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ALACHUA ‒ On Tuesday, April 13, 2021 residents of the city of Alachua will have an opportunity to elect two candidates for seats on the Alachua City Commission. Incumbent Shirley Green Brown faces challenger Gregory Pelham Sr. in the Seat 4 race. Vying for Seat 5 in a three-way race are candidates Jennifer Blalock, Malcom Dixon, and Gary Kocher, each hoping to replace Gary Hardacre who is not running for reelection.

In an effort to reach voters, each candidate provided information about themselves and their views on what they hope to accomplish if elected next Tuesday.

Shirley Green Brown – Seat 4

Incumbent Shirley Green Brown is running for reelection for seat 4. Brown has lived in Alachua since the 1970s and has been on the Alachua City Commission since 2012. She was employed by Alachua County Public Schools for 31 years and worked at both Alachua and Irby elementary schools. Prior to that, she worked for the state of Florida as a speech and language pathologist. Brown also is an at-large member on the board of directors for Elder Options, mentor for the Take Stock in Children program, member and officer of the Alachua Friends of the Library, member of the Alachua Woman’s Club, Strategic Planning Committee Co-Chair and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. She’s married to Rev. John E. Brown, and has a son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

Brown says she wants the commission to continue to support the economic growth that’s been taking place in Alachua in recent years. She says the current Commission is doing a good job in coordinating growth while maintaining and improving the City's infrastructure and service. “Alachua is really a trailblazer that has set the standard for a lot of municipalities in the area,” Brown said.

Her list of priorities includes the continual upgrading of roads and seeking out grants, collaborating with the School Board to improve school performance and revitalizing downtown and Main Street. “It’s all about working toward maintaining Alachua as the good life community in which we live,” she said.

Gregory Pelham Sr. – Seat 4

Seat 4 challenger Gregory Pelham Sr. lost a runoff election for mayor two years ago. Pelham has lived in Alachua for 25 years. For the past 12 years, he’s been employed in the juvenile bureau with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. He’s also a pastor who oversees 18 churches in the area.

Pelham said that opening lines of communication between the city and residents is the most important issue to him. “I want to be that voice for our community,” he said. “It should be a commission where any citizen can come to if there’s a question or a concern.”

Pelham is chairman of the county’s juvenile justice council and has worked with local schools since 1998. He believes communication is important to maintain a dialogue with students and young adults to educate them about the importance of city government, voting and getting their voices heard. “It’s important to hear what they have to say because they are our future,” Pelham said. “It we don’t ... It's going to be more difficult to make the changes in the future that we need to keep Alachua beautiful.”

Jennifer Blalock – Seat 5

The only woman in the Seat 5 race, Blalock has lived in Alachua for 20 years. She’s currently the regional manager for O2B Kids, an early childhood learning center. She opened and ran the Alachua O2B Kids location for 14 years. Blalock has been involved in a number of community organizations, especially those involving children. She worked with the Boys & Girls Club in Gainesville, the United Way and the Gainesville Job Corps Center. She coaches basketball at Santa Fe High School and volunteers at the Hal Brady Recreation Center.

Blalock recently was promoted to coordinate operations at O2B Kids, covering a larger geographic area rather than focusing only on the Alachua location. She emphasizes that despite the promotion she will remain involved in her local community. “I want to be part of everything that’s going on,” she said. “Our city has a great foundation, and I want to help grow that foundation.”

Blalock says the Good Life Community has a special place in her heart. “It has been the place where I have raised my children, built lifelong friendships, and spent the last 18 years as a leader in early childhood education.” Blalock says she likes the direction of the current commission and is particularly interested in maintaining quality recreation and education, adding jobs and repaving and maintaining roads.

Malcom Dixon – Seat 5

Malcom Dixon, at the age of 23, is the youngest of the candidates running for Alachua’s City Commission. He’s a lifelong resident who attended Santa Fe High and participated in a student advisory council. Dixon currently works in the correctional office at the Florida Department of Corrections’ Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler and is preparing to soon open a mortuary business. Dixon has twice run unsuccessfully for a seat on the Alachua City Commission.

He also is an NAACP member, an organizer for Faith in Public Life, is involved in the county’s Truth and Reconciliation initiative and an elder in the Church of God in Christ. Dixon says he has experience working with representatives and senators to help lobby on issues. On issues, Dixon says that investing in the youth of the community is his biggest priority. “Our youth is our future,” he said. Creating programs to help keep them active in the community and keep them out of trouble is one thing he hopes to bring to the city, in partnership with the police department.

He also said technology should be updated to allow residents to easily listen to commission meetings by phone or online to keep them informed on the issues facing the city. “I want to make sure I represent all the constituents of Alachua,” Dixon said. “I believe that representing all people no matter their gender or race is important. The citizens must feel confident that they have open lines of communication with their elected leaders.”

Gary Kocher – Seat 5

Gary Kocher owns an entertainment company that offers DJ services and lighting for weddings and other events and has lived in Alachua for seven years. Prior to that, he lived in Atlanta and Orlando, where he worked at a law firm. He is married with a young daughter, and their family fosters children as well.

Kocher ran for the Alachua City Commission three years ago but lost to current City Commissioner Gary Hardacre. Kocher has been involved with the Alachua Business League and the North Central Florida Apartment Association. He is also the former chair of the City’s parks and recreation advisory board and former vice-chair of the Wild Spaces Public Places advisory board.

As a city commissioner, he wants to work to help keep Alachua progressing forward, with a focus on ensuring that parks and neighborhoods stand as examples of environmentally maintained recreation destinations for residents and tourists. One important issue Kocher hopes to address, if elected, is to make sure the public is better kept up to date with the commission’s agendas and progress. “There's so much the City offers, but if people don’t know about that, it kind of goes by the wayside.” Additionally, he said balancing the city’s growth and conservation is a priority.

On Tuesday April 13, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Legacy Park Multipurpose Center, 15400 Peggy Road; the Cleather Hathcock, Sr. Community Center, 15818 N.W. 140th Street; and the Clubhouse at Turkey Creek, 11400 Turkey Creek Blvd.

