Help! Litter box training nightmare!!

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MeggyM

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HELP! Litter Box training the Impossible!

I recently adopted my second rabbit and his potty habits are out of control!

He is said to be 2 years old and has been fixed for the 3 months I have had him. Clover is mostly bonded to my female, Olive, and living harmoniously with her in a pen while I’m away, and roaming in my room together when I’m home to supervise.

Since my first rabbit was practically litter box trained when I adopted her and has had relatively few issues with it, I figured I could easily train a rabbit who previously lived in an outdoor enclosure and was use to going wherever he pleased. Not to mention rabbits naturally go in the same place. Not this boy. He is fearless, confident, smart, but could not care less!!

I’ll try to just outline the themes I’ve been tracking:

-Clove is pretty dominant but has mostly gotten over his marking phase except for one main place: my dog’s beds. He tries to boss my 60lb dog around and is clearly marking her beds.
However, that being said, I have removed ALL absorbent materials from his reach and keep him away from the couch and bed.
I have tried spraying vinegar or apple cider vinegar on the dog bed but it did not work so I just removed them all for now.

-For some reason he seems better in my room, and even better when I am in there/watching him, than in the pen.
The bun’s have their corner with litter boxes, water, toys and a plastic mat to let Clove know that is his area and to minimize him going outside that area. It works, but he still goes all over that mat. I could handle this if it were only poop…

-Clove is lazy! Hear me out, I love the boy, but he will wake up from a nap, sit up, poop, and then just pee right in the middle of his mat…!!!! What?! Or be munching on hay pellets on his mat and need to pee, then back him self up somewhere - even though I block all corners and walls so he does not have a flat wall to back up against, but he’ll just pee against something anyway instead of hopping into the litter box 1 ft away. Or he’ll finish eating hay in the litter box, hop out for a long drink, and instead of hopping back in, back himself up somewhere close by and pee right there.

-I tried adding more litter boxes, tried different types of boxes, and making his pen smaller, this seemed to help at first but in the end it was back to normal. I also try to keep the boxes pretty clean but that only helps a little too…

-I clean up after him constantly and use vinegar on the area so he learns that is not where I want him to go, but he must be so use to going wherever he wants that nothing I do works…!!

-He’s a smart boy too, which makes this even more frustrating… I do not know what to do!!!

To sum up the problem: I have a new bunny who is very use to using the bathroom wherever he pleased within his enclosure. He is rather lazy with his litter box habits and doesn’t seem to mind, or understand that it matters where he goes and does NOT go. Nonetheless, he somehow understands not to go all over a room and keeps his mess more or less contained to the "bunny area" or pen with the exception of marking the dog bed.

Open to any and all opinions and suggestions, even if they are critical and perhaps you think the problem could be something other than what I’ve outlined.
Thanks!
Meggy

The cute culprit!
 

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rabbit_friend

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who previously lived in an outdoor enclosure and was use to going wherever he pleased.

This is the key. (There are medical reasons a bunny might be going everywhere, but since you said he is “good” in your room and is able to jump in the litter box, that rules out a couple. Something to keep in mind though.)

For 2 years, he has been “trained” to go anywhere, and there has been nothing to indicate to him that there’s anything wrong with that. Now you are expecting him (just because he is “smart”) to realize that he can’t do that any more. He’s in a new place, his old cues are gone, he has some competitors for space and attention (dog and another rabbit) and he is probably very confused. His pen probably looks most like his former enclosure, so he feels free to go where he pleases there. Your room, on the other hand, looks different, so he doesn’t know what’s allowed there. So you will have to work with changing his environment so he has the right cues to guide him.

Some things we need to know:
-Does he drink from a bowl or bottle?
-Where do you put his food (pellets and salads)?
-Did he have a litter box at all in his previous enclosure?
-What did his previous enclosure look like? What was the floor like? Hutch or cage? Wood or wire?
-What was on the floor of his old enclosure? Wire? Blankets? Hay? Sawdust? Grass?
-Does he like eating hay?
-What is in the litter box?
-Does Olive have a separate litter box? Does Clove go in hers or only in his (when he does go in it)?
-Does he like digging up things (like blankets or litter box contents)?
-What does he like especially? Special treats? Petting?
-How good is your bond with him after 3 months?
-How long are you “away”?

Since you said Olive is good about using her litter box, I’m assuming that hasn’t changed since Clove came into the picture.

