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Letters to Santa

24 Dec

Many of you know that I have a direct line to the North Pole. Santa and I are kind of on a first-name basis.

His name is Santa Jim, and he’s Webster’s resident head-elf, appearing at functions all over town, in both winter and summer. He’s also been the Eastview Mall Santa for years.

I got to know Jim when I interviewed him for my East Extra column three years ago. I have since come to know him as a kind, generous soul, befitting his alter-ego. So I wasn’t surprised when he emailed me a few days ago, saying,

Each morning when I arrive at the Eastview Mall Santa site I empty the Santa Mail box that sets next to the big chair. I usually sit for a few minutes before work and read a few of the letters the children have given to Santa from the day before with all their Christmas wishes and hopes. … They are so cute.  

Santa Jim the kind elf thought of me as he was reading those letters, and packaged up several of them for me to look at, and share with my readers. He wrote,

There isn’t anything special in them. It’s just a peek into the hearts, minds and eyes of these precious little children who truly believe in Santa Claus.

But they are special. Some were typed on a computer, others were fill-in-the blank forms that looked like they were done in school. Others were neatly printed, and a few were clearly penned by the parents, with the child providing a scribbled signature. Many had multi-colored words, holiday sketches and portraits of Santa.

They asked for a lot of the “hot” toys, like Hatchimals and Legos, but more than one requested that Santa make sure that other children in need would have their wishes fulfilled. One child had slipped “dad to be happy” on his list in between a Fitbit and an X-box controller. And a few of them asked after Rudolph.

Here are some of the things the children wrote:

  • Dear Santa, I’m writing for my little brothers. The boys have been perfect angels except for their non-sleeping-at-night-ness. 
  • I want some makeup PLEAS. And Santa ALL the kids are counting on you! 
  • Please have the elves pick me something nice! 
  • I would love it if for Christmas I could have a drone. You know, the things you fly with a remote-control. I would love for it to have a camera, but I totally understand if it’s too big and expensive. 
  • Good presits for the por. Good presits for my family and evrey body els. eny thing you thingk I wod like.

Thank you, Santa Jim, for reminding us what it was like when believing in Santa Claus was one of the best things about Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all my readers. May it bring you simple joys and happiness.

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Here we go a’caroling…

20 Dec

group shot

The streets of Webster were alive with the sound of music earlier this week as two separate groups strolled the neighborhoods, caroling at businesses and houses along the way.

The first of the musical meanderings took place Monday night, when BID president Robyn Whittaker hosted almost 30 friends, business acquaintances and assorted other local residents on her second annual village caroling party.

And a party it was. Participants first gathered at The Coach, where Robyn had provided plenty of soda, beer, hot cider (spiked if you wanted to) and pizza. When 7 p.m. rolled around, everyone filed out of the pub, and that took a while because there were about 30 of us. First stop was for a group photo in front of the Coach. Then it was off to do some singing.

The stops were pretty much determined on the fly, depending on what businesses were open and what homes seemed to be occupied. In about an hour, the tuneful group had visited the Webster Barbershop, Rubino’s, Brimont Bistro, and about a dozen homes. The business owners were tolerant; some of the homeowners were hesitant to come out, but most others happily stood on their cold porches — occasionally with small babies or children in tow — to enjoy the music.  But no matter who the group was singing for (or not singing for), the enthusiasm and the singing never waned, continuing even as everyone walked from house to house on the streets and sidewalks.

The very next evening, I joined the Chorus of the Genesee for their annual Soup & Carol Night. Unlike Robyn’s event, which is brand new, the Chorus has been hosting this evening of caroling for at least 24 years. There were also a whole lot more people at this event. I counted about 60 men, women, children and dogs. I was told that it was more than double what the Chorus usually draws. It helped, I think, that the weather was pretty pleasant.

Everyone gathered at the Harmony House, enjoying coffee and cookies, sheets of music and Santa hats were handed out, and when 7 p.m. rolled around, everyone filed out into the street.

The first stop, as it has been every year, was Webster Eyecare Associates, which is pretty much across the street from the Harmony House. The folks there have come to expect this annual visit by the Chorus carolers, and this year — for the first time — had donut holes and hot chocolate for the chilly singers.

