Moving on up – Toby gets a new house

Toby started out in the Prevue Pet Products PR33511 Park Plaza Flat Top Black&44; 18 X 18 X 49, a cage that I still love for its many great features. The large front door with two locking mechanisms for added security is both smart and functional, making it very easy to get in and out of the cage with new perches and toys, and easy to bring out your bird. Also the food/water bowls swing outward for quick removal and refills. The seed catcher helps to contain mess, and the grate and tray system is elegantly designed and makes clean up a total snap.

Unfortunately, the shape of the park plaza was just all wrong for our first parakeet. In theory, Toby should have been utilizing the full vertical length of the cage to enjoy her gambols. In practice, she refused to go very far below the food dish, and if she ended up on the bottom of the cage accidentally she would zip right back up to the top. The only way she would go lower intentionally was if you sat on the floor next to her and told her she was fine.

Of course we migrated all of the toys and perches towards the top of the cage to accommodate her neuroses and it was starting to get very unbalanced. Beyond that, not using the lower half of the cage meant that Toby really didn’t have enough room to stretch out, and she started to let us know with a lot of yelling and very intense wing flapping. Additionally, with Toby not having clipped wings, an 18″ length wasn’t enough for her to get even a short flight in cage. I hate to guess at her motivations, but I believe she was very frustrated by this, and it made her quite desperate to get out of the cage whenever she could. Also because she wasn’t getting adequate exercise and moving around enough, she had so much energy to burn off when she did come out that she made a poor companion. And finally, she started resisting going back to the cage when play time was over, and it turned into a battle every time to convince Toby she should go home and take a break.

I think some of that was also due to not having any company in the cage, but that’s a story for another day.

I had the thought rattling around in my head that Toby really deserved a much bigger cage that would be better suited for her personality (this may also have been part of my master plan to add at least one more parakeet). I anticipated some push back from my husband on adding a larger cage to our dining area, since we’re already pretty limited on space. So,  I brought it up very casually and to my surprise Patrick had already been thinking about upgrading Toby as well. He had not, however, been thinking about adding any more parakeets to the mix….

We went on a hunt for a suitable cage and found the HQ Victorian Top Bird Cage with Cart Stand at Doctors Foster & Smith, which added 10″ in length and allowed for a lot more freedom of motion, and also stood up much higher meaning Toby would use every square inch. You can see in the picture below what a major space upgrade this was. I love that on this cage the top opens up and it has this amazing little “porch” that comes out above the main door, those two features alone make the whole cage worth it, the parakeets get so much use out of them and they can get in and out very easily. The tray system is very well-designed and includes security to make sure you don’t end up with any escapee birds while cleaning.IMG_0693

When installing your parakeet in a new cage it’s a good idea to not pressure her into moving too fast, especially with a neophobe like Toby. To help in the process, we put the new cage together with her watching to get her interested and then put it next to her current cage. Over the next few days we let her explore the cage of her own volition, where she found new toys to play with and a couple of old favorites as well. We didn’t wait too long before moving her in completely and taking away the old cage, but if she had been exhibiting reservations about it we would have held off until she was comfortable.

Toby loves living in the new cage and we did see an immediate positive impact on her behavior. We could fit a much greater variety of toys in the new cage which helped with boredom, and the added space meant she could get a lot more exercise in house. Even though the new cage is much larger, it’s so attractive that it just feels like a piece of furniture.

We held on to the Park Plaza cage and it came in very handy as our second parakeet’s quarantine/starter cage. Kelly is much more adventurous and got use out of the whole cage, and since she is clipped she didn’t need as much space to spread her wings out.

The HQ Victorian is more than big enough for two parakeets to live comfortably. I think we could fit at least one more in there, but we are currently pretending that we’re going to stick with just two birds at a time.

Parakeet night terrors/night frights

Night terrors, which you’ve probably heard of in human children, also happen to many species of parrots. Cockatiels seem to be most commonly afflicted, but it can happen to parakeets as well so it’s important to be prepared.

One can almost never be entirely sure of the origin of the night terror, it could be that the parakeet is waking from a bad dream, or that he opened his eyes during the night and saw a scary shadow or a bug. They are definitely primed to be scared after dark to begin with because they are prey animals and they know it.