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NEWBERRY – The 2021 City of Newberry Municipal Election for one open seat will be held Tuesday, April 13, at Precinct 6 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Precinct 6 is located at the Municipal Building, 25420 W. Newberry Road.

The Group Five seat, currently occupied by Commissioner Paul Norfleet, will be filled by Tony Mazon who ran unopposed. Mayor Jordan Marlowe, who also ran unopposed, will continue as mayor.

The Canvassing Board tested and sealed the vote tabulation equipment to be used in all phases of the City of Newberry Election on Tuesday, April 6, at the Municipal Building.

Incumbent Tim Marden will face former Newberry City Commissioner Joy Glanzer for the Group Four Seat. To help differentiate between the two candidates and their vision for Newberry, Marden and Glanzer were asked a series of similar questions.

Q: If elected/re-elected, what are your top three priorities for the 2021-2022 Newberry City Commission term?

Marden: Schools, infrastructure and ensuring the city and citizens are protected economically from development.

Glanzer: Road improvements, rebuild Newberry’s relationship with the new County Commission and continue to maintain our City’s low tax rate.

Q: Newberry is growing at a reasonably fast pace. Where do you see the city in five years, 10 years? How can the City best prepare for the likely changes?

Marden: “Reasonable” is an understatement. We are one of the fastest growing areas in North Central Florida. Luckily, we have already prepared accordingly. We need some of the other players to catch up like FDOT and the SBAC.

Glanzer: Newberry is doing something right, which is why we are seeing the growth we have now. The obvious areas of vigilance are in the infrastructure to support the growth and in maintaining school concurrency. Ten years from now, I see our population hovering at 10,000 with a healthy business district offering good paying jobs.

Q: You have voted no on several opportunities the City has had to obtain grants to help with projects that would benefit the citizens. Why?

Marden: This is a common misconception my opponent has perpetuated. I am largely just against Federal grants. The biggest reason is they are debt. The United States is $27 trillion in debt. There is no money. To pretend this money is taxes we have paid in is inaccurate. If that were true, we would not have so much debt. The Federal government has a money printing press called the Federal Reserve.

Q: Would you encourage or discourage the City to apply for grants and why?

Glanzer: I encourage the City to consider grants as an additional source of income. Grants are funded through our own tax dollars so we need to bring those grant dollars home instead of letting them go to another community. A town our size is incapable of having the types of improvements we have had (i.e., ballpark $700,000, hurricane shelter enhancement $129,000, home rehabilitation $700,000) without grant funds. My opponent voted against the vast majority of $8 million in grants for Newberry, including ones for infrastructure, recreation and housing.

Q: You have led the charge toward establishing Springs County. How would Newberry benefit if Springs County is approved and why?

Marden: This is a long answer because there are so many benefits. The trajectory of Alachua County is about centralizing power over everything we do. Springs County is largely the opposite. I've encouraged Springs County to focus on smaller government, which would cost less and therefore lower taxes. A smaller government also means more freedom. Government is too big, too expensive, and too intrusive. The less of it, the better.

Q: You have not been in support of establishing Springs County. Why?

Glanzer: It is my opinion that change is made at the ballot box. The citizens have voted for new County Commissioners that they believe will work better with the smaller cities. The Springs County proposal came about because my opponent disagrees with Alachua County leadership. City and County governments regularly have conflict. However, if a new county was formed every time there was a disagreement, we would have 1,000 counties in Florida. It is not practical and it is not a prudent way to spend our tax dollars.

Q: Why should voters elect you over your opponent?

Marden: I think my resume is a better principled, representation of what Newberry is about. Keeping a high value on a focused government, in its proper role. My agenda is closer to the farming and mining community we are at our core. We can't lose that. I think we still care about independence. I think we still believe we can, not government, make the best choices for ourselves and our families.

Glanzer: I’ve spent forty-some years enjoying the Newberry community. I’ve served on about every committee, task force, board and volunteer position we have. I have a well-rounded background in business, government and public relations. If elected, I will communicate with citizens, speak up for their issues and respect everyone, no matter their position. I have formed life-long relationships with many leaders around the county, which will serve us well as we negotiate for the very best of everything.

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GAINESVILLE – As April starts this week, Florida enters blueberry season and brings with it the sweet taste that comes with the fruit. You can pick them yourself or buy them from the store or market. Recently, the University of Florida developed and released another tasty blueberry variety.

When Patricio Muñoz developed the newest UF/IFAS variety, he wanted to name the fruit in honor of Alto Straughn, a longtime, strong supporter of UF’s blueberry breeding program.

“A ‘sentinel’ is a watcher or guardian,” said Muñoz, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of horticultural sciences. “It is symbolic. We came up with the idea to name the blueberry after Alto because he ‘watched and guarded’ the blueberry breeding program for many years.”

For years, Straughn, an alumnus of the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and a former UF/IFAS Extension administrator, owned blueberry farms near Waldo, Florida, northeast of the main UF campus in Gainesville.

Now in his 80s, Straughn still meets regularly with the UF/IFAS blueberry breeder.

“Since I arrived at the program, Alto and I have discussed much about blueberries: cultivars, production, packing, marketing and more,” said Muñoz. “Alto has seen the industry from the beginning, and I am glad he has shared all that information with me and the blueberry breeding program team.”

Scientists first tested the new UF/IFAS variety on Straughn’s farm in Waldo, and later in fields stretching as far south as Arcadia, Florida.

“So, we have determined that the best area for its production is the central and northern parts of Florida,” Muñoz said.

Blueberries are about a $60 million-a-year industry in Florida. To put the impact of blueberries into further economic perspective, Florida’s blueberry farmers produce about 10 to 12 million tons annually in Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

It’s a higher quality fruit than previous UF/IFAS cultivars. It also gives the grower fruit at the best market window, Muñoz said.

And, it tastes good. This variety was tested in multiple flavor panels at UF, and they rated ‘Sentinel’ “high” regarding flavor, Muñoz said.

“Some good things are still happening, including a new blueberry that farmers and consumers will both enjoy,” Muñoz said.