I hope you had a chance to enjoy, or even participate in, one or both of these caroling events. This is what small-town life is all about.

This is truly Webster.

family 2

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Webster Legion surprises veteran with “new” car

30 Nov

US Army veteran Brandi Christie with her new minivan. 

When US Army veteran Brandi Christie and her children were invited to a family-friendly veterans’ event Thursday night at Webster’s Cottreall-Warner American Legion Post #942, she thought she was just going to watch her favorite band perform.

The Sons of the American Legion had a different idea. By the end of the night, Brandi had been handed the keys to a newly refurbished 2008 Nissan Quest minivan.

The donation was the culmination of a partnership between the Sons and a terrific organization called Operation Build Up. Based in Conesus, Operation Build Up is dedicated to preventing veteran homelessness and suicides.

According to Justin Cogswell, the organization’s founder, “We want to help veterans in their darkest moments. When they trip and fall, we as a country should work to help them up.”

One of the main ways Operation Build Up accomplishes that is by purchasing (or receiving in donations) used cars, fixing them up, making them road-worthy, then giving them to veterans in need. They typically rebuild three to four vehicles a month, spending upwards of $800 — and hundreds of volunteer hours — on each one.

The Sons began working with Operation Build Up about a month ago, when member Bill VerHagen invited Cogswell to one of their meetings to talk about his organization.

Sons Commander Nate Burdick remembered the meeting.

“We wrote a $1,000 check right then, then everyone went home and donated more,” he said. Immediately after that meeting, the post’s Auxiliary Unit donated another $1,000 to help with future builds.

Working hand-in-hand with Operation Build Up fits perfectly with the Sons’ mission, Burdick said.

“The Sons of the American Legion are directly trying to touch any veteran in any way we can to support them. It’s veterans doing work for veterans, It was a perfect storm for what we are trying to do.”

Thursday night’s presentation was especially timely for Brandi. A 15-year veteran of the US Army, she still serves in the Army Reserve. But her family recently lost their vehicle, so she’s been missing the required drills.

In addition to the minivan, the Sons also handed Brandi a check for $500, so she didn’t even have to worry about paying for registration and insurance.

Brandi’s four young children weren’t forgotten, either.  As they scrambled into the back seats of their spacious new minivan, her daughter and three sons each discovered a stuffed dog and stuffed Christmas stocking awaiting them.

After finally accepting that she wasn’t dreaming, Brandi had but one question when she saw her the vehicle for the first time. True to the selfless nature of all veterans, she asked through happy tears, “Is there something we can do to pay you back?”

“No, you don’t need to do anything,” Cogswell answered. “This is America right here.”

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Learn more about Operation Build Up and find out how you can help this great organization support our veterans in need. Visit 



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Memories of Barry’s on the occasion of the pub’s 6th anniversary

10 Nov
main photo

Danny and Jessica Barry, the new owners of Barry’s Old School Irish, two days before the pub’s soft opening in September, 2011.

It’s no secret that Barry’s Old School Irish, in Webster village, is one of my favorite places in the world. From the day I first walked through the door and met baby-faced Danny and his even younger wife (Jessica wasn’t even 21 yet), I knew the place was going to be special.

Turns out, I was right. Thanks to the simple passion these two young people have for creating a truly family-oriented, traditional Irish pub, Barry’s has become a cornerstone in the village of Webster’s social scene for people who come for the friendly welcomes, excellent food, Barry’s Runners, perfectly poured pints, weekend live music, Irish whiskies, outdoor patio, Irish music sessions, folk music sessions, euchre, Notre Dame football, trivia, book club, Boondock Saints, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, New Year’s Eve parties, Wren Day parties, and so much more.

Tomorrow — Saturday, November 11 — Barry’s Old School Irish , 2 West Main Street in Webster, will turn six years old. In those years, I’ve tried several times to explain here just what makes it so special. What makes it different from other “Irish” pubs. Rather than try to do so again, I thought I’d re-post a few blogs I wrote in honor of previous anniversaries, which kinds of sum things up rather well.