The night terrors that Toby had were scary for both of us. I would be woken in the middle of the night by the sounds of Toby crashing around in her cage, flying around madly and blindly into the cage bars without being able to stop herself. This can be extremely dangerous because a parakeet can severely injure himself, possibly fatally.

I’m lucky that our house is all on one level and I’m not very far from the cage at night, even though it’s in the dining area. I really don’t know what to suggest to someone who’s birds sleep on a different floor than they do, short of a baby monitor, although that might seem excessive!

At any rate, I would wake up to the sounds of Toby crashing around and bolt out of bed to the dining room. To calm the parakeet down you must bring up the lights a bit and speak very gently to him – as soon as the lights come up enough he will probably stop flying around, but he may seem dazed and not recognize you.

I never advocate putting your hands in the cage after dark, so I don’t advise taking your bird out to comfort him. I firmly believe that in this state there’s no guarantee he will know who you are and find your touch comforting instead of more alarming. I did, after a particularly awful fright, feed Toby a little millet through the bars to lure her out of a bad spot.

The best way to handle it, at least for us, has been to leave the lights glowing just a bit more brightly than usual and once the parakeet has settled down and is in a safe place to go back to sleep, go back to bed and try to calm yourself down enough to sleep.

Also, it’s a good idea to have a nightlight or two for your parakeet to help them not be so scared when they wake in the middle of the night. We went a little overboard with iTimo Baby Night Light, Led Night Lights Plug In, Kids Nightlight With Dusk to Dawn Sensor, Portable Nightlights for Adults Nursery Soother Hallway Bathroom Restroom Bedroom Decor, Pack of 4 and for a while the kitchen looked like an airport runway. We’ve since scaled back to a more reasonable amount.

I’ve read that night frights can also be a symptom of calcium deficiency so if you find your parakeet having continued issues make sure you have a Zoo Med Mineral Block Original Formula Banquet Bird Food, 1-Ounce and watch out for feeding excessive amounts of spinach which binds with calcium and can lead to a calcium deficiency.

Toby had four night terrors in the first 8 months we had her, three of those we were not able to determine the cause (although I suspect mice), and one of them was absolutely my fault. I came out of the bedroom in the middle of the night and because I had my glasses off I stood next to her cage for a prolonged period trying to find her. She of course woke up and completely freaked out, who wouldn’t with some lunatic starting at you while you sleep?

Toby hasn’t had a night terror since we got our second parakeet, Kelly – I’m not sure if having a roommate makes her feel more secure, she does always want to sleep where she can see Kelly. Actually I think Toby would prefer to sleep snuggled up to Kelly, but Kelly’s not having any part of that!

The bottom lines are that you should have night lights and a mineral block for your parakeet, but they may still have the occasional unexplained night fright. The only thing you can do is get to the cage as quickly as possible, turn up the lights a bit, and speak soothingly to your parakeet until he calms down.

One flew out of the parakeet’s cage

We made tons of mistakes as new parakeet owners, but one night we managed to make pretty much all the mistakes in about a 45 minute period.

It was about one week after Toby came to live with us, and everything had been going great, we’d made a huge commitment to spending time sitting near her cage talking to her, and we had even begun putting a hand in the cage to let her adjust to us and get to know our hands as friendly visitors.

Our first major fail had been ongoing up to that point, we hadn’t been taking very much care to make sure Toby went to sleep early.  Currently, both birds start relaxing with the curtains closed at about 6:00pm and we start dimming the lights at 7:00pm. On the night in question, however, I arrived home about 8:30pm and the house was still brightly lit and Toby was playing while watching Patrick make his dinner.

I hung out with Patrick in the kitchen and we get on the subject of some changes we thought would really enhance Toby’s experience in the cage, and then we made the extremely poor decision to make those changes that evening. To contrast, now when we make changes in the cage we always do it in the morning so the parakeets have a ton of time to adjust before bedtime, you really never know what’s going to freak them out.

To my recollection we had decided to switch around two perches so Toby could get around more easily, as she was struggling with learning to climb around on the cage bars.  Patrick’s hands went in first and I kept a close watch on the door – Toby went to a corner and seemed totally fine (in retrospect, Toby seemed like she was absolutely terrified).