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GAINESVILLEMobile hotspots to go will soon be on the menu of area libraries. Alachua County residents can check out mobile hotspots from the Alachua County Library District starting Thursday, April 1 with the new WiFi2Go pilot program.

One hundred hotspots will be available for checkout. Hotspots check out for seven days and can connect up to five devices to the Internet. Service depends on the availability of the T-Mobile network where the hotspot is used.

“The Library District created this program to help bridge the digital divide in Alachua County,” said Library District Director Shaney T. Livingston. “We thank the Alachua County Library District Foundation for generously supporting this pilot program to increase Internet access.”

The Alachua County Library District Foundation contributed $36,000 to pay for the WiFi2Go project with funding from an anonymous donor.

While Internet access is critical to education, employment, and community connection, many residents still lack reliable service, particularly in rural areas. About 91 percent of urban Alachua County residents have access to three or more broadband providers, but only 70 percent of rural residents do, according to Federal Communications Commission. Nationwide, minorities, rural residents, seniors, and people with lower levels of income and education are less likely to have broadband service at home, according to the Pew Research Center.

“We know the need for this service is great. We are starting WiFi2Go with 100 devices but hope to expand the program,” Livingston said.

Alachua County library cardholders can reserve hotspots starting April 1 using the online catalog or by calling any branch. Search the catalog for “WiFi2Go” to save a hotspot online. Patrons can check out one hotspot per library card. Student Library Cardholders cannot check out hotspots.

Patrons can return WiFi2Go hotspots to any library branch. Overdue hotspots will be deactivated after 24 hours. Overdue hotspots will be marked as lost after 30 days, and patrons may be charged up to $85 for lost or damaged devices.

In addition to WiFi2Go, the Library District offers computers with Internet access for public use for free at all 12 locations. Free WiFi is available at all library locations.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs may soon be home to a new food truck park. The High Springs City Commission heard details about the proposed food truck park at the March 25 City Commission meeting. The proposed park would be located at 18274 Main Street.

Developer Karl Spain, agent for Radiant Life Ecoville, LLC, submitted a site and landscape plan application for the food truck park that would be located at 18274 Main Street.

“The site plan has not been reviewed by staff because there are no regulations for food truck parks in the Land Development Code,” said City Manager Ashley Stathatos, “and they are not listed in the allowable uses table. They do not qualify to be considered as a restaurant, either.” Therefore,” she said, “staff cannot adequately review and approve the site plan for the food truck park submitted by the applicant.”

Spain’s plan has the food truck park on one lot and a parking area across the street on another lot. Concern about the safety of pedestrians crossing Main Street was raised as well as concern for other restaurants in the city. Spain’s contention is that this park, which would only be available on high traffic days as people go to and from the springs, will benefit all of the businesses in town.

Commissioner Linda Jones expressed concern that some of the smaller businesses may not agree with Spain that the park will be a benefit to them. Jones intends to talk to some of those restaurants as well as other business owners to get a sense of how they feel about the proposed food truck park.

A City ordinance governing food truck parks has been written and will be presented to the High Springs Plan Board in April and the City Commission in May. In the Ordinance, staff recommends that food truck parks be put in the allowable uses table as a conditional use, which means the City Commission would make the determination if they are allowed at a specific time when developers want to bring them into the City.

Spain’s application will run concurrently with the food truck park ordinance through the Plan Board in April and City Commission in May.

Water System Master Plan Study

In other business, Lewis Bryant and Cara Keller from Kimley Horn presented a proposed water sewer utility system master plan study for High Springs. The proposal includes preparation of system demand projections for 5, 10 and 20-year time horizons, preparation of water, wastewater and reclaimed water collection/distribution system master plans, a capital improvements plan, a water treatment facility plan and wastewater treatment facility plan.

A revenue sufficiency analysis is part of the project as well as identification of project funding sources. “Having an updated Water Sewer Utility System Master Plan helps to prepare the City for future growth and puts the City in a better position to apply for and compete for grants,” said the Kimley Horn representatives. The proposed cost for the Water Sewer Utility System Master Plan is $187,400. The City is evaluating potential funding sources to pay for it.

Impact Fee Study

In the third presentation of the evening, Clancy Mullen, Duncan Associates, discussed a proposed impact fee study to develop a method to fairly assess fees that would generate revenue to fund capital projects. He stressed that an impact fee is a one-time fee assessed at the time of construction and is not recurring.

The impact fee study proposed by Duncan Associates would specifically consider the potential impact of fees for transportation, parks, fire, police, administration and public works facilities.

Transportation would be one fee since it is based off trip generation. Parks would be a second fee based on residential uses only. A third fee would be a general government fee for fire, police, administration and public works facilities based on both residential and commercial uses.

Although the City is aware that the water and sewer impact fees need to be increased, this study does not address these potential fee increases. Mullen said City staff recommends that this be done on completion of a water and sewer master plan since an updated capital improvement project list is needed for calculation of the water and sewer master fees.

Mullen said the basic study would cost $29,750 with an additional fee of $2,500 for the impact fee study and another $3,500 to draft an ordinance for the City to consider. The total cost for the impact fee study would be $35,750. Mullen provided a timeline of approximately six months, which would include three public meetings. Mullen said the study would be necessary in order to establish that the fee could be defensible if challenged.

Stathatos is meeting with department heads to see if spending reductions could be made which would enable the City to take the funds from the general fund to fund the study.

Rails to Trails

In another presentation, Parks and Recreation Director Damon Messina and local resident Tom Hewlett delivered a presentation on how the Rails to Trails project would impact the community. Interest has peaked to resurrect the rails to trails project along the CSX rail line. The rail line stretches 13 miles (approximately 182 acres) through High Springs and south of Newberry.

Hewlett talked about the environmental impact of the CSX line saying that the trail links fragmented habitats and has been protecting native plants and animals and is providing a corridor for animal movement. “Since the 1800s, this line has been a wildlife refuge,” said Hewlett. “We can’t lose this to someone who might buy it and develop it or use it for agriculture,” he said.