If you’ve known the pub for a while, they should make for some interesting reading and bring back some nice memories.

This first one was for their first anniversary, posted on October 27, 2012.

This evening, Barry’s Old School Irish Pub and Bakery on Webster’s 4-corners will celebrate its one-year anniversary. In anticipation of that happy event, I sat at my computer last night, poised to craft the perfect blog about what has become my very favorite Webster hangout.

Fingers at the ready, I started to think. What exactly IS it about Barry’s that makes the place so special? The beer? The to-die-for Guinness chocolate cake? The live music? There are just so many things about Barry’s that make it a pleasant place to be. But what is it that makes Barry’s unique?

It took me a little while, but finally it dawned on me. I realized why I go back there every Friday night. And some Saturdays and Wednesdays. And the occasional Sunday afternoon. It’s Mary Jane, Mike and Patrick. Tim, Jerry and Robyn. Debbie, Sarah, Chris and Julie. Kim, Mac and Maura, Brendan and Gordon. These are the people of Barry’s, and every single one of them has become part of my extended family.

Funny thing about these extended family members, though, is that I couldn’t tell your most of their last names. Plus, I didn’t know ANY of them a year ago. But thanks to Barry’s, I’m now closer to these people than to most of my “regular” extended family members.

You see, any Irish pub can serve a Guinness. Any restaurant/bakery can serve up great dinners and desserts. But there aren’t many places where you can walk in and immediately feel like family.

But that’s the way it is at Barry’s. The feeling in this little place is just … different. It’s like everyone there is only a stranger because you haven’t met them yet — but by the end of the night you probably will. I’ve heard people refer to it as a “family bar,” which is a really weird phrase, but sums up the atmosphere perfectly. Just like the pubs in ol’ Ireland, Barry’s Old school Irish has become a community gathering place, in the mornings for coffee, scones or breakfast buffet (bring the kids!), lunchtime for some incredible Shepherd’s Pie, and evening for a pint and some live music. …

Oh, yeah, totally forgot to mention the momma and papa of this extended family of mine. Danny and Jessica Barry own this little slice of Ireland in the middle of the village. If you ask me, when they moved in and transformed what used to be a very ugly and embarrassing “Living Waters” property, they transformed the village of Webster as well. I am blessed to be able to call them friends. Tonight I will not be toasting their success as much as thanking them for being a part of our lives.

And this one, posted November 12, 2015.

Believe it or not, sometimes I am at a complete loss for words.

That’s been the case these last few days as I’ve been pondering what to say about Barry’s Old School Irish. You see, my favorite Irish pub is turning four years old this weekend. And as I think about how far Barry’s has come in those years, so many great memories try to elbow in for my attention that it’s tough organizing them all.

So I decided to go back to the beginning.

I still clearly remember the first time I walked into Barry’s. Like most Webster residents, I’d been keeping a close eye on the building at the corner of Main and South Ave., pleased to see the old plumbing shop getting cleaned up, and wondering exactly what an “Irish pub and bakery” would look like.

On a Thursday afternoon in September, two days before Barry’s was to officially open, I stopped in to check out the new place, and met Danny and Jessica Barry for the first time.

They struck me right away as very friendly, very enthusiastic and very young. They talked to me of their passion, how they wanted to model their new pub after the public houses (a.k.a. “pubs”) they had frequented in Ireland on their honeymoon just months before. The walls were bare, the taps hadn’t been installed yet, and they had little more than coffee to sell in the bakery. Yet they envisioned that their little corner pub would someday become a genuine community gathering place.

It didn’t take long for Danny and Jessica to realize that dream, and they continue to live it every day, by nurturing the kind of atmosphere that makes Barry’s unlike any other place in the world.

It’s a place where pretty much every patron is welcomed by name, with a smile and a wave; where the owners KNOW if it’s your first time, and make a point to introduce themselves; where young couples get engaged and older couples celebrate their anniversaries; where patrons will clear space at their table on busy nights and pull up an extra stool for a stranger, and new friends are made over pick-up games of euchre; where there’s an actual COUCH in the bar for people to curl up in with their pints, and on New Year’s Eve, the pub crowd cheers each time a new patron comes in; where the owner will order-in pizza at 1 am for the handful of remaining patrons, rather than kicking them out for the night; where celebrating Irish heritage through music, dance and literature is an opportunity, not a gimmick; where the entire pub will toast to birthdays, special events, happy occasions, sad occasions, or just because Notre Dame is winning.

