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What Were You Thinking on ></a><a href=Bob Tarte, host of What Were You Thinking on

Bob Tarte
Exotic Pet Expert & Author

Janet's Ark

..........Janet Tweston's Aquarium

Linda Tarte...............................Janet Twesten's Aquarium

We don't know if Noah brought fish aboard his fabled ark, but when Linda and Bob visited Janet Twesten's house, they marveled at her saltwater and freshwater aquariums. (Or did Noah pluralize them 'aquaria'?) Linda talks to Janet about her fish and marine invertebrates, inquires about her lizard pets, and straight from the horse's mouth gets the skinny on her smarty–pants equine pets. Who knew that horses were such accomplished escape artists, or that they played tricks on one another? It's a full house at Janet's — and we haven't even mentioned her pet birds.


Bob Tarte: Hi I’m Bob Tarte, host of What Were You Thinking. I’m the author of the books Enslaved by Ducks and Fowl Weather which are about our pets. This week, my wife Linda is going to talk to Janet Twesten about her fish and her lizards. So take it away Linda.

Linda Tarte: Hello.

Janet Twesten: Hi Linda, how are you?

Linda Tarte: Hi Janet, we’re so happy too that you came on this show.

Janet Twesten: Oh I’m delighted to do this.

Linda Tarte: I’m just so glad that you did and we wanted to talk to you. I thought of you quite a long time ago because you’ve had such a wide variety of pets over the years and I know you love animals.

Janet Twesten: Oh I do.

Linda Tarte: We went to Janet’s house one time and one of the first things I noticed when we came in the door—and this is Janet Twesten—I should have made a formal introduction—and one of the things I noticed when I walked in her house was this beautiful salt water aquarium, just to the right of the inside of the door there. It was built into the wall and it’s this big beautiful thing. I’d like you to tell us a little bit about that as far as I know you have a person that comes once a month to maintain it and that sort of thing.

Janet Twesten: Well actually I’ve taken over the maintaining of it myself.

Linda Tarte: Okay good then you can tell us a little bit about the maintaining of it and what you have in there as far as fish and also the coral and that sort of thing. I know that people would be interested to hear about that.

Janet Twesten: All right. It’s a 60 gallon fish tank and it’s semi circle. It was made right for the entrance of my wall and it’s a wall that goes between the living room and the kitchen so it makes a nice room divider and a great conversation piece.

Linda Tarte: How tall is it?

Janet Twesten: It is probably close to five feet tall because I’m six feet. It’s about five feet and it’s made of plastic and it has—I call it the [xx]—it’s got these pistons and everything underneath that keep it working and I have had it set up now for probably about six years. It is almost self maintaining. The first couple of months that you set up the salt water tank and you use live rock, I think they get it from CG. So you can expect anything in the live rock from little crabs to the feather duster worms. It looks like a coral. A brush comes out of a worm but it’s actually a type of a worm.

Linda Tarte: Is it okay for that to be in there?

Janet Twesten: Oh yes, it’s all part of the underwater system, the coral reef system.

Linda Tarte: Flora and fauna of the coral and that’s perfectly fine for that. So you get little surprises out of that.

Janet Twesten: All kinds of little surprises and that’s what’s desirable, the live rock.

Linda Tarte: Oh that would be.

Janet Twesten: The old way that they used to set up with dead artificial corals. That wasn’t healthy to the fish.

Linda Tarte: Really?

Janet Twesten: If you put the live rock in there it gives them their same environment.

Linda Tarte: That’s what they want.

Janet Twesten: Yup.

Linda Tarte: So what was some of the first fish that you got in there?

Janet Twesten: Well I had some Blue Damsels that I put in there in the beginning which is kind of the typical first try-out for salt water fish person thing.

Linda Tarte: They’re simple to raise or…?

Janet Twesten: They were very aggressive.

Linda Tarte: Oh!

Janet Twesten: So as I started to add other fish they were very dominant to them so I actually traded them back to the fish store and then we started with a couple of Clown fish which is again an easier beginner fish like Nemo and Marlin.

Linda Tarte: They’re very hardy aren’t they?

Janet Twesten: Very hardy, in fact I still have my original pair and like I said that’s going on maybe six years.

Linda Tarte: That’s wonderful. Aren’t Clown fish the ones that hide inside the anemones and the anemones don’t hurt them even though anemones can be poisonous to certain things?