Hewlett spoke about the different types of contaminants associated with rail lines and reviewed the methods by which railway pollution can be managed. Capping of the land, removal of the soil and landscaping over the pollution are the only ways of dealing with it, he said.

By capping it, the property can be used as a destination and will provide recreation opportunities for citizens and visitors while maintaining the corridor environmentally. Hewlett maintains that the costs associated with land acquisition, trail construction and trail maintenance are far outweighed by the economic benefits of the trail. Hewlett said if the City owns that land, mitigation can occur to protect the citizens and create a rail trail to benefit High Springs’ tourism-based economy.

City staff has had preliminary discussions with Alachua County regarding the project and potential funding. Previous funding for the project from the County is no longer available but appears amenable to exploring the project again and looking into funding possibilities. City staff is in the process of setting up a meeting with CSX to explore their willingness to provide easements for the trail or sell the property.

Messina said, “The rail line is in the center of our town and will provide a significant economic impact to our City.” “High Springs is the corridor to the springs, and I believe establishing this trail will greatly impact tourism.”

The City plans to bring up the possibility of re-establishing the rails to trails project when they meet with Alachua County Commissioners in a joint meeting on April 8.

Annual Police Report

The final presentation by High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard was the detailed 2020 Annual Police Report.

The report is an overview of the police department’s statistical data involving crime, objectives, goals, staffing patterns and community outreach projects for the 2020 year. The presentation included crime data information from the last eight years concerning non-violent and violent crime. Non-violent crimes decreased by 61.2 percent and violent crime by 21.4 percent. “The overall crime rate has been reduced by 55 percent,” Sheppard said.

Calls for service data indicate status quo level of service calls for the last four years with a range of 6,000 – 6,500 service calls.

The agency’s objectives are centered on increased training in implicit bias, de-escalation training, accreditation and the procurement of body-worn cameras. “Proposed budgeting and solicitation of grants should be adequate to accomplish those goals,” said Sheppard.

The department is comprised of 18 sworn full-time police officers, three sworn reserve police officers and three civilian staff members, with no vacancies since 2017. Full-time officer positions are filled by 89 percent male officers and 11 percent female officers. Racial demographics indicate 67 percent Caucasian officers, five percent Hispanic Officers and 28 percent African American Officers.

Sheppard pointed out that the department had only two days to prepare for the Black Lives Matter protest in which to formulate an operational plan to support the protestors’ First Amendment rights and balance concerns of citizens’ property and safety. He reported that the event was peaceful.

Sheppard said that the HSPD continues to lead the area in community involvement. He pointed to Operation Holiday Cheer, involvement in Farm Share food distribution and some of the community cookouts and events the department conducts annually to help keep in touch with citizens.

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NEWBERRY – An upscale RV park that is planned for Newberry received considerable attention at the March 22 City Commission meeting. At issue was a proposed change to the City’s Land Development Regulations (LDRs) that would allow longer stays for visitors to Recreational Vehicle Parks and commercial campgrounds. In addition, proponents of the change asked for an increase in the number of Park Model RVs from 10 percent to 40 percent of permitted units.

M3 Development, LLC requested the LDR modifications to accommodate Treehouse Village RV Resort, an upscale RV park/commercial campground, which they are developing in Newberry.

The facility is being touted in part as a remedy for the lack of hotel accommodations in Newberry, especially for recreational events hosted by the City. The longer stay times would more completely accommodate those people who travel south in the fall and return north in the spring, developers say.

The current LDRs allow a stay of up to 90 days. The proposed change would allow visitors to stay for 270 days. Not only would the increased length of stay accommodate seasonal visitors, it would also be useful for people who travel for work where they may stay in an area for a few months at a time.

The applicant, who has an RV resort currently under development in Newberry, contends that the current limitations on length of stay and total number of park models are prohibitive relative to trends in the luxury RV customer market.

Newberry Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas reported that after speaking with other cities about the matter, most had no limitations on length of stay.

At the March 1, Planning & Zoning Board hearing, the Board voted 3-2 to recommend approval of the changes to the City Commission. The Board also requested an estimate of the property taxes that may be generated by the resort.

Thomas said staff did a cursory review of a similar existing local RV resort and derived an estimate of the appraised value per RV spot. Applying that figure to the number of spaces proposed at build-out of the Treehouse Village RV Resort yielded an estimated valuation of $9.8 million, which would equate to some $59,000 annually in ad valorem taxes to the City. In addition to ad valorem taxes, the City will also receive revenue from the electric franchise fees, utility taxes, fire assessment fees and shared sales tax revenues generated by the development of the resort and use by its patrons.

Commissioners raised concerns that approving a change to 40 percent would be too much density, referencing the City’s recently approved tiny homes ordinance, which allowed tiny homes at 30 percent density. The Commission voiced no concerns about length of stay, but wanted a limit of 30 percent.

A motion to approve the ordinance on first reading received unanimous approval.

In other business, a resolution approving construction plans for Phase Five of the Country Way at Newberry Town Center subdivision received unanimous approval. Commissioner Paul Norfleet recused himself from voting on this issue.

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ “Expanding the eligibility criteria for COVID-19 vaccines is an exciting milestone in our community’s battle against COVID-19,” stated Paul Myers, Administrator of the Alachua County Health Department. “The benefits of receiving this safe and effective vaccine, developed through a rigorous and transparent process, is a significant step towards a return to normal.”

Effective Monday, March 29, 2021, those 40 years of age and older are eligible to receive the vaccine, and this qualification expands to those 18 and older on Monday, April 5, 2021. All Alachua County residents 18 years of age and older who have not registered at Alachua.FloridaHealth.gov are encouraged to do so immediately. Once you are eligible, the system will automatically send you text and email alerts inviting you to make an appointment at a time and clinic location that is most convenient. If you are already registered, there is no need to do so again. If you have already been vaccinated, then please visit the site to opt-out of notifications.

For more information, visit http://www.alachua.floridahealth.gov/

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FLORIDA - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding beachgoers they can help protect nesting sea turtles by practicing some simple tips.

