Archive for March, 2010

Who Are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? The Malamute

Who are These Dogs That Pull Sleds

By Robert Forto, PhD

The Dogs

Who are these dogs that pull sleds?  Are they purebreds or mongrels? What sets them apart from other dogs and enables them to work with man under brutal weather conditions? What sort of strange dog is it that yammers and yowls to be a part of a team, preferring to work or race than rest in a warm kennel?

Written pedigrees are not required to enter a sled dog race, nor does the dog have to be a northern breed, although a majority of dogs on the racing trail are related to working dogs of the North. These dogs have a strong instinct to pull. These dogs can be everything from an American Kennel Club registered Siberian Husky, a “one-quarter husky” mixed breed, or any variety in between.  These dogs can be Irish Setters, Walker Coonhounds or even a Border Collie. In search of an unbeatable dog team, dozens and dozens of cross-breedings, in-breedings and line breedings have been tried. Some breeders work within a recognized breed, seeking to refine that breed’s natural talents; others select the fastest and strongest or whatever dogs come to their attention, caring more about performance than good looks or a fancy pedigree.

The Alaskan Malamute

The second most popular registered sled dog in North America is the Alaskan Malamute. Superficially the Malamute resembles the Siberian, with pricked ears, facemask, and bushy tail.  In fact the Mal, as they are often called, is a larger dog bred for freighting.  It averages an inch or two more in height and 15 to 20 pounds heavier than the Siberian. A Malamute’s coat is either black with white markings, like some Sibes, or wolfish gray.  It’s eyes, almond shape and set obliquely into its broad head, are dark. As a sled dog, the Malamute is known as the “Workhorse of the North”, and is a superb and dependable animal. In a race he is not as fast as the Siberian, but his power and endurance have kept him as a favorite sled dog.

The Alaskan Malamute is one of five dog breeds that are reputedly native to the Western Hemisphere.  A distinct native breed of the Arctic, having evolved from the breeding practices of Eskimos in the far northwest, it is one of the oldest known breeds of sled dog.  Russian explorers were among the first white men to record the Malamute’s existence having found the dog among the native Inuit tribe of Kotzebue Sound, a people known then as the Mahlemut or Malemuit, hence the dog’s name.

The Alaskan Malamute sled dog contributed substantially to the rapid exploration and development of Alaska, the Yukon and the Arctic. This dog also “figured importantly in polar expeditions to the far reaches of the planet” and in both World Wars. With the advent of sled dog racing at the turn of the century in Alaska, the breed was threatened by cross-breeding practices of men who were interested in speed. The Mal was called upon to contribute its stamina to a variety of smaller, faster racing dogs. At Chinook Kennels in New Hampshire however, the Seeley’s concentrated on establishing perpetuity for this breed, and succeeded in registering the first one, Rowdy of Nome, in 1935.

Like the Siberian, the Malamute is a highly intelligent, loyal dog, one that loves to work and also loves to lie quietly in his own place. Malamutes are bred for show and racing.  Faster members of the breed have helped improve the racing skills of the mixed Alaskan Husky. In the North the Malamute is still used; here and there, for its original purposes of freighting and tending to the trap lines.  ( Note: endnotes have been removed for blog posting. If you would like to read article in its entirety please contact me through email at train@denverdogworks.com )

Next Week: The Samoyed

Tags: Robert Forto | Michele Forto | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works

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Dr. Robert Forto is training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com

Who Are These Dogs That Pull Sleds?

Who are These Dogs That Pull Sleds

By Robert Forto, PhD

The Dogs

Who are these dogs that pull sleds?  Are they purebreds or mongrels? What sets them apart from other dogs and enables them to work with man under brutal weather conditions? What sort of strange dog is it that yammers and yowls to be a part of a team, preferring to work or race than rest in a warm kennel?