Janet Twesten: In fact I have a Carpet anemone in there which it will change shape, at times it looks flat, at times it will go under the gravel, you think it’s gone and then it comes up like a big flower. I have another set of Clown fish in there that have a stripe down their back and they have claimed that Carpet anemone and if I see them little tiny pieces of cocktail shrimps that you get over the counter, they will actually go up, snatch that piece and bring it into the anemone so that they can feed the anemone.

Linda Tarte: What?

Janet Twesten: Yeah, they’ll bring it right in there and the anemone will curl the tentacles around and dry them [xx].

Linda Tarte: Does the anemone eat the shrimps? Is that what you said?

Janet Twesten: They eat the shrimps.

Linda Tarte: They eat the shrimps too?

Janet Twesten: Yeah so they have kind of a symbiotic relationship. The Clown fish can go in there I think the idea is that to attract other fish to come in and then the anemone supposedly takes the other fish but the kind that they have in the aquariums don’t do that. The little Clown fish will nestle in there just like in the movie.

Linda Tarte: I’ve seen that.

Janet Twesten: Yup, they’ll nestle in there and anemone gives them I believe a protective coating and they like to hide in there but they actually do feed it. I find that to be quite amusing.

Linda Tarte: It is!

Janet Twesten: To get people in here to give little pieces of shrimp, they’ll snatch it right in and feed the anemone.

Linda Tarte: So they give them protection and in turn they feed them. That is so good. What did you say about coating? A coating on what?

Janet Twesten: As I understand, and I maybe wrong, the anemone puts the protective coating on the Clown fish.

Linda Tarte: Like a slimy-like thing.

Janet Twesten: Yeah nothing that you would see, but it’s kind of a protection.

Linda Tarte: Against their acids or whatever?

Janet Twesten: Yeah, I don’t really know but that’s what I’ve been told.

Linda Tarte: I’ll be darn.

Janet Twesten: They kind of give them a little coating.

Linda Tarte: Now you’ve had those six years you said.

Janet Twesten: Yeah, yeah in fact, I like a Yellow Tang in there.

Linda Tarte: Oh they’re beautiful, describe those to the people.

Janet Twesten: It’s a large fish flat, very flat and again if anybody had seen the Nemo movie…

Linda Tarte: They’re bright yellow.

Janet Twesten: That one I think was blue and yellow one. The Dora in the movie but this one is bright yellow. It’s very attractive and it’s kind of funny, occasionally there’ll be a dispute between the two different varieties of Clown fish and the Tang would go right between them and it will be like, “Break it up boys that’s enough now.”

Linda Tarte: Really?

Janet Twesten: Yeah then I have a very pretty Red Fire Shrimp. Everybody would say, “Oh what’s that?”

Linda Tarte: Yeah I don’t know what that is.

Janet Twesten: It’s just like a regular shrimp that you get at the store, but of course this one is pretty and red and what he does is, he is a type of cleaner shrimp. If you bring in a new fish from the fish store, they’ll sometimes go all over them, cleaning little parasites and things off of their body and they’re actually very useful in the salt water fish tank.

Linda Tarte: That’s wonderful!

Janet Twesten: Yep and then I have a large Bubble Coral that I’ve had for year and a half. In the beginning when I first had the tank set up, it was kind of hard to keep that alive but it actually makes big bubbles on the ends of them. Those again at night will get real small and shrink right down and you’ll think, “Oh that’s dead.” Then as soon as the light comes on, it just comes right back to life and it’s very, very  pretty.

Linda Tarte: Oh how fun. So there’s quite a bit of movement in the corals from hour to hour, they move different ways. Most of them have little tentacles don’t they?

Janet Twesten: That’s more of the anemone that has the tentacles.

Linda Tarte: Okay, the corals don’t.

Janet Twesten: The corals are more of like the underwater plants but they’re still animals but they look more plantish when you’re going along the coral reef. In fact I’ve just been to Antigua and we did a lot of snorkeling and there’s a lot of corals and all the beautiful fishes that you see in the salt water tank were right there in the ocean.

Linda Tarte: Oh beautiful!

Janet Twesten: Very pretty in fact I saw a lot of the little Damsels and we’d see a  lot of the common salt water fish, it’s a black fish with a little white dot and they can be kind of  aggressive. But they would nip at our feet when we went out snorkeling.

