013

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It’s been a long time, but I’ve finally found time to update my much missed blog. The reason for such a huge gap in updates in June is because my  summer was brimming with events, and the events did not stop. Camping, birthdays, a trip to Vancouver (and Seattle, where I had the worlds best vegan donut, Homer Simpson drool), a cruise to Bermuda. All of these things were so fun, and I was glad to go, but I’m happy that autumn is almost here and I can find some peace of mind at home with my rabbits.

My sporadic journeys ended two weekends ago with one final trip: Watkins Glen, New York, for the Farm Animal Care Conference at Farm Sanctuary. I was looking forward to this conference all summer and I can say I am still grinning from the wonderful weekend I had at this event. If I could go again, I would. But once was certainly enough, and the event is well worth your time if you have any interest in learning about farm animal care.

This two day conference is an introduction to those interested in learning what it takes to run a sanctuary, or have any interest in opening a sanctuary. It’s also of interest  to those who just want to know, who want to learn, who want to be more involved maybe at their local sanctuary where they volunteer. Just being behind the scenes to listen to the animals stories, what they endured, and what kind of present medical problems they have because of their treatment, was eye opening and educational.

And there is nothing wrong with just knowing about farm animals and their needs, because as a vegan its important to just know.  While not as in-depth as I envisioned the conference being, we were given 1-2 hours with each species to go over all information, ask questions, and just have a more in-depth look at the state of the animals, signs from their previous traumatic incidences. It was a reminder to me what insanely disgusting, saddening things they endure.

Susie Coston talking about turkey care

Susie Coston talking about turkey care

My own personal interest in originally going to the conference was to someday run a small sanctuary. At first I thought that yes, this is something I definitely want to do. I thought that someday I could work hard and maybe give refuge to a handful of animals at my future home – not a huge operation like Woodstock or Farm Sanctuary, but small, and manageable. Attending this conference helped me realize that this is not a calling to take lightly – its hard, hard work. It requires time, money, energy, even the smallest of animals can be a workload depending on their health and needs. Farm animals, especially those rescued from the industry, are absolutely fragile – mentally, physically, and they are bred in ways that make them incapable of defending themselves, and they are subject to dozens of sicknesses and diseases. Something as simple as their hooves need to be trimmed but they can no longer naturally run them down (same with the tusks of a  pig). They need guidance and protection, and unless you’re able to supply them with the care you’d give someone like your dog, then you should refrain from considering having a farm animal rescue.

Are my visions changed? A little. I still want to help, someday I want to, but I realize the conference gave me the tools I need to make an educated decision, one good for me and for the animals, and skills that help me to be a better vegan and volunteer. Steve and I took a realistic step back and thought about what we are capable of – but one thing this conference made us realize is we really, really have a strong inclination towards the well-being of rabbits.

During the rabbit session we found ourselves blurting out information we knew, answering peoples questions, educating other attendees on rabbits. Farm Sanctuary intends to phase out rabbits because they have an outdoor barn for rabbits and found rabbits don’t do well outdoors (this is mostly true), and Susie Coston (farm operations director) said there is a real need for rabbit rescues. This is absolutely true – while all farm animals suffer equally, I cannot think of an animal more abused than a rabbit – there is an industry for rabbit meat, for fur, for pets/entertainment, and experimentation and medical/cosmetic testing. Rabbits are abused in multiple industries and are seen as disposable, as unintelligent, as plain and happy to just sit in a box or hutch all day. I think if we began some kind of effort, it would absolutely begin with rabbits. It’s something we both agree and feel so strongly about.