Each year, thousands of sea turtles nest on Florida’s beaches. Because our state is so important to these special animals, beachgoers can help keep our beaches clean and dark so sea turtles nest successfully. Everyone benefits from clean beaches and, since most of Florida’s sea turtles nest at night, it is important to keep our beaches dark because bright lights can disorient nesting turtles.

Stash the trash! Obstacles on the beach can prevent sea turtles from nesting as they crawl from the water, across the sand, to lay their eggs. They can also prevent sea turtle hatchlings from reaching the water once they emerge from their nests. Beachgoers can help sea turtles by properly disposing of all trash, filling in holes in the sand, and putting away boats, beach toys and furniture. Fishing line can be deadly to sea turtles and other wildlife, so be sure to dispose of it properly. To find a monofilament recycling station near you, visit mrrp.myfwc.com.

Lights out! Bright lighting can misdirect and disturb nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings, leading them away from the ocean and toward potential danger, so beachgoers should avoid using flashlights or cellphones on the beach at night. Anyone living along or visiting Florida beaches can do their part by turning out lights or closing curtains after dark to ensure nesting turtles are not disturbed as they come ashore and hatchlings will not become disoriented when they emerge from their nests. If lighting could still be visible from the beach, be sure it is long, low and shielded

“As beachgoers, we can all do our part to help sea turtles survive,” said Dr. Robbin Trindell, who heads the FWC’s sea turtle management program. “By keeping beaches dark and clearing the way at the end of the day, we can help ensure that these amazing animals keep returning to our beautiful state.”

Other ways to help sea turtles include reporting those that are sick, injured, entangled or dead to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

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GAINESVILLE – Today, Congresswoman Kat Cammack (FL-03) led a letter to Secretary of Defense Austin with Rep. Val Demings (FL-10) signed by all members of the House's Florida delegation regarding more equitable funding and resource allocation for the Florida National Guard in the FY2022 Defense Budget.

The letter describes how the Florida National Guard's deployment to aid with Florida's pandemic response and vaccine rollout has supported the statewide delivery of vaccines and food distribution, ensuring more than five million Floridians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to date.

Given the tremendous efforts of the Florida National Guard over the last year, the letter highlights the disproportionate force structure allocation for the Sunshine State. With a population expected to grow by five million in the next decade, the letter spotlights the inadequate guardsman to citizen ratio for the state, which currently employs 12,000 guardsmen instead of the proportional 21,000.

The letter urges Secretary Austin to review the force structure proportionality study required in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to ensure that the Florida National Guard has the force structure and resources necessary to keep Florida safe and secure.

The full list of the letter's signees includes Reps. Cammack, Demings, Gaetz, Dunn, Rutherford, Lawson, Waltz, Murphy, Posey, Soto, Webster, Bilirakis, Crist, Castor, Franklin, Buchanan, Steube, Mast, Donalds, Hastings, Frankel, Deutch, Wasserman Schultz, Wilson, Diaz-Balart, Gimenez, and Salazar. 

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LAKE CITY ‒ The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)’s District 2 will begin a districtwide school zone safety improvement project that will include enhancements at more than 150 school zones across Northeast Florida.

 This project is part of a statewide effort to improve school zone safety in response to House Bill 493, passed during the 2017 Regular Session. This includes implementation of a specific, uniform system of high-visibility markings and signage within one-mile of all schools on arterial and collector roads.

As part of the $1.5 million project, FDOT District 2 will upgrade 141 school zones in 13 counties with enhanced school zone signage and, in some locations, flashing beacons. Those counties are:

  • Alachua, 6 school zones
  • Baker, 1 school zone
  • Bradford, 3 school zones
  • Clay, 15 school zones
  • Columbia, 6 school zones
  • Duval, 67 school zones
  • Gilchrist, 1 school zone
  • Levy, 3 school zones
  • Nassau, 10 school zones
  • Putnam, 13 school zones
  • St Johns, 9 school zones
  • Suwannee, 3 school zones
  • Taylor, 4 school zones

FDOT has hired ACME Barricades to handle the work on the project and expects it to be completed by Summer 2021.

Upgrades at each school zone are expected to take less than a day to complete, and then crews will move to the next location. Minimal traffic impacts are expected during construction hours.

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TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Retail Federation (FRF) announced today the top toys for the holiday season. According to a survey completed by the National Retail Federation, the most popular toys among both boys and girls are LEGOs and Playstation.

"Floridians and Florida businesses have continued to weather the unforeseeable challenges of 2020," said Scott Shalley, FRF president and CEO. "Florida retailers understand the value this holiday season holds after an especially difficult year. This is why our businesses have invested time and care to implement holiday health protocols and stock up on inventory. Shoppers can remain excited about the holiday season while safely shopping for gifts for their friends and family."

Life has changed drastically since the start of 2020, but in the eyes of children during the holidays, the excitement of new toys have remained the same. Barbies and dolls remain the top toy of choice for girls, while boys are looking forward to Hot Wheels, cars and trucks and video games this holiday season.

The most popular toys for girls and boys, ranked, also include: 

Girls

  1. Barbie
  2. Dolls
  3. LOL Surprise Dolls
  4. LEGO
  5. Frozen-related Items
  6. Beauty Products
  7. Apparel/Accessories
  8. Baby Dolls
  9. PlayStation
  10. American Girl

Boys

  1. LEGO
  2. Cars and Trucks
  3. Hot Wheels
  4. PlayStation
  5. Video Games
  6. Xbox
  7. Nerf
  8. Nintendo Switch
  9. Marvel Action Figures/Toys & Remote Control Car
  10. Paw Patrol

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect Americans, consumers are looking to ensure their families have a memorable and merry holiday this year. The Florida Retail Federation is asking residents to think and shop local when making holiday purchases. 

"As shoppers plan to spend on gifts in order to lift the spirits of their loved ones, remember to 'Find It In Florida' first," said Shalley. "We ask you to shop at businesses that have a presence here in the Sunshine State and help support the Florida retailers that help Florida jobs, Florida families and Florida's economy." 