Patrick ran into a snag in moving one of the perches and I made the critical error – putting one of my hands in the cage as well. Toby immediately decided her chances for survival were greater outside the cage and bolted for freedom.

Now what we had on our hands was a fully flighted, completely terrified, mostly feral parakeet lose in the house. She didn’t trust us, she had no training in sitting on our hands, she was not skilled enough to be able to get back in the cage even if she wanted to, and worst of all, she had no experience with millet or any other treat and we had no method of coaxing her to us and then back in the cage.

Imagine trapping a sparrow, putting it in your house, and then trying to convince it to enter a very specific, small doorway. Oh and also it’s 9pm at night.

I shut every door possible, but this still left Toby with the hallway, kitchen, dining area, and living room. All I can say about what happened after this is we basically lost our minds for 30 minutes.  In a total panic we followed Toby around the house trying to catch her with our hands, throw a towel over her (!!! so glad that didn’t work), or just generally tire her out enough to grab her, which was a total joke.

She ended up on top of the refrigerator, the living room curtain rod, behind/underneath the entertainment center, inside a sound panel suspended from the ceiling, and everywhere but on us. I’m sure it seemed like all her nightmares come to life having two huge predators chase her around and roust her out of whatever refuge she took.

I finally grabbed a sheet and used it to shepherd her into the kitchen/dining area and away from the living room.  She even landed on top of her cage a few times but just had absolutely no idea how to get back in – which I’m sure she desperately wanted to do to get away from us!   In retrospect I have no idea why we panicked so badly – there was really no time urgency and yet we behaved as though we had to get her back in the cage immediately.  It would have been much better to take a step back and give her 15 minutes to calm down and think – or at least for us to calm down and think.

She finally perched on top of a stained glass window in our dining area and stayed put. At this point a lightbulb went on for me and I said “you know, I’ve read that if you press your finger into her tummy she will have no choice put to step on it”.

Toby eyed us warily as we lifted her entire cage onto the dining room table with the door facing her. Then Patrick approached gingerly and pressed his finger lengthwise against Toby’s stomach, right above her feet. She immediately stepped up and as we all held our breath, Patrick conveyed her about two feet into his cage and shut the door.

The ordeal ended with Toby cowering in the corner of her cage until she went to sleep and Patrick and I having a stiff drink to wash down our shame.

We were ultimately fortune that Toby didn’t trust us at all yet, otherwise I’m sure we would have broken that. As it was we didn’t notice any change in her behavior the next day, just a lot of changes in us and a lot more respect for her boundaries.

Summary of mistakes:
– Parakeet up too late
– Over-confidence in bird’s level of comfort with cage adjustments
– Deciding to make changes to cage layout in the evening
– Deciding to make changes to cage layout with parakeet in cage
– Putting multiple people’s hands in the cage at the same time
– Not knowing how to read the parakeet’s body language
– Panicking about the bird being out and forgetting essential basics

 

 

Taming and socializing part 2 – parakeet’s out of the cage, what’s next?

Your parakeet is out of the cage and looking at you like, “okay, what’s now? Amuse me people!” Some folks recommend taking your parakeet to a small, safe, room and shutting the door for these first interactions – that didn’t work for us, mainly due to the layout of our house, but in the end it was to our benefit, Toby will only hang out in the kitchen, dining room, and living room and I believe that’s because those are the rooms she was first introduced to. If she goes anywhere outside of that zone it’s either because she’s looking for one of us, or she feels like challenging the bird that lives in the bathroom mirror.

What also works in our favor on this issue is Toby’s fear, she was very reluctant to go exploring by herself, and wanted absolutely nothing to do with the floor. But, she did expect us to be fully available for his entertainment and security detail.

It may go without saying, please don’t leave your parakeet unattended while she’s out of the cage, particularly in these early times. There is no limit to the number of ways a parakeet can hurt himself in your home. I would say this goes double for parakeets with clipped wings, since they don’t have the ability to get themselves out of trouble by flying.

We set out to make areas outside of the cage that would be fun to Toby and would be clearly “hers”. We also spent a lot of time working with Toby on flying back and forth to each of us, and practicing stepping up, but felt like time out of the cage should also be at her leisure to enjoy flying and playing.