Written pedigrees are not required to enter a sled dog race, nor does the dog have to be a northern breed, although a majority of dogs on the racing trail are related to working dogs of the North. These dogs have a strong instinct to pull. These dogs can be everything from an American Kennel Club registered Siberian Husky, a “one-quarter husky” mixed breed, or any variety in between.  These dogs can be Irish Setters, Walker Coonhounds or even a Border Collie. In search of an unbeatable dog team, dozens and dozens of cross-breedings, in-breedings and line breedings have been tried. Some breeders work within a recognized breed, seeking to refine that breed’s natural talents; others select the fastest and strongest or whatever dogs come to their attention, caring more about performance than good looks or a fancy pedigree.

The Siberian Husky

The most popular of the registered breeds for sled dog racing is the Siberian Husky. An uncommonly attractive dog, the Siberian evokes for many the call of the wild, the lure of the North.  The finely chiseled, fox-like head, the pricked ears, the “mask” markings on the face, and the expressive eyes (often a light, icy blue), seems to personify the romantic image of the North country. In temperament, Sibes, as they are often called, can be affectionate or aloof, playful or serious. They are basically gentle, protective dogs.  Stories about their exploits as guardians of children are legend, and a keener companion would be hard to find.

Siberians are bred today for the show ring or for racing, and sometimes for both. The original standard of the breed, accepted by the American Kennel Club in 1930, purposefully described the qualities of the Siberian that made him a fine working animal.The peoples of the Chukchi Peninsula in Siberia had already developed a dog which excelled as a draft animal and companion; in the hands of Alaskan sport racers at the turn of the century the husky from Siberia was selectively bred to improve these desirable traits.

When Leonhard Seppala took some forty-four of these dogs to New England in 1927 and began racing and promoting the breed there, the stage was set for the development of the American Kennel Club registered Siberian Husky. Most of Seppala’s dogs figured significantly in the foundation stocks of such influential eastern kennels as Chinook, Foxstand, and Monadnock (these dogs from Harry Wheeler’s kennel at Gray Rocks carried the suffix “of Seppala”). This researcher even has a spattering of the Seppala lines in his own breeding stock and kennel under the name of Trafalgar. Seven other imported dogs found their way to the kennels of Elizabeth Ricker, in partnership with Seppala, and to Gray Rocks. The two males in Quebec, Kree-Vanka and Tserko, influenced the registered breed tremendously. In 1946, two descendents of these dogs were sent back to Alaska, care of Earl and Natalie Norris’s Anadyr Kennels, and a new generation of racing drivers rekindled the interest of Alaska in Siberian Huskies.

Siberians predominated on the best New England teams in the thirties, forties, and fifties. Roland Lombard drove Siberians when he won the World Championships at The Pas in 1957, and took second at the North American Championship in 1958. His dogs, especially one named Igloo Pak’s Tok, showed excellent Siberian conformation and would have provided tough competition in the show ring. In Alaska in the fifties, Champion Tyndrum’s Oslo, C.D.X. led the team of Charles and Kit MacInnes to dozens of victories. Champion Bonzo of Anadyr, C.D., led Earl and Natalie Norris team in sixteen championship races and was never out of the money.

The suffix of C.D.X. and C.D. are titles given to dogs at an American Kennel Club obedience trial. C.D.X. stands for Companion Dog Excellent and C.D. stands for Companion dog. These are advanced titles for a sled dog to obtain. Most of the time these titles are given to dogs that show promise for service dog work such as guide dogs for the blind or assistance dogs. For a sled dog to obtain these titles shows an excellent temperament and the ability to adapt to training. This in turn shows a strong correlation of the human-canine commination conundrum. Many times pure sled dogs do not do well in the obedience ring due to their innate nature to pull and their desire to roam. In an obedience trial one of the commands that must be mastered is a long down where the handler leaves the sight of the dog for up to five minutes. Typically a sled dog is too anxious to stay in one place for an extended period of time. Therein a sled dog with an advanced title shows the correlation to the sport of dog sledding and the training procedures used to train them.