Where everyone who walks through the door is instantly part of the family.

Sure, there have been a lot of changes over the last several years, as Barry’s Old School Irish has matured. Dear old friends have moved away, and so many new friends have discovered the pub that it’s hard to find a place to sit on many nights. The food and drink menus have expanded, and the walls are now crammed with photos, knick knacks and memorabilia. Danny and Jessica have welcomed two beautiful daughters, Maley and Rory, and are now expecting their first son.

But one great truth has remained constant. It’s all about the people.

“One thing that Jess and I have stayed with since we’ve opened is that the people that come in here come first,” Danny Barry said. “We take pride in everything we do, whether it be food or drinks or the events that we’re lucky enough to host, but everything is second to the people that fill these walls. The memories that we get to create together, the moments that happen in here, happy and sad, those are all because of the people that fill these walls.”

On Saturday, November 11, Danny and Jessica Barry will celebrate their little pub’s sixth anniversary. Anyone who has ever walked through its doors, and therefore has immediately become pub family, is encouraged to attend and raise a pint in honor of the occasion. Be sure to wear GREEN — Dan and Jess want to make the evening a GREEN-OUT.

Click here for more details about the upcomoing festivities, but you can expect:

• Live Irish Music by Barry’s Crossing from 7:30-11 p.m. (You may remember this was the very first band to play at Barry’s, back before they were even a band and Danny billed them as “Irish musicians.” They ultimately named their band after Barry’s and  have played every anniversary party since.)

• Irish Whiskey toast on the house @ 9:45 p.m.

• Irish dancers and Jack the Piper

If you’ve read this far, you might also be interested in reading the very first blog I wrote about Barry’s.

I leave you with a few more memories from the pub’s six years:

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Bygone Blog: Spam, spam, spam

2 Oct

This is the sixth in my series of Bygone Blogs, in which I am re-posting some of my favorite blogs from the last 8 years. This one was originally published on August 25, 2012.

8252012 spam

Looking for some cheap entertainment? Poke through your spam folder sometime. Don’t worry, if you don’t actually click on a link, you’re safe. I do this every once in a while when I get bored. I visit my Gmail spam folder and see how many people want to give me money or need help carrying all their money-stuffed suitcases to the United States, or consider me a perfect candidate for a cheap loan. (I don’t get the male enhancement ads very much anymore. Maybe they wised up.)

So those always make me giggle. But if I’m in the mood for some real gut-breaking laughs, I check the spam comments I get on my WordPress blog. Most of them try to commend me on my excellent blog and insightful comments.

At least I think that’s the case. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.  Here’s an example (and I swear, I did not edit this for clarity):

I wanted to post you that very small remark in order to say thanks a lot as before with your spectacular suggestions you’ve shown here. This is simply remarkably open-handed of people like you to offer unreservedly exactly what a number of people would have offered as an e book in order to make some cash for their own end, notably seeing that you might have tried it in case you wanted. These tactics also acted to be the great way to recognize that the rest have similar zeal just as mine to understand a little more with regard to this matter. Certainly there are thousands of more fun instances up front for folks who read your site.

Thanks. I guess?

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New friends, brought together by art and apple cake

27 Sep
Pat and Josie and Buddy

Pat Tingley, Josie Pancione and Pat’s dog Buddy.

Today, I’d like to tell a story about two inspiring women — one an outstanding artist, the other an outstanding cook — and new friendships.

Josie Pancione, 88, lives at the Cherry Ridge retirement community on Ridge Road. She’s a faithful reader of my Our Towns East Extra column.

Some time ago, Josie tracked me down through the newspaper. She wanted to tell me all about an 87-year old friend of hers, Pat Tingley, who also lives at Cherry Ridge. Pat, she told me, was working on a huge painting in her garage. It was unbelievable, Josie insisted, a real sight to behold. And I might want to write about it.