This pursuit began with the acquisition of the Prevue Hendryx Pet Products Parakeet Park Playground – which was only interesting to Toby if we were playing with it too, and was sort of a bust for us, although a perfectly nice product. She might have found it more interesting if her wings were clipped.

So, we moved on to the Kaytee EZ Care Activity Center Playground for Small Birds, as it comes out of the box it is wildly inappropriate for a small bird like a parakeet, but as you see below we quickly loaded it up with a ton of perches and toys, it’s very easy to hop around this way. On days that aren’t too hot we keep it in front of our big living room window so they can look outside, which they both enjoy (unless there are crows around).

Another window area was created using a Booda Comfy Perch for Birds, Large 36-Inch, Colors Vary and a couple of other small toys that are suspended securely from the ceiling. This is another favorite spot of both parakeets. Especially on nice days when the window is open and they can yell at all the outdoor birds.

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Can you tell we have a ton of comfy perches?

Because it takes me a while to learn anything, I bought another table top stand, similar to the Prevue Hendryx Pet Products Big Steps Playground, which was another utter fail. Toby is just as happy if I throw some toys out on the dining room table or couch.

A note about using your body as a perch – we were very permissive with Toby initially about where she was allowed to be on our bodies.

We were so excited about her not being afraid of anymore that we didn’t want to put any restrictions on Toby at all, and ultimately created a situation where she felt she was the alpha of our flock. I encourage you not to invite your parakeet to sit on your head or to perch on your glasses, even though it’s inarguably adorable. I ended up having an issue with Toby repeatedly trying to “preen” away some broken capillaries on my eyelids and trust me it is not desirable.

I’ve become aware that some people have parakeets who are happy to sit with them and watch tv or just chill out, if I ever find out what that’s like I’ll post an update! For now, both of our budgies are in constant motion while they are awake.

The TL:DR of this post is: once your parakeet is out of the cage keep a very close eye on him and expect to keep him amused, both by working on his skills, and also by having clearly designated areas for him to explore and use for play.

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Taming and socializing your parakeet – Part 1

The first day or two after bringing Toby home we were full of conflicting emotions – excitement about finally having a bird and crushing guilt because she was clearly terrified.

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She came home from a large chain pet store at about 11am on a Saturday, moved into her new cage, and sat in the same place without moving for about 8 hours straight before finally exploring enough to find food and water.

Part of the challenge of buying a parakeet that hasn’t been hand fed is that not only does your new parakeet simply not like you; he actually thinks that you are a predator, just because your eyes happen to be on the front of your head (instead of on the sides, where they should be, obviously). In our experience, she is also only accustomed to listening to soft pop, and will have some serious anxiety about television noises for at least a couple of weeks.

So, the first goal is to convince your parakeet that you do not intend to kill and eat him. The way to do this is get a nice comfy chair and sit next to your parakeet’s cage for about 30 minutes, as many times as day as you can. Talk to your parakeet so he gets used to the sound of your voice, or sing if you’re so inclined.

You’ll know your parakeet is comfortable with your presence near the cage by his body language and behavior. He will be relaxed and will go about his business preening himself, eating, playing etc.

The next stage is to show your parakeet your hand, don’t put it in the cage yet, put it near the cage and let him think about it, you may have to do this over a period of several days before your hand stops being alarming.

I read a theory somewhere that a parakeet ends up thinking that a human’s face is a bird, and the hands are two additional birds, and that the body is some fantastic moving perch. If you think about it that way, it’s easy to see why the hands would have to be accepted and deemed non-threatening separately from the face and body.

Once your parakeet is more comfortable seeing your face and hands you can start putting your hand in the cage, with the Prevue Pet Products 3351COCO Park Plaza Bird Cage, Coco Brown you can easily swing open one of the bowl access doors and use that opening to minimize the risk of your parakeet panicking and ending up outside the cage.

Don’t try to touch your parakeet, put your hand somewhere neutral in the cage and allow him to get used to it, he will eventually get curious enough to explore on his own. Of course I would advise that you speak encouragingly to him throughout the whole process.

You should also use these occasions to give millet to your parakeet, or offer him a handful of bird seed, parakeets are intelligent and he will quickly come to associate you and your hand with treats and fun.