Purebred Siberian teams abound wherever there is racing, and although they are often eclipsed in speed by the mixed-breed Alaskan Husky, their racing records are solid. Today’s racing Siberian can be a credit to good breeders, for behind the breed statistics (average 22 inches at the shoulders and 45 to 50 pounds), and beneath it’s glossy coat, still stands much of the graceful, intelligent, light footed, speedy husky from Siberia. It seems harder to tell what a blue-eyed dog is thinking than a brown-eyed dog, but when the sporty Siberian is harnessed to a sled, his thoughts are transparent. “He is all go! ( Note: endnotes have been removed for blog posting. If you would like to read article in its entirety please contact me through email at train@denverdogworks.com )

Next Week: The Alaskan Malamute

Tags: Robert Forto | Michele Forto | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works

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Dr. Robert Forto is training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com


Iditarod Recap 2010

Iditarod 2010 Recap

By Robert Forto, PhD and Michele Forto

What started out as a Facebook message almost a year ago has brought us full circle with the cumulation of our stories, our radio show, our travels and our experiences covering the 38th running of the 2010 Iditarod.

March 7, 2009

At the start of last year’s Iditarod I made it known to everyone who would listen or even care, about my intentions to run the Last Great Race in 2013 on my radio program, The Dog Doctor Radio Show (http://www.dogdoctoradio.com) By doing so I knew it was time to get to work. I started what I call the Mushers Workout at 24-hour fitness and I began my quest to start to build a team to race in my two qualifiers for the race in four years. I had no idea where this road would take me but as they say it is a journey and one that I am learning from every day.

May 2009

In early May I was on Facebook and I saw that Iditarod musher Hugh Neff was booking school tours in Colorado. I thought how cool it would be to bring Hugh to my daughters school the next school year and maybe she would even learn something! Through the summer Hugh and I remained in contact and we finally got a date set for him to speak to the students at Prairie Middle School the next September.

September 2009

With the start of the school year, the final preparations were put into place to have Hugh Neff speak at our daughter’s school. The event went well, even though Hugh showed up without a sled. Not to worry, we ran home and got ours and the program went off without a hitch and they kids loved it! After the program, Hugh, a childhood friend of his, and myself had breakfast and talked dogs, sports and life. It was a great time. We promised to stay in touch and if I ever make it to Alaska give him a call.

January 2010

In mid-January I received another Facebook message. This time it was from an author, leadership trainer, business coach and adventurist, Chris Fuller. He was putting on a seminar for his book, Iditarod Leadership (http://www.iditarodleadership.com) about how to harness the power of your team in business using the Iditarod team as a model. I spoke to Chris and his wife several times and made arrangements to attend the seminar in Anchorage to coincide with the start of this year’s Iditarod.

February 2010

With final preparations made and thanks to our partners at E-travel Unlimited (http://www.etravelunlimted.com) for all of my travel plans I was well on my way to Alaska. My wife and business partner gave me the requisite days off from work and we had a cushion in our budget to allow me to travel and I was set to go on March 3rd.

March 4, 2010

I arrived in Anchorage in the middle of the night and attended a Chris Fuller’s Iditarod Leadership conference the next morning at 9 am. While waiting in the lobby of the Millennium Hotel for a cab to the airport to pick up a rental car, I ran into Hugh Neff. He invited me to come out to his place the following day to talk dogs and talk about the race. That evening, after the conference I attended the Musher’s Banquet and met a lot of great folks. I learned quickly that people came from all over the world to be a part of the Iditarod and I was glad to experience it first hand.

March 6, 2010

Saturday, March 6, marked the ceremonial start of the Iditarod in downtown Anchorage. What an experience. I was privileged to handle for Hugh Neff’s team at the starting line and spend the day with these remarkable people. I met Hugh’s Idita-rider from 2008 and this year’s as well and we all got to know each other at an overpriced lunch of $17.00 burgers at the hotel. It is true everything costs twice as much in Alaska!