It took me a while, but early last week I finally found the time to go down to Cherry Ridge to meet Josie and Pat, and to see this incredible painting.


Pat Tingley’s painting stretches a full 18 feet long. The colors are so much more vibrant than my camera could capture.

The painting is indeed impressive. The canvas is a huge 8′ tall by 18′ feet wide, and it fills the entire west wall of Pat’s garage. It’s alive with color: oranges, blues, and a dozen shades of purple and pink.

The far left-hand side of the artwork depicts a pre-dawn scene on the Pacific Ocean, the sun glinting off the undulating waves, and a gull gliding through the growing brightness.

On the far right, another pre-dawn scene on our country’s Atlantic coast, framed by a handsome birch tree. The magnificent Tahoe Rift slices down the middle, separating the two oceans.

Pat describes the piece as “my concept of the composition of the earth, the creation of the earth, the ongoing of the earth.” And while it depicts both the Pacific and the Atlantic, it’s all just one ocean, Pat explained. “If you look at the way water moves, it’s one ocean.”

Pat plans to move her painting from her garage a large blank wall in her living room. There, it will be one of the first things visitors see when they walk through the front door. When I asked her if she had plans to frame her masterpiece, her answer was immediate.

No, she said, “You can’t frame creation. As soon as you frame it it becomes a static thing.”

My story could have ended here, a pleasant tale of how one woman’s passion for art has brought meaning to her life and beauty to our world. I could have taken my camera and notebook and headed for home.

But Josie Pancione had a different plan.

After we’d all had a chance to appreciate and chat about the painting, Pat and Josie ushered me inside the cottage, where Josie had prepared an authentic, three-course Italian dinner.

Pat’s dining room table was set with silverware and cloth napkins, and we settled in. Our meal began with dessert — a decadent apple cake — and fresh lemonade. We ate, and our pleasant conversation continued until our plates were bare and glasses were empty. Then it was time for me to head home, so the rest of the dinner came with me in to-go containers: pasta, sauce, meatballs, salad and freshly grated cheese, which Josie insisted should be sprinkled on everything.

It was enough food to last me for days.

There was only one more thing left to be done. As I headed toward the door, Josie called me over, spread her arms wide, and gave me a bona fide Italian two-cheek kiss.

It was an enjoyable, charming and amiable meeting. There was magnificent art and delectable food. But what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to make two lovely new friends.

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Bygone blog: Goodbye, old friends

5 Sep

This is the fifth in my series of Bygone Blogs, in which I am re-posting some of my favorite blogs from the last 8 years. This one was originally published on December 16, 2011.

I chose this blog especially for today, the first day of the new school year here in Webster. As I begin my second year at the libraries of Schlegel Road and Plank Road North elementary schools, I still remember fondly my time at Thomas High School and all the friends I made there.

Including the copiers.  


Wednesday was a bittersweet day at work. We said goodbye to our two big, old copiers (which we affectionately called “Copier A” and “Copier B”) and welcomed two big, brand new ones.

For most of the staff at Webster Thomas, it was a happy occasion. After five years of heavy use, the old gals were really beginning to show their age. Jams were becoming more common. Parts were wearing out on a regular basis. People were beginning to think the Xerox repairman was on staff. No one shed a tear when they heard the copiers were being replaced.

But they never knew Copiers A and B like I did. For them, they were just convenient tools, meant to serve them and facilitate their administrative and teaching needs. As long as they were running smoothly, everything was sweetness and light. But jam up even for a minute and things turned nasty. Really fast.

I understand, though. Like most good things we have in life, the teachers didn’t really notice or appreciate Copiers A and B unless something went wrong, which was easily less than ten percent of the time. They didn’t work next door to them for five years like I had. They hadn’t rooted around inside with eight-inch tweezers and a miniature flashlight, searching for the smallest scraps of paper jammed in the deepest corners. They couldn’t tell just by listening that the copiers weren’t feeling well.

Yes, I was kind of attached to Copier A and Copier B.