The Florida Retail Federation launched the "Find It In Florida" campaign last month to spread public awareness on the importance of shopping locally. When Floridian shoppers  "Find It In Florida" this holiday season, they are helping to keep doors open, boost the local economy and support their communities. 

Florida's retailers began holiday preparations as early to provide ample inventory for shoppers. Their proactive response to the pandemic has also provided consumers with safe access to meet their holiday shopping needs, including safely shopping in stores, curbside pickup and online ordering options.

Another survey shows 42% of consumers began their holiday shopping earlier this year, with 59% reporting they started making purchases in early November. Of those purchases, some of the most popular holiday gifts include: 

  • Clothing and accessories - 54%
  • Gift cards and gift certificates - 49%
  • Toys - 37% 
  • Books and other media - 34% 
  • Food and candy - 28%

Similar to 2019, consumers plan to purchase around three to four gift cards and spend about $163 per consumer this year.

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ALACHUA - COVID-19 cases continue to surge around the country, so this year’s holiday season may be quieter than usual. Gone are the guests, but there are still plenty of seasonal things that can be troublesome for your pets. Human holiday traditions such as food, decorations and plants that may seem harmless can be dangerous and even life-threatening to dogs and cats.  

“Our pets are naturally curious and love new things. The holidays provide a whole new world for them to explore that can lead to a potential illness or injury,” said Erin Katribe, veterinarian and medical director, Best Friends Animal Society. “Since many veterinary offices have limited hours and services during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s crucial to keep your pets as safe as possible, as a trip to the vet won't be as easy as in previous years.” 

As such, Best Friends Animal Society offers the following tips to keep your dogs and cats safe during this holiday season:   

  • Be aware that increased noise and lights can cause stress. If your pet seems agitated, turn down the music or consider placing your pet in a quiet, calm room with dim lighting. 
  • Curb the tendency to give your dog or cat human food. Any change in your pets' diet may give them indigestion, diarrhea or worse. Foods that people should avoid giving their pets include chocolate, grapes, onions, poultry bones, eggnog and fruitcake.  
  • Dispose of food trash in an outside receptable as soon as possible.  
  • Holiday plants such as lilies, holly, mistletoe and poinsettias are known to be toxic to pets and should be kept out of reach. 
  • The water a Christmas tree sits in is a breeding ground for bacteria and can be extremely harmful to pets. Keep water covered with a thick skirt so pets can’t get into it.  
  • Tape electrical cords safely to the wall and make sure that all electrical connections, batteries, and outlets are concealed. 
  • Tinsel, ribbon, metal hooks, plastic and glass can obstruct or perforate the intestine if ingested. Use an alternative such as paper and hang decorations out of reach from your pet. 
  • Quickly dispose of wrapping paper, packages and bows after opening presents and put children’s toys out of reach of pets after playtime to avoid accidental ingestion. 
  • Make sure your pets' identification and microchip are up to date in case anyone inadvertently leaves the door open during your holiday celebration. 

Some symptoms that your pet has become ill and should be taken to a veterinarian quickly include prolonged vomiting (more than three times in a row), dry heaves, a distended abdomen, sudden weakness or inability to stand, respiratory distress, change in gum color and/or seizures.  

“Pet owners should make a plan now in case their pets have an emergency over the holidays,” Katribe said. “Start by researching what veterinary offices will be open in your surrounding area and keep a list of their phone numbers handy to call ahead if your pet shows any symptoms.”

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In the early 1900s on the south side of Chicago at a local tavern called the Lone Star Saloon, a well-to-do customer walked in and ordered a drink. The bartender prepared the drink as usual, but covertly included William Garst HSan additional substance to it. He then nodded to the barmaid and prostitute, “Gold Tooth” Mary Thornton, who served it to the unsuspecting customer, who was soon rendered unconscious. He was then robbed, and other local patrons dumped him in the alley at the back of the Lone Star. After a considerable period of time the stranger woke groggy, confused, and unable to remember what happened. This scenario played out many times, but finally the saloon manager was caught. His name was Michael Finn (nicknamed Mickey) and the substance added to the drink was chloral hydrate. Thus, chloral hydrate knockout drops became known in American vernacular as the “Mickey Finn” or “Mickey” for short.

The story of chloral hydrate began many years earlier in 1832, when Justus von Liebig synthesized chloral hydrate in his laboratory. Von Liebig was a German scientist who made major contributions to agriculture and biological chemistry. He was one of the principal founders of organic chemistry and considered the “father of the fertilizer industry.”

Chloral hydrate is considered the first “sleeping pill” because it has very few actions other than causing drowsiness and sleep. However, more than being the first in the class of drugs known as hypnotics, it was the first completely synthesized and widely used drug. Presumably it never existed on earth in any form until it was made in the laboratory, and in the early 1800s this was a big accomplishment because up until that time all drugs were from a natural resource and no one believed that a chemical outside of nature would have effects on a living being.

In the 1850s it was discovered that chloral hydrate could be converted into a sweet-smelling liquid called chloroform, the fumes of which could render a person unconscious. The substance was used to sedate people for surgery because it could be administered by being inhaled into the lungs. However, it was difficult to use during surgery and too much could be given resulting in many accidental overdose deaths.

Chloral 

hydrate is a solid at room temperatures, but quickly dissolves in alcohol to form an easily administered liquid. Thus, during the 1800s chloral hydrate became a popular “party drug” and was known to be the first “date rape” drug.

Today chloral hydrate is still available but only as a compounded medicine (made in a pharmacy) from crystals because it is not produced commercially any longer by a pharmaceutical company. Barbiturates (phenobarbital) in the early 1900s, and benzodiazepines (Valium and Librium type drugs) in the 1960s replaced the use of chloral hydrate for use as sedation medications, though as late as the 1990s it was still used in hospitals to sedate children before a procedure. It is rarely used anymore, but when used must be compounded by a local pharmacy or hospital pharmacy.

In an earlier column I noted that the difference between a harmful substance and a beneficial medicine is the dose. Too much of the substance is harmful, but the right amount can have beneficial effects. In this case, the difference between a substance used for harm and a beneficial medicine is the intent of the use.