One of the best random traits of the parakeet is that if you press your finger lengthwise against his lower tummy he will automatically step up onto your finger. With the parakeet still in his cage, start practicing stepping up to get him used to the mechanics, and he will learn to regard your finger as an safe place to perch. Say “step up” each time you practice, and soon you won’t have to touch him to achieve the desired result, just offer your finger a short hop away and give the verbal command.

We worked with Toby inside her cage for about 4 weeks before we felt comfortable trying to take her out and trusted that because she knew who we were, and wasn’t scared of us, we would be able to get her back in the cage on our hands, or bribe her back with millet. This was compounded because unlike a lot of birds available for purchase, it turned out Toby’s wings had never been clipped, and she came home to us fully flighted.

If you bring home a bird whose wings have been clipped I would recommend a different approach that involves taking the bird out of the cage after a few days and encouraging him to get used to being gently and respectfully handled (with a lot of treats also).

For the first few weeks of living with Toby, every time I came home it was clear she did not recognize me immediately and would react with fear. I would go about my business, chatting with her all along about my day, and then gradually she would realize who I was and become excited to see me. Now, of course, it’s a totally different story, as soon as I get home Toby rushes to greet me and tap her beak against my finger through the cage bars, and then demands to be let out for play.

Final note, if you’re attuned to your parakeet’s body language you’ll know when he’s ready to advance to the next step, and soon you’ll be able to take him out of the cage and let him stretch his wings, but be sure to go at his pace, even if it sometimes seems he will always be scared of you, he won’t.

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Preparing for parakeet – cage setup

For me, setting up a home for our first parakeet had a fun sense of expectation, like Christmas Eve or a small slice of what it’s like for new parents setting up a nursery.

The first thing you need is a cage – we chose the Prevue Pet Products 3352COCO Park Plaza Bird Cage, Coco Brown (seen above), which is a great quality cage with a lot of features, like the double-locking front door and bowl holders that swing out for easy feeding and watering.  It worked out really well for socializing, as you can see in the picture.  The seed catcher also helped minimize messes.

Ultimately this cage did not work for Toby because she refused to go below the level the of the food cups, so instead of a 18″ x 18″ 49″ cage, he lived in a 18″ square block. Our second parakeet, Kelly, also ended up living in this cage and it worked out much better for her.

For the bottom of the cage, you can certainly line with newspaper but I really like Bird Cage Liners – Large Cages – Pick-Your-Size – 150 Count – 60 Pound Paper, they can catch a lot of liquid without anything seeping through (expect some water bowl spills), and it couldn’t be more convenient to take off the top sheet every day or so.

You’ll want to get a supply of food, seeds or pellets are the main options, or some combination of the two.  I’m planning a post solely on that issue, so my suggestion is to buy whatever your bird has been used to eating. The trauma of the move will throw him off enough, without trying to get him onto another food immediately.

Parakeets need a few different kinds of perches, and perches of varying sizes which all serve a different function for their feet and beaks.  Here are examples of the types you will want to provide:

Booda Comfy Perch for Birds, Medium 32-Inch, Colors Vary
Polly’s Desert Sands Bird Perch, Medium
Prevue Pet Products BPV1020 Cosmic Crunch Bird Perch, Small

We have used all of those perches and they’ve worked out well for my parakeets.  One thing to watch out for when buying perches or toys is the size. Many items are meant for larger parrots but it can be hard to tell, so always look at the dimensions and carefully read the descriptions.

Your budgie will also need to start out with a few basic toys. They may come home without having learned to play with toys, but you can show them what to do easily. They learn very quickly and have a natural inclination to play. Toys are also critical for beak maintenance, preening instinct and satisfying the limitless drive to chew.

Wesco Pet Original Bird Kabob Shreddable Bird Toy
JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy, Colors Vary
Paradise Toys Small Cotton Preening Ring, 5-Inch W by 7-Inch L

When you’re setting everything up, keep in mind that depending on where your parakeet came from he may not know how to move around on the cage bars and he may not be able to fly depending on how his wings were clipped. So, have an eye towards making the cage easy to get around – the comfy perches are great for mobility, if you buy the longer perch it can create a flexible ramp leading to the food and water bowls and other toys and perches. Try to think about how your parakeet will move around the cage – you’ll be able to make adjustments once you have him home, of course, but it’s not always so easy when there’s a bird in the cage!