Mush! You Huskies Nightly Radio Reports

Each night we hosted a podcast, Mush! You Huskies (http://www.mushingradio.com) and we updated you on the standings, the mushers, and tried to give you a little behind the scenes story. The show became pretty successful and we were given several compliments for our coverage of the race from our musher friends. It was a blast to do and we are glad that we did.

Interview with Hugh Neff on Mush You Huskies

We ended our coverage of this year’s Iditarod by having Hugh Neff on as a guest on our wrap up show. His interview brought to light what he mushes for. Not the glamour or the money but to be a part of a journey that is sometimes bigger than ourselves. Hugh is a special kind of musher. He gives back. Just as he did in September of last year at my daughter’s school, he teaches children all over the country to never give up on their dreams.

What’s Next?

In the coming weeks I will be traveling to California to talk dogs with a musher friend of mine, and we are looking at property in Northern Minnesota that will allows us to train for the races starting this winter.

My first race will be a race in West Yellowstone, Montana in December, followed by some other mid-distance races to gear up for the qualifiers the next winter.

We will continue to host Mush! You Huskies and are planning some great shows in the near future on topics such as urban mushing, Iditarod nutrition, Iditarod history, musher interviews and more. We hope that you will become loyal listeners.

Never Forget You Dreams and See You on the Trail!

Tags: Hugh Neff | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works

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Dr. Robert Forto is a musher training for his first Iditarod racing under the Team Ineka banner. Michele Forto and Robert host Mush! You Huskies, a bi-weekly radio show on http://www.blogtalkradio.com/dogworks

Dogs Need Heroes Too

Dogs Need Heroes Too

By Michele Forto

“I had seven dogs who would go to the end of the earth for me, and nine more who would try,” Lance Mackey, 4-time Iditarod Champion

When I was a kid superheroes were still popular.  I remember being seven years old and not just dressing up as Wonder Woman for Halloween but wishing I had that invisible airplane of hers to travel around in.

My kids generation, being born in the nineties, I can’t recall them actually having superheroes to look up to.  That was the time of sport heroes.  We all know and can understand when we place the burden of being a superhero onto a regular person who just happens to be able to “fly” on the basketball court that it sets that person up to quite a bit of scrutiny.

It’s refreshing to read stories about the Iditarod in its 38th year and listen to the passion in the voices of the men and women as they talk about their dogs and the Last Great Race.  I myself turn 38 years old this year and I’m always saddened to realize that I didn’t know that the Iditarod was even a race until about 18 years ago.  Growing up in California it wasn’t taught in the schools.  Sure I saw the movie Iron Will and read the stories about Balto.  I knew of the Great Serum Run and the significance that it had on the State of Alaska, but other than that it seemed like fiction to me.

When I met my husband Robert, within four months he had my eight year old son Kyle, and myself on the back of a dog sled, the cool wind in our faces, holding on for dear life.  I remember feeling very afraid, “where are these dogs going to take me!”  After my first run and losing my team, I realized it wasn’t about the dogs it was about the musher.  I had to learn to trust my dogs, especially my leader, and work with them as a team.

This realization came together for me on a very bad  six mile run on Casper Mountain in Wyoming.  I was running a new lead dog, her first race with me, a dog just 10-weeks postpartum, and four yearlings in their first race.  There was a terrible snow storm that blew out the trails; visibility was zero in places and the other mushers where too far ahead of me to be of any guidance.  At one point I stopped my team to adjust their harnesses, the snow on the trail was about 8 inches deep and there was a steep hill ahead of us.  I got to my leaders, Moon, my newest dog, and Tamaya, a great dog who ran for my  three year old daughter, I told my girls to take us home.  I set us back on the trail and we headed out with me dredging through the thick wet snow with my girls digging in and tugging hard.  We finally arrived at the finish line with my husband and two other people that were mushing our dogs and my three kids, everyone happy to see me.  I was happy to see them too, but I was proudest of my dogs, the seven of us learned how to be a team.