Stay informed and stay healthy.

*   *     *

William Garst is a consultant pharmacist who resides in Alachua, Florida. He received his B.S. in Pharmacy from Auburn University in 1975. He earned a master’s degree in Public Health in 1988 from the University of South Florida, and a Master’s in Pharmacy from UF in 2001. In 2007 he received his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Colorado. Dr. Garst is a member of many national, state, and local professional associations. He serves on the Alachua County Health Care Advisory Board and stays active as a relief pharmacist. In 2016 he retired from the VA. Dr. Garst enjoys golf, reading (especially history), and family. He writes a blog called The Pharmacy Newsletter (https://thepharmacynewsletter.com/). William Garst can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Each year, thousands of Florida children enter foster care due to domestic violence.

And each October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, children's advocates like me remind the public that this scourge devastates children, families and communities – and we must respond.

For children, witnessing intimate partner violence can cause lifetime harm. It makes them more prone to addiction and at greater risk for dating violence, academic problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, aggression, and chronic physical health and developmental problems. They find it harder to interact well with peers, partners and, ultimately, with their own children.

They worry about the safety of their parents – which no child should have to do. Yet millions of children witness the abuse of a parent or caregiver each year. And males who batter their wives batter their children 30 to 60 percent of the time.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement data for 2019 show 105,298 domestic violence incidences and 66,069 domestic violence arrests. That year, according to the Department of Children and Families, there were 87,546 allegations of household violence or intimate partner violence received by the Florida Abuse Hotline.

In the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union Counties, there were 169 dependent children from violent homes in the system as of August.

We also know violent households often involve substance abuse or mental illness as well, and that the combination heightens the harm done by each. What's more, child witnesses of intimate partner violence are at increased risk to become abusers or victims themselves.

So the cycle must be broken, and that is what we are trying to do at the Guardian ad Litem Program. We know the single most critical factor in how children weather their exposure to domestic violence is the presence of at least one loving, supportive adult in their lives.

Guardian ad Litem volunteers represent abused and neglected children in dependency court. We know their challenges. We also know children can recover from trauma given the right services and supports, and we advocate for trauma-informed, evidence-based screening, assessment and treatment.

We also work to support the child's relationship with his or her non-offending parent. For most children, a strong relationship with that parent is a key factor in helping them heal.

And as their advocates, we work to tell children the violence is not their fault and to show them they are lovable, competent and important.

Help us break the cycle.

To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or become a volunteer, please contact Riley Ashmore-Volunteer Recruiter at (352) 384-3167 or visit www.GAL8Circuit.org.

To get help, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119, or find your local domestic violence program at www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/domestic-violence/map.shtml. Florida's 41 certified domestic violence centers served more than 10,000 victims between March and June 2020, and they remain open and available to serve.

Angela Armstrong, Guardian ad Litem Circuit Director

for Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union Counties

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During this very stressful time—not only in Alachua, but all over the world—we have been forced into situations that we have never faced before, and I would like to say, “thank you” City of Alachua and “The Goodlife Community” for your patience, understanding, and most of all, your great common sense.  

I’m so proud to be your mayor and want to say, “Please keep up the wonderful work you have accomplished so far.”

Gib Coerper

Mayor, Alachua, Florida

Editor’s Note: High Springs Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham is also the Emergency Management Coordinator in High Springs, a position he has held for nine years, and he is the key contact between the City and other agencies regarding the Coronavirus. He meets remotely with Alachua County Department of Health three times per week, the Department of Health EMS twice weekly and the Florida Fire Chief’s Association weekly. He is knowledgeable about the Coronavirus pandemic, and periodically he will be writing about the pandemic and updates on best practices.

“Uncharted territory.” “Unprecedented times.” “Flatten the curve.” All phrases we have heard way too often. COVID-19 has changed life as we know it. Businesses have closed. There are now lines at grocery stores and millions out of work. To a certain extent, a modern day Pearl Harbor: “A [time] which will live in infamy.” (President Franklin Roosevelt)

As we continue to learn about this deadly virus, I encourage us all to do our part. The Stay-At-Home order is in place to protect your family and mine. Unless you need to travel for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping or going to an essential job, try to stay home. The only way to prevent the spread of this virus is to wash our hands often, wear a mask when in public and maintain social distancing.

As a department, we are taking extra steps to ensure our firefighters remain healthy and safe. Our lobby remains closed and new cleaning procedures, both for equipment and our personal gear, are in place.

While we manage a new normal, we are also trying to focus on a certain area of our community that is impacted the most by COVID-19—our seniors. Those are the people who may live alone, and who now find themselves in near total isolation with the cancellation of countless services and programs once available to them.

We recently launched the Caring Card Drive. With the help of members of our own community who are creating thoughtful and encouraging “caring cards,” we plan to deliver these cards to those in need in an effort to bring a moment of joy, and to remind them they have not been forgotten. This is the perfect activity to do with the kids. Cards can be big or small, simple or elaborate. Cards can include a saying, positive words, a poem or whatever card creators think fits best. A bin has been positioned outside of the main High Springs Fire Station lobby as a drop off location for cards. The address is 18586 N.W. 238th Street, High Springs.

In closing, let us remember to all do our part. We are in this together and we will persevere.

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During this time of crisis, America’s courageous patriots in uniform still deserve our utmost respect and admiration for keeping us free and safe from the bad guys of this world.

They are fulfilling an undying and faithful commitment to ‘'duty, honor, country” for every American no matter how they look or what they believe.

Today, these military heroes are joining countless millions of other American heroes in the brutal war against an adversary we call “Coronavirus or COVID-19.

The list of these patriotic heroes is long and consists of American warriors from every walk of life. They include:

  • Doctors, nurses, and other medical workers and support personnel,
  • Hospitals, nursing homes, and pharmacies,
  • Law enforcement and first responders,
  • Truckers and warehouse stockers,
  • Supermarkets and local grocery/convenience stores,
  • Restaurants and fast food chains who are finding creative ways to feed us and provide some degree of normalcy in our lives,
  • School systems for developing creative methods to teach our children,
  • Volunteers who are courageously putting others above self,
  • Corporations and small business who are “retooling” operations to make respirators, masks, and other personal protective equipment,
  • City, county, state, and national government bodies,
  • Broadcast and print media outlets, and
  • The millions of Americans who are faithfully committing to “social distancing” to combat the spread of this insidious and deadly disease.