Linda Tarte: In the shallows.

Janet Twesten: Yeah, in the shallows. They’re little rascals.

Linda Tarte: The corals come in all different colors, don’t they?

Janet Twesten: Oh yeah. There’s red and browns and greens and…

Linda Tarte: But they’re an animal not a plant.

Janet Twesten: They’re an animal.

Linda Tarte: So you’re tank has been healthy through the whole time you’ve had it.

Janet Twesten: I do water changes.

Linda Tarte: How much a week?

Janet Twesten: I do it every couple of weeks. I take out maybe five gallons and I have a thing that looks like an underwater vacuum cleaner. It’s a big tube and I’ll clean the sediments and the old food that goes into the crushed coral base and that’s not sand, it’s crushed coral that’s on the bottom of the tank. You clean up all the debris and at the same time you are bringing out the water and putting it into a big bucket. Then you have replacement water which is the artificial salt and you mix that with your regular tap water.

Linda Tarte: So you do use regular tap water.

Janet Twesten: Right. I do. I don’t use it with a water softener. I actually have well water out here. So I use the well water which really have a lot of minerals in it which is good for them.

Linda Tarte: But the Ph of it is not a problem?

Janet Twesten: No you check your Ph as you’re adding your salt and that’s for specific gravity. I have not had much of a problem with the Ph itself. I have a little buffer that I  put in there from time to time but I have not had much trouble with the Ph.

Linda Tarte: So you test the Ph every couple of weeks?

Janet Twesten: No, I do it about once a year now.

Linda Tarte: Really?

Janet Twesten: Because I know that I have no problem with the well water, and if I add just a capsule of the buffer I’m usually okay. Then there’s some other products that you can add. There is some Coral Life Iodine that you can mix in with the salt and add that in but I just do that once in awhile to give the corals a boost. But I only have probably about six or seven fish because you find that every time you add a new one, another one seems to go by the way side. You just have to keep the natural balance in there.

Linda Tarte: You don’t want to add too much to throw things off.

Janet Twesten: No. Like a lot of beginners want all the colors and they want all the fish and they’ll try to put a whole bunch together.

Linda Tarte: Doesn’t work.

Janet Twesten: It doesn’t work. It would work in fresh water fish but it won’t work for salt water.

Linda Tarte: Sounds like you’ve had a very good experience with that tank.

Janet Twesten: Oh wonderful. I also have a 25 gallon salt water.

Linda Tarte: Oh I didn’t know that.

Janet Twesten: Yup and that one has three Clown fish in it and a fish that’s called the Cardinal. Since it’s small, I’ve just keep just two of that small amount of fish and I have a shrimp in there, a Gleaner [sp] shrimp in there that also tidies up. You also have little crabs, little snails that eat algae and keep the tank clean. It’s really mandatory to keep some snails and some little crabs in there and they’re really interesting to watch going across the coral and picking little things out of the coral.

Linda Tarte: It’s just fun to watch those kind of fish work.

Janet Twesten: Oh it’s wonderful. Then I also have a 40 gallon fresh water.

Linda Tarte: Yeah I was going to ask you about the fresh water one and you have more fish in that don’t you?

Janet Twesten: Yeah, that’s down in my basement area. I have a guest room down in the basement and I find that people really enjoy that when they stay here. It’s very soothing and I get a lot of compliments on both of the fish tanks.

Linda Tarte:  It’s very relaxing to sit in the evening and watch the goings on of the fish, better than television a lot of times.

Janet Twesten: Oh it is.

Linda Tarte: Definitely.

Janet Twesten: It is such a relaxing thing. I have had some large black Angel fish down there for years that are almost as big as your hand and I started them when they were small with the other fresh water tropicals, the Cardinals and Brass tetras, so they all get along fine because they were all started off together. So there’s been no aggressiveness.

Linda Tarte: It’s whenever you put one in new that’s been…

Janet Twesten: Yeah if I was to add one of the big Angels now into their starter tank, they would probably be a lot of aggression going on.

Linda Tarte: What’s the Cardinal?

Janet Twesten: Cardinals are a very popular fish that you see in the pet stores that one line of them—they’re a little fish and they have two lines—one being red and one being a iridescent turquoise and again as long as the light is on the fish all retain their colors but at night when the lights go off, all the fish become very drab color to match in with their surroundings. I suppose this is like if they were in the wild to protect them from being eaten by the larger fish.