You see the Iditarod and all the dog sled races out there are just there as a way for the musher to pay back to his team, it’s their reward for being heroes along the way.  The dogs will let you yell, cry, laugh, and joke around, they won’t ever judge you and IF you can let yourself go you will find the hero within you.

I have a poster up in my training center of Iditarod champion Doug Swingley it simply says “Dog’s Need Heroes Too”. I know I was a hero to my dogs that day and they know they were my heroes.

Tags: Michele Forto | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works

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Michele Forto is the business manager and lead trainer at Denver Dog Works. Michele can be reached through her website at http://www.denverdogworks.com

Hugh Neff Finishes in Ninth in 2010 Iditarod

Hugh Neff Finishes in Ninth Place in 2010 Iditarod

By Robert Forto, PhD

I have met a lot of mushers in my days behind the sled of my own teams and over the years at dog sledding events, but I will say that you can not find a nicer, more down to earth guy than Iditarod musher, Hugh Neff. I was honored to spend about three days with Hugh, his partner, Tamra, and his amazing sled dogs when I was up in Anchorage for the ceremonial start of this years race.

I met Hugh through Facebook, of all places, in the spring of 2009 when he posted on the social media site that he was booking school tours in Colorado. I sent him a message and we spoke on the phone and the next thing you know he is at my daughter’s middle school in Aurora, Colorado in September. Hugh showed up with a bag of “gear” but no sled so we ran home and got our’s for the demonstration and the show went off as planned in front of hundreds of kids.

After the school visit, Hugh, a childhood friend of his, and I had breakfast at a local place and talked dogs, mushing, football and just life. What a great guy and ambassador for the greatest race in the world, the Iditarod.

I was planning on being in Anchorage this year for a conference, so I decided to give Hugh a call and see if we could hook up before the race. His hospitality was gracious at the musher’s banquet and one afternoon we spent at his place while he was making final preparations for this years race.

On the day of the ceremonial start I was one of the handler’s for Hugh’s team and what an experience. Something that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Neff 42, of Tok, Alaska was the rookie of the year in 2004 and 2010 marked his 6th Iditarod. His best finish before this year was in 2009 when he placed 15th. This year was a marked improvement. Neff and his partner operate Laughing Eyes Kennel (http://www.laughingeyeskennel.com)  and lists his profession as a professional dog musher and public speaker. He is quoted for enjoying “making people smile.” Neff is also a graduate of the University of Illinois and an Eagle Scout.

Early in the race Hugh had some trouble with his sled and lost his runners for a long stretch of the trail early in the race. I can only image what that was like.

Hugh had tough competition this year. With the likes of 4-peat Champion Lance Mackey, Iditarod icon, Jeff King and this year’s Yukon Quest champion, Hans Gatt, Hugh kept up with the leaders the entire race. Nothing could beat Mackey, one of Hugh’s good friends on and off the trail. Hugh spoke at White Mountain taking an 8-hour rest-stop of Mackey’s dogs: “He could take your dogs and beat his team with your dogs. That’s how good of a musher he is,” said Neff.

Hugh did something special this year. He was part of the National Education Association’s Read Across Alaska program and he carried a copy of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat book in his sled from Anchorage to Nome. When he arrives he will deliver it to the children of the village at the edge of the earth. Hugh also carried ribbons of fallen soldiers for the organization, T.A.P.S. (http://www.taps.org)

Hugh was quoted as saying that he will “never retire” and was described as the “energizer bunny” during this year’s race. While I am sure he would have like to win the race, he did gain six spots from the his 2009 campaign. What is in the future for Hugh? I hope to find out when things settle down and he gets a chance to rest. I hope to have him on my show, Mush! You Huskies (http://www.mushingradio.com) in the coming weeks and ask him what is next. I know he plans on visiting schools this off-season and what more of an ambassador than, Mr. Neff.

Citation: The Official Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Guide 2010, Alaska Daily News website.