Just a couple of items left, one is some type of Penn-Plax® Banana & Berry Cuttlebone & Mineral Block Combo for Birds, 2-Pack which they chew on to fill in on some gaps in their diet and also to keep their beaks in check.

For socializing and treats you’ll want Kaytee Spray Millet for Birds, 12-Count, your parakeet may not know it right when he comes home, but this is his favorite treat.

Finally Lixit Wide Mouth Bird Bottle, 10-Ounce, which is not a necessity and I would not recommend completely replacing  a standard bowl of water, but it’s a nice addition. Both our parakeets strongly prefer drinking from the bottle versus the bowl.  You do have to be vigilant about making sure they are in good working order, they can get stopped up easily.

So, that’s all you need…except it’s really a pretty big investment.  Your parakeet may cost approximately $25, but the start up gear can easily run $400-$500. On top of that, you’ll need (and want) to replace the toys and perches at a pretty steady rate.

For my final note I wanted to give an estimate on what you can expect to spend monthly on your parakeet upkeep (not including start up costs) and I think it’s probably pretty close to $40-$50 – I like to have extra toys and perches on deck so I can switch things out when I think the keets are getting bored. My husband thinks I am on the very high end of reality, and believes we spend closer to $30 average per month, with some months much less. Toby and Kelly think we should stop worrying about it and just keep our wallets open!

Related content: I finally worked up a real-world estimate of what getting prepared for your parakeet will cost. Spoiler alert: it’s not $500! 

 

 

Selecting your parakeet

So – you’ve done all your research, or at least read Parakeets For Dummies, you’ve purchased and set up your cage (more on that to come), and you’ve decided it’s time to find your parakeet and bring him home.

Or, in my case, you turn to your husband and very dramatically say you can’t live one more day without having a bird!

There are a lot of different ways you can find a parakeet, you can search on Facebook or Google for local parrot rescues and I would wager all of them have fistfuls of parakeets that need a good home. You can also search locally for hand fed parakeet breeders, which we’ll discuss further down the line.

For our first ‘keet we wanted to start with as young a parakeet as possible, and we wanted to try bonding with him as an “only child”, most rescues will not allow you to adopt single parakeets if you have no other birds at home, because of their strong desire to be part of a flock.

To that end, over a two-day period we made the rounds of every big box pet store in our area and cased each joint for their juvenile parakeets.  We were looking for the following characteristics specifically.

  • A parakeet that had all of the bars on his head, indicating he had not gone through his first molt at approximately 4 months of age.
  • A cere that looked as though it would develop to be more blue than beige – in hopes of having a male parakeet. I know now I was a bit wrong-headed about this, in a budgie as young I was looking for a solid pink cere would have been a boy. This is how we ended up with a girl!
  • Fully black eyes with no hint of an iris, which is another indicator of a juvenile parakeet.
  • Temperament-wise, a parakeet that was not attacking other birds, but also who was clearly not bonded to another parakeet.
  • No indicators of poor health, not puffy or overly sleepy, clear eyes and nares, feet in good condition, well-groomed and alert.

Also, it’s a good idea to assess the condition that the parakeets are living in – do they have access to clean water and perches, some toys, and do any of the other birds in the cage look ill. Parakeets, even in a pet store environment, should seem pretty happy; you want to see lots of head-bobbing and playing.

It took us four stores to find our parakeet, she was the youngest ‘keet we had seen in any of the locations, and through she didn’t seem afraid or traumatized, she was also clearly not best pals with anyone yet.

We found an employee and let them know we were ready to purchase. I was mildly alarmed by the fact that they didn’t ask whether we had everything needed to house and care for a parakeet, even if only to sell us on a few more items!

Instead, we watch in semi-horror as our new family member was caught with a net and unceremoniously deposited into a cardboard box, $20 later and we were on our way, driving home listening to the sound of parakeet nails slipping around on cardboard and probably both wondering what the heck we had just done….

Reservations aside, it was time to introduce Toby (named after both the demon in the Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension series and the put-upon HR Rep in The Office: The Complete Series to her new home.

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Toby’s first day home

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