So, to properly express my feelings and make sure our old friends got the respect they deserved in their final days, when I sent an email to the staff announcing the new copiers’ pending arrival, I added this footnote:

Please consider throwing some kind words at Copiers A and B when you’re in the copy room today. Despite their occasional PMS and old-age moments, they have been real workhorses and have served us well. If you’re a building veteran, you’ll remember the clunkers we had before our friends A and B came along. These were a huge improvement and they have earned the right to depart the Thomas family with dignity.

I might cry. Don’t watch.

To their credit, my peers understood and were very sympathetic. They sent condolence emails. One wondered, “Should we give them a proper going away party? What does one give the copier that has everything? It’s not like they need another drawer, and staples don’t always agree with them.” I received an email condolence card featuring blooming magnolias, in which my friend wrote, “As the flowers signify a new beginning, thus your fondness for your new copiers will develop over time. Sorry for the loss!”

But the best of the best was when my friend Leslie beckoned me into the copy room, taped two hand-colored paper roses on the copiers, took my hand and conducted a short memorial service. It was all I could do to not cry. Because I was laughing so hard.

We left the roses on the copiers until they were hauled away, and several teachers took the opportunity to scribble some kind notes.


Hmm. Maybe they appreciated our old friends “A” and “B” more than I realized.

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Summer’s not over yet

31 Aug


I came across this lemonade stand in my neighborhood as I was heading home after work yesterday. I always make it a point to patronize young entrepreneurs.

Kudos to these enterprising young people for stretching their summer business out as long as they could. Pictured are (L-R) Maddox Felton, Adam Dimartino, Jane Kraten, Harper Felton and Nicholas Dimeo.

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Dinosaurs, laughter and play keep a boy’s memory alive

28 Aug


The memory of young Jack James Heiligman is alive and well, embodied in the smiles and laughter of children at our area’s newest playground, Jack’s Place.

Jack’s Place is a a blue, dinosaur-themed playground at Penfield’s Rothfuss Park on Five Mile Line Road. It was built by a terrific organization called the Jack Foundation, in honor of 3-year old Jack Heiligman, who lost his life tragically last October.

Hundreds of people attended the official opening ceremonies Sunday afternoon, where Jack’s mother Anne spoke emotionally about her son and how the playground has helped fulfill the dream she and her husband AJ had to keep Jack’s memory alive.

She said,

We knew we could never forget Jack, but we didn’t want anyone to forget him. With that in  mind, we started the Jack Foundation the weeks after he passed and were overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit and resources. We encouraged acts of caring and kindness in Jack’s memory and the caring people jumped in and helped. 

People would ask them how they were able to continue after such a devastating loss, to which she responded with a quote from Fred Rogers:

When disaster strikes, look for the helpers. You will always find caring people in this world who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong. 

When the idea came to them to build a playground to honor their son, the support doubled-down. Friends, neighbors, family members and local businesses donated their time, effort and services to help make it a reality. Individuals, local companies, whole families, even children, all started raising money for the project, collecting more than $175,000 in just ten months.

The result of that outpouring of love and effort is a beautiful new play facility which incorporates all of the things that Jack loved most: dinosaurs, climbing and sliding, and the color blue. There’s even a Little Free Library, because Jack also loved books.

There are slides, of course — six of them by my count; spinny, merry-go-round thing that’s quite a bit updated from my day; a bouncy thing; a sand box where kids can “dig” for dinosaur bones; and lots and lots of places where kids can climb and crawl. There are also eight benches, where parents and grandparents can relax.

As I watched countless kids (young and old; I saw a few adults taking to the slides as well) clambering around the playscape, I could imagine Jack playing, smiling and laughing right along with them. I know that Anne and AJ imagined that as well, and I hope the thought gave them some comfort.

Here are some photos from the opening:

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Helping keep the neighborhood clean

26 Aug


This is a great idea.

My husband and I were taking a morning walk the other day when we happened across this wonderful little dog poop receptacle that someone had placed next to their mailbox.

Perhaps they’ve been having trouble with people leaving dog waste bags in their front yard. Perhaps they’re just friendly neighbors and dog fanciers looking to make life easier for other dog fanciers.

Whatever the story behind it, I think it’s an inspired idea.

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