Tags: Hugh Neff | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works

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Dr. Robert Forto is a musher training for his first Iditarod in 2013 mushing under the Team Ineka banner. Dr. Forto hosts a radio show, Mush! You Huskies that can be heard at http://www.mushingradio.com. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com

Candlelight and Books=4-Peat for Mackey

Candlelight and Books=4-Peat for Mackey

By Robert Forto, PhD

Four-time Iditarod Champion, Lance Mackey, will go down in history as the only musher (to date) to do the unprecedented, win the Iditarod four times in a row.

Mackey, 39, was born and raised in Alaska. The back-to-back-to-back-to-back Iditarod Champion and four-time Yukon Quest champion and current record holder says he began mushing “at birth.”

“I grew up around racing and the Iditarod. I was at the finish line in 1978 to see my father, Dick, win by one second. In 1993, my older brother, Rick, won. Both my father and brother won wearing bib #13 in their sixth Iditarod.” says Mackey.

Mackey’s finish today was like no other in history. Not only did he win the ‘Last Great Race’ for the fourth time in a row, he did it in typical Mackey style with little to no-rest and blowing past the competitors, King, Anderson, Baker, Neff, and 2010 Yukon Quest champion, Hans Gatt. In an interview this year on the website http://www.mushing.tv Mackey explains how he prepares for racing the Iditarod with little to no sleep at all. He explains that he starts off by turning out all the lights and turning the heat on full blast and reads by candlelight. He increases the time each day until he has no problem staying up for extended periods of time.

The winner of this year’s Iditarod wins $50,400.00 and a new dodge truck. Does Mackey really need another truck? He has won the prize the last four years in a row! I think last year he claimed a new car for his wife Tonya. He does have three children: Amanda, Britney and Cain, all of driving age. Maybe they can start a Mackey convoy!

Citation: The Official Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Guide 2010.

Tags: Lance Mackey | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works

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Dr. Robert Forto is a musher training for his first Iditarod in 2013 mushing under the Team Ineka banner. Dr. Forto hosts a radio show, Mush! You Huskies that can be heard at http://www.mushingradio.com. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com

Iditarod Musher: Hugh Neff

Iditarod Musher Hugh Neff

By Robert Forto, PhD

On my recent trip to Anchorage I had the pleasure of spending time with 6-time Iditarod musher, Hugh Neff. Hugh and I have developed a friendship over the past year since I invited him to come to Denver and speak to my daughter’s school about the Iditarod, mushing and living in the North.

Hugh and I spoke at length about my desire to run the Iditarod in 21013 and what it will take to get to that goal. I had the pleasure of handling for him at the ceremonial start in Anchorage and helped send him and his team off to Nome. What a great honor.

Hugh Neff is not your ordinary musher. He spends a lot of his time speaking to kids all over North America and stresses the importance of education and family values. In this year’s Iditarod, Hugh is doing something special: he is taking part in the National Education Association-Alaska’s first statewide Read Across Alaska celebration. Hugh is helping promote and celebrate the fun of reading. Hugh is carrying the Cat in the Hat book across Alaska in his sled bag. Once Hugh has crossed the finish line in Nome, he will deliver the book to the children of this small village at the edge of the Earth.

Hugh Neff, 42 was born in Tennessee. He gr up in Illinois and attended Loyola Academy and the University of Illinois. He says he moved to Alaska in 1995 to “run down a dream”. Hugh says, “racing is an excuse to play with our beloved beasts all over the North.

Hugh lists his occupation as dog musher and public speaker. He is a member of Mush with P.R.I.D.E and is an Eagle Scout and says he enjoys “making other people smile.”

If you would like to find our more about Iditarod musher Hugh Neff please visit his website Laughing Eyes Kennel at http://www.laughingeyeskennel.com and follow his race across alaska this year on http://www.adn.com Hugh is wearing bib number 56.

Citation: The Official Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Guide

Tags: Hugh Neff | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works

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Dr. Robert Forto is a professional musher training for his first Iditarod in 2013 racing under the Team Ineka banner. Dr. Robert Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com



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