But as I said I learned so much, I feel fortunate to have such advice before jumping in. Some major themes and points I found especially important, which I’d like to share:

  • Have the ability to say no. Many sanctuaries fail because they cannot say no and take on too many animals at a time. It’s hard to say no to all animals that need a new home, but if you do not have the energy, time, staff, resources, to take care of a lot of animals, then you are going to burn out and fail. You should focus on making sure the quality of life is good for the animals you do have, rather than have too many and end up giving them a life that is just as neglectful as their previous life.
  • From the beginning, put your absolute best effort in to every possible facet of your sanctuary. Research everything and buy only the best of the things you need: safe heaters, safe medical equipment, the correct kind of barn for each animals, the correct fencing for each species. Don’t do something because its easy, do it because its right, and you will prevent mess-ups later down the road.
  • Prepare from the beginning for pests. Build a barn that will prevent a rat population from building up (concrete floor, rat wire in the walls).
  • Try to find a local vet who you can work with who has knowledge about farm animals, and build a relationship with them based on respect and trust.
  • However in some cases, a vet may not always be right – sometimes if they suggest an animal should be put down, it may not always be for the right reasons. Its important to also use your judgement about if the medical condition can possibly be treated and not just solved by simply putting an animal down.
  • Know your state’s laws and what is required. Some animals like chickens require testing for avian flu. Crossing state lines need to be cleared, and animals that come in sick should be quarantined until they have a clean bill of health.  Have an extra barn or space for quarantined animals, and wear the proper equipment.
  • When caring for an animal, it isn’t worth it to worry or scare them. If they absolutely do not want to be handled or touched because of fear, its safer to let them be. It’s also better for their mental health, because you do not want to make them sick with  fear and worry.

And there just more, just so much more. But that’s why I highly recommend attending this conference if it interests you.

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There is just so much to say about the conference, what was learned and what was said. Luckily the group provided a very thick packet of all the information that was given. And by the end I had made many friends which, all who are passionate and I’m sure will do great things one day.  Overall I would recommend this conference in a heart beat. If you want to see an in-depth look at some things we saw and experienced, click below for more.

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In Loving Dedication to Oswald

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This is Oswald. Her story is a long one, and one that led to a huge surprise in my life, and a lot of lessons learned about rabbits and rabbit care. She left us last week. The pain is still there, and I still tear up when I think about her. But I need to write about this, because I want to remember her, and want to give her a proper goodbye.

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The 2012 New Jersey Bear Hunt: Begins Tomorrow

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the 2012 New Jersey Bear Hunt, an event that will occur for the third year in  a row as part of The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s five year population control plan. For the past decade, black bears caused apparent, isolated incidents which have led residents of Northern New Jersey towns to feel threatened. Due to the upsurge in bear sightings in residential areas, the hunt has been a popular choice for population control by northern New Jersey residents, but the hunt has also not been met without controversy from protest groups.

Photo Courtesy of NJ State Site

Photo Courtesy of NJ State Site

The history of the black bear in New Jersey is quite an old one. Around the turn of the 1900s, there were little to no hunting regulations, such as how many bears could be hunted by a single person or per year. By 1971, black bears had been so overhunted that they were close to being depleted entirely. In fact, less than a hundred bears were living in the state, and so a hunting ban was placed.  Over time, black bears began to replenish, and by 2010, the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife documented around 3,200 bears, an extremely healthy number considering the population growth of residents in northern New Jersey. A documented 3,025 calls were placed by residents in 2010 to the Division of Fish and Wildlife in order to place a complaint or threat of a black bear in their area.

Of course, lack of space between 3,200 bears and newly developed residential areas leads to a struggle for food. Food, for a bear, is the most important aspect of their day to day living. They are commonly thought of as omnivores with a penchant for meat, but throughout the year, they mostly sway towards a plant based diet. In the wild, black bears eat lush vegetation, such as leafy forbs, tubers, bulbs and plants along the ground, berries, hickory nuts and beechnuts and acorns, various seeds, insects and larvae from their nests, blueberries, raspberries and cherries, and, occasionally, carrion, fish or the carcass of a found white-tailed doe. In order for their bodies to maintain through the winter as they sleep, they may consume up to 20,000 calories a day in the autumn, gaining thirty to forty percent of their spring-time weight and storing that fat for their hibernation. A mother stays with its cubs for a year and a half, teaching it out how eat, the best ways to find food, and how to climb trees to find limitless leaves to fill up its stomach. From the moment a black bear wakes in the spring, it is wired to consume and eat under any and all circumstances.