Linda Tarte: Oh I see, so they actually change colors.

Janet Twesten: Yeah, yeah, all of them become very drab. You wouldn’t even know it’s the same fish and as soon as you put the light on them, it takes maybe 10 to 20 minutes and then they all light up bright again.

Linda Tarte: That is all fascinating.

Janet Twesten: I have my fish tanks on timers so that they’ll come on about 10  o’clock in the morning and then they go off around 8 o’clock at night.

Linda Tarte: Oh perfect.

Janet Twesten: Then I don’t have to worry going around snapping lights off, snapping lights on and while I’m at work during the day, they just pop right on and everything is fine.

Linda Tarte: That makes life so much easier.

Bob Tarte: We’ll be right back with more of Linda’s interview with Janet Twesten right after this potentially interesting message.


Bob Tarte: Hi welcome back to What Were You Thinking and here is more of Linda’s interview with Janet Twesten.

Linda Tarte: I understand that you have also several types of lizards and what different types have you had?

Janet Twesten: Well, I had Bearded Dragon for quite awhile.

Linda Tarte: Describe what they look like.

Janet Twesten: They look like a small iguana. It was funny because I’ve just come back from Florida too and there’s iguanas all over the place in the Keys. “Hey, aren’t they suppose to be behind glass?”

Linda Tarte: And they are just out in the wild?

Janet Twesten: They’re everywhere. Apparently people brought iguanas to the Keys from Australia and as they got big and so forth, they let them loose and so they are all through the Florida Keys. You’ll just be walking around and see a 3 foot iguana will walk out.

Linda Tarte: Oh my! But they’re not aggressive are they?

Janet Twesten: No, no and they’re more plant eaters. They like to eat the vegetation down there and they’ve adapted quite well for the Florida Keys.

Linda Tarte: So they’re kind of in the lagoon areas.

Janet Twesten: They’re all through Isle of Marada and down to Key West. They’re everywhere down there but it was a surprise.

Linda Tarte:  Do people get them and bring them to their houses?

Janet Twesten: I think they just see too many of them in the wild.

Linda Tarte: It’s not a novelty to them.

Janet Twesten: When I was in Antiguas, they had a lot of the geckos running around and Anoles which was funny because I’ve had a pair of Day geckos and they’re very cute. They look like the commercial on TV, the Geico commercials.

Linda Tarte: For the insurance. Yeah.

Janet Twesten: They have their little hands…

Linda Tarte: They’re active aren’t they?

Janet Twesten: They’re very active and they like to go up by the heat bulb and you keep the heat bulb on them at night and during the day. During the day you add an ultraviolet light to them and that is the same for the Bearded Dragon. The Bearded Dragon has quite a personality.

Linda Tarte: Now he has a long tongue, doesn’t he?

Janet Twesten: No, it is the Veiled Chameleon that has the long tongue.

Linda Tarte: That flips the tongue out from a long distance and grabs something.

Janet Twesten: And I’ve had several  of those and they are very interesting. I had one that was about 15 inches long and I loved them because they have kind of a cute little mitten hand. They kind of go along with little flap movement, little flap like hand and all of the reptiles eat small crickets. You can get them basically from any pet store and you just keep a little supply on hand.

Linda Tarte: Now how long does a cricket stay in there—how often do they eat?

Janet Twesten: All of them would eat everyday. It’s just once in awhile, you usually have two or three in there. The Bearded Dragon he chomps out five in the morning  and five at night.

Linda Tarte: That many!

Janet Twesten: Yeah and he would go for the big sized ones. I’d be out in the garden and I’d find grasshoppers and crickets and I would bring them in for him. He loves those. They like the hunt, they like to be chasing them around.

Linda Tarte: Really?

Janet Twesten: My Bearded Dragon, I have a really funny story about him. He was getting too big for me to take care of and he had a lot of personality.

Linda Tarte: Now how big is he?

Janet Twesten: He was about 15 inches big.

Linda Tarte: Oh that is pretty big.