Got the picture? We are all in this battle together. Sadly, just like every other war: “Some are giving some while others are giving all.”

Let us continue together as “One Nation Under God” in faithful commitment to “duty, honor, country” in fighting this war against humanity.

I am confident we will defeat this brutal enemy and come out stronger with renewed respect for one another. I know we can do it; I have to believe; I can do no other.

God Bless America!

Robert W. Wilford

City of Alachua

There is no legitimate argument for making this change now and sending government further into a black hole and out of the light.

If you haven’t heard, the Florida Legislature is attempting to abolish the requirement that governmental agencies publish legal notices in newspapers, which would push government further into the shadows and make it harder for Floridians to learn about public policy issues, make their voices heard and hold their leaders accountable. This bill, HB 7 is scheduled to be heard by the full House on Tuesday. 

First off, this bill flips public notice on its head by reducing government transparency. Simply put, putting legal notices on government websites means very few Florida citizens will ever read them.  Public notice along with public meetings and public records have been part of our nation’s commitment to open government since the founding of the Republic. Our Founders placed public notices in newspapers to be noticed.

Secondly, from the perspective of efficient use of technology, I believe the bill takes a step backwards by placing these notices on government websites. 

The Florida Press Association has a comprehensive website which aggregates and places all of the notices under one umbrella – it’s called floridapublicnotices.com.  We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars building this website to serve Florida’s state government as well as its towns, municipalities, businesses and taxpayers. To date, we have over 32,000 registered users and over 70,000 monthly page views in addition to the notices in the newspapers and their websites. And, it’s free for the public to use. Why re-invent the wheel now? 

If this bill is passed, city and county governments will be required to recreate the same infrastructure currently in place to make notices easily searchable, mobile friendly, and provide email notification upon request of a specific notice (which newspapers do today), that recreation will not be cheap. In fact, the promised savings may not be there.  Nor will the audience, without a major investment in marketing to direct our citizens to what would be hundreds of government websites.

Further, the bill has the impact of significantly reducing notice. 

Despite what you read and hear, newspapers or should I say, media companies are alive and well. Our weekly newspapers are growing, and our dailies are growing digital subscriptions and page views. In some cases, double-digit online growth.  

Newspapers in Florida alone are reaching 7.5 million readers in any given week, and our websites typically will reach more audience than most city or county websites. Our websites draw a minimum of 58 million unique online users in any given month.

By moving notices to less-frequently visited government websites, not only will you reduce the reach to the Florida public, you also lose the active and well-informed citizen. These are people who read often and find notices while they’re staying current with other community news. 

Finally, while this bill claims to save cities and counties money, the unintended consequence is that notices will lose both readership and the legally important third-party verification. 

With notices in newspapers -- in print and online -- it provides a verifiable public record through sworn required affidavits of publication.   Does the government really want to take on this responsibility of residents not being properly notified? 

In closing, 250 years ago our founders decided to place these public notices in a public forum -- newspapers – an open space where The People were most likely to see them… not on hundreds of different government sites hoping folks will find them.

Let’s keep Florida transparent and informed.  Please feel free to call your local legislator to share your voice before it’s too late.

Jim Fogler is the President & CEO Florida Press Service

336 E. College Ave. Suite 304, Tallahassee, FL  32301

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ALACHUA - COVID-19 cases continue to surge around the country, so this year’s holiday season may be quieter than usual. Gone are the guests, but there are still plenty of seasonal things that can be troublesome for your pets. Human holiday traditions such as food, decorations and plants that may seem harmless can be dangerous and even life-threatening to dogs and cats.  

“Our pets are naturally curious and love new things. The holidays provide a whole new world for them to explore that can lead to a potential illness or injury,” said Erin Katribe, veterinarian and medical director, Best Friends Animal Society. “Since many veterinary offices have limited hours and services during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s crucial to keep your pets as safe as possible, as a trip to the vet won't be as easy as in previous years.” 

As such, Best Friends Animal Society offers the following tips to keep your dogs and cats safe during this holiday season:   

  • Be aware that increased noise and lights can cause stress. If your pet seems agitated, turn down the music or consider placing your pet in a quiet, calm room with dim lighting. 
  • Curb the tendency to give your dog or cat human food. Any change in your pets' diet may give them indigestion, diarrhea or worse. Foods that people should avoid giving their pets include chocolate, grapes, onions, poultry bones, eggnog and fruitcake.  
  • Dispose of food trash in an outside receptable as soon as possible.  
  • Holiday plants such as lilies, holly, mistletoe and poinsettias are known to be toxic to pets and should be kept out of reach. 
  • The water a Christmas tree sits in is a breeding ground for bacteria and can be extremely harmful to pets. Keep water covered with a thick skirt so pets can’t get into it.  
  • Tape electrical cords safely to the wall and make sure that all electrical connections, batteries, and outlets are concealed. 
  • Tinsel, ribbon, metal hooks, plastic and glass can obstruct or perforate the intestine if ingested. Use an alternative such as paper and hang decorations out of reach from your pet. 
  • Quickly dispose of wrapping paper, packages and bows after opening presents and put children’s toys out of reach of pets after playtime to avoid accidental ingestion. 
  • Make sure your pets' identification and microchip are up to date in case anyone inadvertently leaves the door open during your holiday celebration. 

Some symptoms that your pet has become ill and should be taken to a veterinarian quickly include prolonged vomiting (more than three times in a row), dry heaves, a distended abdomen, sudden weakness or inability to stand, respiratory distress, change in gum color and/or seizures.  

“Pet owners should make a plan now in case their pets have an emergency over the holidays,” Katribe said. “Start by researching what veterinary offices will be open in your surrounding area and keep a list of their phone numbers handy to call ahead if your pet shows any symptoms.”

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