Garbage is an easy, desirable food source for black bears. A normal sized can of garbage fulfill enough calories in a day for a bear, and the kinds of foods typically found in a garbage are fatty, filling and quick satisfaction for an ailing bear competing with other bears for food. Black bears are also easily conditioned. Once they figure out a constant food source, they are likely to return. They can also easily open typical garbage cans, dumpsters, and knock down bird seed feeders. A bear-resistant garbage can was designed, one which can only be opened or closed by twisting the top like a screw. The cost of a bear-resistant can ranges from $100-$500 dollars. The cost discourages many residents from buying the can, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife offers no program to make the garbage cans affordable.

The term “nuisance bear” refers to a bear that repeatedly causes trouble by returning to residential areas, usually in search of food. These situations make bears sneakier, desperate to assure themselves enough to eat by winter. The NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife uses category levels to gauge the amount of offenses a bear commits, depending on how many complaint calls the Division receives.

A category three bear is one which the Division finds to exhibit normal bear behaviors, and is dispersed accordingly in the forest. A category two bear is seen as not a threat to life and property, although it has returned in search of food, and is treated with averse conditioning. Averse conditioning is an attempt to teach the returning bear, through negative stimuli, that the area is not a safe food source. However, experts have seen that averse conditioning does not entirely dissuade bears, but only make them sneakier to get what they want. A category one bear, a bear that has returned time and again to the same spots and has stirred many complaints, is considered a threat to life and property, and is euthanized.

Quite a lot of misconceptions are placed not only on the fact that black bears are on the constant hunt for meat, but that they will eat any meat source they can find.  When bears are approached by humans, or find themselves in the company of humans, they become stoic. They are curious, but shy, and loud noises easily scare them away. A lot of the sounds they create, and their body language, can be very easily misinterpreted. Most aggressive noises they make are not aggressive, but of nervousness and fear. When they stand on their hind legs, they are attempting to get a better look at whats nearby, not to be predatory. Black bears would rather be away from you, as they perceive you to be a threat to their own individual actions, and so would rather be anywhere else. Activists, such as the B.E.A.R. Group , feel that these easy misunderstandings between bears and people are what perpetuate a cycle of fear against black bears. They see the solution to the bear population through education of how to deal with bear issues.

Photo courtesy of Philly.com

Photo courtesy of Philly.com

However the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife has given very little focus on the concept of teaching the affected NJ communities about Bear Smart safety tips. Towns across the US who have bear problems have started Bear Smart groups to help residents learn how to co-exist with bears. The lack of emphasis the group plays on these Bear Smart groups, and no way to help residents obtain bear-safe garbage cans, has put a spotlight on the now yearly hunt. While hunting registrations bring in money for the state, the Division is also boasting that the the hunt of the past two years has brought bear populations down to around 2,800.  But how sustainable are hunts in the long run?  The only sure way to protect actual residents from the presence of black bears is to promote education of how black bears behave and interact with humans.

The hunt itself is also one that is on the term of humans. Although some hunters who register, in their six days of hunting, never even come across a wild bear, some hunters do by using such tactics as baiting. Baiting is a way of luring bears to exact spots by using attractive fatty items such as meats, garbage, donuts and other snacks. It is an unfair means to kill an animal that can be easily managed through other outlets, such as education. Not to mention deliberately feeding black bears in New Jersey is illegal, so why do hunters think they are an exception?

You can consult the B.E.A.R. Group website if you wish to partake in any protests, occurring either tomorrow December 3rd or Saturday December 8th. Or you can call Chris Christie’s office in order to ask for him to use his authority to cancel the hunt: 609-292-6000. It’s a long shot, but its definitely worth a try.

Finally, as a last point, you need just look at the numbers here. The total number of bears killed in just the last three years ranged around 1,000. The number of people actually killed by a bear in the state of New Jersey? Zero. Fatalities from bear attacks around the country have occurred, but not at the level many may think. This is why it is important to remember that the stigma of black bears as violent is an old, out-dated one. They want to live their lives as they are naturally inclined to do, and it is only by accident that they find themselves in residential areas. There are ways to coexist, and to see these animals are ends in themselves, finding a way to live, just as we do every day of our own lives.