Janet Twesten: I got him when he was only a couple of inches and he grew quite quickly. I worked for a doctor’s office and I had patient that his girl friend was from a large family and her brother wanted a Bearded Dragon and so for Christmas a year ago, they bought a big 55 gallon tank for him and I though this would be a wonderful present for them and so they took him on home. I understand the boy is a teenager and in high school, that he was so thrilled with the dragon and I guess he would even go around the room with the dragon around his neck.

Linda Tarte: Really?

Janet Twesten: Yep and he loves that dragon. I had a wonderful sitting and watch the two of them together and every once in awhile when the patient comes in the office I’d ask, “How is the Bearded Dragon?” “Oh he’s wonderful, he’s wonderful!”

Linda Tarte: What’s his name?

Janet Twesten: Oh gee, I can’t remember what I named him.

Linda Tarte: Oh my, what a happy story.

Janet Twesten: Yeah, I mean they have done so well together and I thought that was wonderful. My chameleons were a lot of fun, they were very slow. You can only have one in a tank at a time.

Linda Tarte: Really?

Janet Twesten: Yeah because apparently they can get quite aggressive. They will kind of  hiss at you, even the Bearded Dragon if you get him off guard, he will hiss at you.

Linda Tarte: The chameleons and the Bearded Dragons are like that?

Janet Twesten: Both of them will do that. The Day Geckos are a lot like the little dime store Anoles. The little Anoles that were sold years ago in dime stores and at circuses. I don’t know if you remember, girls used to have little chains that they would put around the neck and they would wear them as pins. That was when I was growing up.

Linda Tarte: You are talking about the chameleons.

Janet Twesten: The little Anole chameleons the ones in the dime store.

Linda Tarte: I think I remember that.

Janet Twesten: Yep and if you had a green blouse, they would change into green and if you had a red blouse they would go kind of rust color. They were very popular but now you can buy them like the  little Day Gecko and just set up a nice little terrarium for them.

Linda Tarte: We know that you  have horses also and that you love them dearly. And I’ve always perceived horses to be these beautiful but slightly sentimental animals that are a little bit strong willed but basically affectionate, that sort of thing. Would you perceive them to be just like that? Very affectionate but a little bit strong willed.

Janet Twesten: Oh yes because I have miniature horses and I just acquired a new riding horse. He is 14 years old, and he is part Arab and part quarter horse. I was quite skeptical because I was getting up there and I thought, but I tried it out and he is very smooth. I’d come over to the side and the wind is to me and he comes running when he sees me. Since I’ve only had him a couple of weeks, I’d say that we’re doing pretty well.

Linda Tarte: Oh that’s wonderful. Now I understand that very occasionally, they think of someway to get out of their enclosures.

Janet Twesten: Oh yeah.

Linda Tarte: You have a good story or two about times when you came home from work one time and they were not in their pen and what transpired then?

Janet Twesten: Well I had a couple of different instances. One time I had two riding horses, I had my daughter’s horse for many years. I had him for 15 years and he was about 18 and I had another old horse that I bought from a local riding stable. We had a Dalmatian dog that was here. Dalmatians their purpose with fire house horses was to bite at the ankle to get the fire horses moving if there was a fire. So one day this young Dalmatian was playing with them, and he would nip at their heel and I had not secured the gate properly and all of them shot out of the gate. They run down the path behind my house. They went on to the next street so I grabbed a bucket of grain and a lead line and I went out and tried to hunt them down. My heart beating a mile a minute. We have a large adult foster care home on the next street and I was surprised , I looked up the hill and there they were peeking in the window in the foster care home.

Linda Tarte: What were they thinking?

Janet Twesten: I don’t know. I think they were just curious.

Linda Tarte: They’d always wondered what was in those windows.

Janet Twesten: Yeah they wondered and it’s really funny because they came and they saw the bucket and I’m like, “Hey I got them.”  As soon as they saw the lead line they took off and they run back out there again and I thought, they will never come again. I called them again and I go there and they were doing the same thing, they were peeking at the window.

Linda Tarte: They went there twice?

Janet Twesten: They went there twice and I was so shocked. I was like, “What if these people are looking out the window?”

Linda Tarte: Can you imagine?

Janet Twesten: They see horses heads. Nobody will believe them.

Linda Tarte: From their pen where they normally stay—would  they be able to see that from there?

Janet Twesten: No.

Linda Tarte: So it wasn’t something they stared out all day and thought about.