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Give Thanks(giving) To The Turkeys

Herschel, a resident of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Thanksgiving, despite its title and the purpose behind its occurrence, is just like Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas  a commercial holiday. And like all holidays, it occurs every year, creating a need and demand for product. The difference is that the product Thanksgiving demands a need for is turkey, a typically kind hearted creature who, when given the space, can exude an extremely beautiful personality and character.

Most do not consider that a large number of turkeys need to be bred and raised to meet the demand of the millions of homes in the US who celebrate Thanksgiving. That one single day can produce a lot of turkey: numbers from 2011 show that at least 48 million turkeys were bred just for Thanksgiving. 48 million, a little less than the entire population of the country of England. That is a lot of little lives to exist for a single American holiday. And when you consider how much is possibly wasted, since most people believe that a Thanksgiving table is not complete without an entire 30 pound turkey, the numbers seem to seem that much more dramatic.

A lot has been said about the modern day farmed turkey, as well, but it constantly bears repeating.  From birth, turkeys, despite being social creatures, are kept in separate small metal cages. Young turkeys, although they prefer to be close to their mother for the first five months of their life, are immediately taken and put in one of those separate cages.  From that point, they also endure two acts called “de-snoodling” (cutting off the decorative red flesh that hangs from a turkey’s chin) and “de-beaking” (a hot blade cuts off the tip of a turkey’s beak, in order to prevent pecking in tight knit cages). These acts are always performed without anesthesia, despite the fact that these body parts contain sensitive nerves. An estimated 300 million turkeys go through this system in the US yearly.

In 1970, only around 100 million turkeys (with an average weight of 17 pounds) were raised by farms for US consumption. But turkey “products” became more in demand (especially as a “healthy” alternative to red meat), and the number of turkeys being bred and raised became higher. Worse, their average weight grew as well, from 17 pounds to a now average 28 pounds (this immediate obesity, so soon in their life, leads to a short life of lameness, skeletal problems, and heart problems. This weight also makes it impossible for the turkeys to naturally breed with one another). Producers expect these animals to have more weight (meat) on their bones in a shorter amount of time, for quicker profit and consumption: most turkeys gain this weight and are then slaughtered for product between the ages of 4 to 6 months. Short, breathless lives in small cages, with no sight of green grass or affection towards another of their kind.

Just recently, in October, Mercy For Animals, not a year after releasing a similar video, unleashed another undercover video illustrating the abusive behavior of Butterball employees towards turkeys. You can find more here (forewarning, the video, which is graphic, immediately starts).

What is most frustrating about the release of this news is how you may see it reported by other news outlets, but there is very little said about the country’s behavior as a whole. We are upset at these kinds of abuses that occur to such unassuming and caring animals, but we would never give up the symbol of turkey on the table for Thanksgiving. The demand seems to always remain the same, especially for the arbitrary sake of “tradition.” Even as people turn to “free range” or “organic” farms, the need and market begins to grow as well. Nothing changes the fact that turkeys are not throwing themselves to be the center of a holiday table.

Fortunately, there are options open for those who wish to disengage from the industry. There are meat free options like Tofurkey, Gardein, Field Roast, and, in general, home-made options that are probably just as meaningful as a turkey. Locally, in New Jersey, places like Good Karma Cafe, Sweet Avenue Bakeshop, Veggie Heaven, and The Cinnamon Snail offer meat free/vegan options and catering. New York City, of course, also has such options at Candle Cafe, Blossom and other locations.

But why not do more than just merely consume?

Beatrice and Boone enjoying their own personal Thanksgiving at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in October

Within this post, if there is one thing I’d most like to stress, is that we should look towards giving thanks not by just consuming food, or products, or things that have been marketed to be desirable around this time a year. Following Hurricane Sandy, you can certainly help out your community by donating to a food bank so others may have a meal at all, or volunteer (you can find opportunities at the most basic level by checking out InterOccupy).

I also want to stress the need to help those turkeys who were able to escape their conditions. You can help by sponsoring or “adopting” a turkey through a local farm animal sanctuary. All farm animal sanctuaries run on donations and fund raising. You can help, and make it personal by helping a specific animal in need. It’s a wonderful way to help out a specific animal, and that way, when you visit, you can interact with them and even maybe bond!

Here are some animal sanctuaries within the New Jersey and New York area where you may choose to adopt:

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (Woodstock, NY): Pictured above is Beatrice and Boone, from the Thanksliving event in October. I sponsor Beatrice, who was rescued from a factory farm. She has very obvious scarring, including a clipped beak. You can learn about the farm’s turkeys here. You can sponsor a turkey for as  little as $15 a month.

Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary (Poughquag, New York): Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary is a smaller scale sanctuary tucked neatly away in a small mountain in Poughquaq, New York, on the eastern side of the Hudson River. Here is a list of their residents. Sadie, Roslyn, Ducky and Emma are the resident turkeys, and they are all beautiful. When I first met Emma, I had a special connection with her. To sponsor an animal, you can e-mail them (safehavenfarmsanctuary@gmail.com) with your choice and arrange a payment option.

Here is Emma, the first turkey to ever steal my heart!

 Catskill Animal Sanctuary (Saugerties, New York): You can sponsor one of the resident turkeys here for only $18 a month. You can help make their good life on this 100-acre land even better! Learn more here. May I add Saugerties is a lovely little town? You can visit your turkey, then do some holiday shopping at a local, non-chain store, to help a local business, as well!

Farm Sanctuary (Watkins Glen, NY): The OG animal sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary now also has locations on the West Coast, so you can choose to help sponsor no matter your location! They currently have an Adopt-A-Turkey project, so you can help make their program a success, and raise awareness about how much you really do care about turkeys.

For The Animals Sanctuary (Blairstown, NJ):  For The Animals Sanctuary is a lovely little sanctuary in northwest New Jersey. They do not currently have any residents turkeys, but they are in dire need of emergency funds to help replenish funds used for sudden medical situations. Please visit their site here and see what you can do to help!

You can also check out the website Pardon A Turkey, by Mercy For Animals, which informs the general public about turkeys, and why it is meaningful to let them be, rather than use them for a meal.

Once you meet a turkey in peaceful bliss at one of these farms, it is hard to think that any harm would ever deliberately be done to them, and about how they are just one lucky escapee out of 300 million. Turkeys are full of vibrant life, love and look to live their natural lives the way we do. Beyond my own thankfulness of where I am today, and the health and prosperity of my family and friends,  I see no other reason to take away happiness from any other thing. That is why we should give thanks to all living things, and give Thanksgiving to the turkeys, rather than take it from them.

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Our Bonnie Bunny: The Gift from Hurricane Sandy

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Two weeks ago, I would have never imagined myself sitting at my kitchen table writing an update as a small, gentle rabbit weaves around in playful circles around my feet. But then again, two weeks ago, the entire northeast coast was laughing in disbelief at the sudden announcement of a “Frankenstorm” hurricane that was to (again) make Halloween nonexistent.

I was busy preparing for a conference for my job, and so the high levels of stress from work plus life in general left me really unprepared for the storm, despite its warnings. When it hit ground, I figured I would be fine since my boyfriend and I live inland of New Jersey, yet we ended up losing power anyway, and my whole life was thrown into loops for about a week and a half. We were carrying bags of stuff (clothes and personal groceries) around Staten Island and New Jersey, sleeping in small beds, wearing many layers, getting bits of cell service and updates on TV, the office closed. It was a mini vacation I did not want but mentally I knew I needed which led to a lot of couch-potato moments. (I realize my situation was less severe compared to those on the shoreline, in Staten Island and Rockaways, and I reminded myself this every day).

In the middle of the week, not being in my home was trying my patience. But something wonderful happened: my good friend Tara called, saying one of her employers was looking to find a new home for a rabbit. This rabbit had been living in Bradley Beach when the owner’s landlord came to check if the apartment was “storm ready.” They found the rabbit, and he was forced to give it up. They called her “George.”