Janet Twesten: It’s actually through the woods and around the corner.

Linda Tarte: So they never saw it necessarily other than if you let them out, going for a ride with them.

Janet Twesten: Yeah.

Linda Tarte: It’s so hilarious.

Janet Twesten: I used to go that way. Oh it’s possible, I think they were just curious.

Linda Tarte: Are they curious animals?

Janet Twesten:  Yeah they’re very curious. If you move a bag of sawdust shavings which you put in the bottom of their stalls to keep them comfortable and collect the remains. If they hear you rattle the paper, they’ll come in sometimes I’d come home from work and if I leave a bag of sawdust in there, it will look like a party. They’d shook out the sawdust, they’ll take the halters off the wall, look like somebody had a big beer party going inside the barn.

Linda Tarte: You are kidding!

Janet Twesten: That’s not a lot of fun if you’ve had a hard day and you go home and now you have all this to clean up too.

Linda Tarte: What little trick they pulled today. Were your horses basically affectionate to one another? Do they get jealous?

Janet Twesten:  They figure out kind of a pecking order as to whose in charge. For instance this morning, it’s the first time that I put the two minis in with the riding horse and one of the minis up until a couple of years ago was with a little stallion and he is only 27 inches tall. Well he still at times think he’s a stallion. So I moved him in this morning. Both minis with the new horse, the new full size riding horse. He right away tried to dominate him and tried to take a bite out of the big one’s neck. The big one was very good and just spun around and showed him the back leg. He didn’t kick him, but he could have kicked him, showed him the back legs and for a few minutes, my neighbor and I were both watching this, we kept watch.

Linda Tarte: Touch and go.

Janet Twesten: Yeah there was a lot of running, they were trying to herd together. They were establishing who was going to be number one, who was going to be number two. Now as I look out the window, all three are getting along beautifully.

Linda Tarte: They’re just fine. Have you ever found that they tend to show off more when the people are standing around and then when the people walk away then it’s a different story, they kind of relax.

Janet Twesten: My daughter’s horse was a gorgeous Paint. He was a big brown and white Paint and it was termed appendix which is thorough bred quarter horse mix and I had a big party here one day for our people at work. Usually the horse would be placid and he won’t be paying any attention but he had his head up and everyone wanted to ride him when they saw him kicking with his tail up in the air, they’re like, “I guess we won’t ride it.” No that’s probably not a good idea but as soon as everybody left they’re back with their heads down.

Linda Tarte: Settled right back down.

Janet Twesten: Yeah but it’s the same thing in a horse show. A horse maybe just sitting around the house but if you are going over, jump, riding around the area, there is just this kind of so-so but as soon as they get in a shell and they hear the announcer and they see the crowds…

Linda Tarte: They get caught up in the excitement of it.

Janet Twesten: Yeah.

Linda Tarte: They’re just like people in a way.

Janet Twesten: They love to travel. We take the horses, my neighbor and I, up to Wyonia [sp] where you can ride horses and also camp out in the state park. It’s a wonderful social event.

Linda Tarte: Oh it would be.

Janet Twesten:  Yeah because people get together and there’ll be some challenging out on the trails where you try to run the other one down and the horses have so much fun there. They just ride up.

Linda Tarte: Oh it sounds so fun. Looks like we’re running out of time but I just loved the stories you told Janet. People would be so entertained by it.

Janet Twesten: I could go on and on.

Linda Tarte: I just loved your stories and I want to thank you so much for coming on this show and your all animals sound so charming.

Janet Twesten: You’re entirely welcome. I try to get them to all to get along. I try to break them in all gradually to each other so that they will all be friends and we can eliminate problems.

Linda Tarte: Exactly that’s the task of all pet owners is to try to make harmonious relations between everybody.

Janet Twesten: Oh yeah even with fish, you have to be very careful and add them very slowly to make sure that they go along together.

Linda Tarte: We want everything to turn out right. Well thank you so much Janet for being in our show.

Janet Twesten: Oh you’re entirely welcome, have a good day.

Bob Tarte: Thanks so much Janet Twesten for being on today’s show and our next guest might be you. That’s right we ‘d like to hear about your exotic pet. Just send us an email at and we’d like to have you on the show talking about whatever animal you have at home other than a dog or a cat. So thanks so much for listening this week and thanks to our mysterious producers. Bye bye.


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