This moment fell right into our laps. Steve and I had been debating since the storm of seeking out a shelter in hopes of adopting a displaced animal, preferably a rabbit.

And so, we immediately grasped this opportunity. It seemed too good to be true. And it was:

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We were able to pick her up in time to get electricity back to our apartment this past Friday (again, perfect timing. Fate, isn’t it?)  We renamed her Bonnie, and she is three years old. We’ve already bought her a new, gigantic pen, and have stored enough wonderful pellets and fresh greens (her favorites) to melt her tiny little heart. She has free reign of our gigantic living room, where she loves to hop and skip and make “binkys” (jumps for joy).

At this time, the bunny has ceased circles, and is stretched out in relaxation in the middle of my carpet. She’s surely made herself at home. She looks like a tiny, regal queen, at home on her throne.

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I cannot say that I ever dreamed of taking care of a rabbit. I had always found myself dreaming of one day taking care of a sweet, rescued dog which we could pour all our love upon. We are limited by our living space, and Steve insisted we find a rabbit who needed a home. After the hurricane, information trickled through television and the internet (when found) of impacting results from the storm’s devastation, from what happened in Seaside Heights to Breezy Point, Queens.  I heard about shelters filling up with displaced companion animals. The ASPCA has stated that they have rescued a minimum of 6,000 animals following the storm. The NJSPCA is filling up with found companion animals and are also looking for donations. Beyond donating clothes and food to collection drives for various groups, and donating to the Red Cross (which you can very conveniently do through Amazon.com), what else could be done?

It seemed something so small could help, like helping Bonnie, who came to us by complete and utter happenstance. Though I do think it was more than that.

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Bonnie has a beautiful personality. Besides her gorgeous gray splattered spot right on her nose, and her one pure white paw, she has such an expressive, explosive character. She’s smart and daring, playful and curious, but also sweetly affection and very warm towards us already (and we haven’t even had her a full week!).

I never realized I would love rabbits this much. I have a love for all animals but I think we tend to favor some as our favorites. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that rabbits as companions (“pets”) is a relatively new fad from the 1980s, and like all domesticated animals, there is a commercial market for them. I would always recommend adopting a rabbit. I am unsure how she came about to her previous owner (who was a children’s magician!), but to us, she was a bunny in need of a home. They are self sufficient, in that they can be litter trained and groom themselves, but they also require a lot of knowledge and responsibility from their caretaker. Female rabbits like Bonnie should also be spayed because ovarian and uterus cancer are common in female rabbits, but being spayed cuts the risk severely. Rabbits are fragile, kind creatures. You know this from just holding them, when they allow you to – they are light like feathers, and feel like feathers. They hurt easily, both physically and mentally, and so its important to nurture them, as they nurture you.

They are also perfect for a vegan household! It’s wonderful to tell people that we are a nice little happy veg family. Bonnie loves to eat leafy green lettuce and kale, and some carrots, along with her usual pellets and hay. Do not feed them anything else, no matter how cute or tempting treats in the stores may seem to appear. Rabbits are also extremely curious and have a flexible mind – they love to be mentally stimulated and challenged! Watching her “binky” across the living room from the joy of skipping around curves and through small crevices makes my heart skip a beat. When she’s tired, she will lay by me or Steve, and let us gently pet her ears and back, while she stretches out in complete bliss. I highly recommend reading more from The House Rabbit Society, especially if you are now considering a rabbit. Often times people think rabbits are a low-maintenance “pet” when in fact they are the opposite.

So, what can I say? Events such as the hurricane tear people apart, illustrate moments of worst case scenarios come to life which both challenge the spirit and the heart. But as small bits of news here and there show, it also brings groups of people to the forefront of action, through groups such as Occupy Sandy, and the work of the ASPCA/Human Society, along with individual efforts to help bring things back to “normalcy,” whatever that may be. For us, it was this small gift that somehow, but quickly, came into our small home and made it a million suns brighter. I hope that for every sad or unfortunate event that has occurred in the last two weeks, each individual has had the chance to find their own small sun.

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