We need the above details for a full plan, but here is a basic outline of what to do:

1. Make the place where you want him to go look as much like his former enclosure as possible.
2. Make everywhere else look as different as possible.
3. Show him that Clover is doing what you want.
4. Change his cues with eating and drinking, since eating stimulates pooping and drinking stimulates peeing.

I’ll address #3 while waiting for you to provide more details for the other points:
I’m sure you’ve already been praising Clove any time he does use the litter box. But also praise Olive every time she uses the litter box. Maybe even give her a treat or pet her, if those are rewards for both of them.
This is for two reasons:
1. She may be thinking “hey, that new bunny is going everywhere, so that must be okay now,” which you don’t want! I just had that happen to me with a new stray bunny that had perfect litter box habits till he saw my elderly bunny peeing on pee pads by the fence separating them (my older bunny has spinal and bladder issues). So now the new bunny pees by the fence too.
2. You want Clove to see what the right (and rewarded) behavior is. Bunnies learn from each other (both good and bad behaviors!). They also learn from your interactions with other bunnies.

*** Side story: I heard a lecture once about a researcher trying to teach a particular parrot to speak, and they weren’t getting anywhere. It wasn’t until the researcher decided to sit in front of the parrot with a SECOND parrot that was already trained, and model the training with that one, that the first parrot started progressing by leaps and bounds. ***

Don’t get discouraged. You can often change behavior (barring a medical condition, as mentioned). Your bunny may indeed be lazy, but I wouldn’t judge him just yet — he probably just doesn’t know what to do. There are steps you can take to show him. Keep in mind that change can be hard, especially going from something easy to something more demanding! If you used to eat anything you wanted, and now have to switch to a more careful diet, you know what I mean ;-)
 

MeggyM

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Ah, thank you so much! This is very helpful!

-Drinks from a bowl.
-I try to put all his food inside the litter box but I often just put veggies down on the ground and I use pellets to get the buns into other rooms then sprinkle them on the ground. I should probably stop doing that...
-I adopted Clove from the SPCA so unfortunately literally the only thing I know about his past habitat is that it was said to be an "indoor/outdoor" enclosure and that he "only pees on grass or turf." When I first got him he had been fixed the day prior and wouldn't eat - that's how I discovered how much he was use to and enjoyed grass. So I assume it's true he had access to a lot of grass and lived at least somewhat outside.
-He likes hay now! ;) though I clip some fresh grass for him every day or 2.
He has many different litter boxes as I am trying to figure out which one works best for him, as well as is easiest to maintain.
I use a cookie sheet on top of some care fresh litter in a way where the poop falls through. I also use a small box or 2 with paper pellets and/or a pee pad. Paper pellets seem to be the best for him. Again, if I'm being honest I am constantly changing the set up in each area, trying to "make it better" which I now realize is probably just confusing him further...
-They share all the litter boxes - both are curious and interested in each one.
-Clove is not much of a digger at all and shows little interest in digging in a litter box no mater what it's content. I don't give him anything soft like blankets anymore but he never dug on them much to begin with.
-His favorite things are to be pet on his head and to eat! 😜 I am cautious about fruit and treats so I honestly don't know what his favorite is yet, but I could find out! I make pellets a treat. He also loves to chew palm branch bowels and edible logs.
-I guess our bond is ok... because he naturally loves people... but it's still in the beginning stage.
-I am away at work and such about 50 hours a week.

Yes, Olive's litter habits and still intact though I am definitely worried they will not stay so. I want Clove to learn from Olive, not the other way around! But Clover doesn't seem to care what Olive does - he's the boss and seems to pay no attention to her in this regard. That's great advice, I will definitely start rewarding her as well!

What do you mean by "change his cues with eating and drinking?"

Olive use to be in a 2 story ferret cage, I'm sure that is very different to his old habitat, maybe I could try them out in there...? I have not done so because I was afraid he'd pee in the corners and it would be a nightmare to clean up all the time...

Thanks so much for the feedback, I appreciate it!!
 

rabbit_friend

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Hmmm, it sounds like you should get him something like this!

Unfortunately, it’s a) expensive, b) possibly dangerous (reading the first review), and c) needs to be replaced often. You’ll see lots of related products that have artificial turf, but I’d be worried about him eating that, and the texture isn’t the same anyway. And buying sod from Home Depot, well that could have all kinds of fertilizers, pesticides and who-knows-what in it. Growing your own would be best!

Which leads me to ask — where are you getting grass for him? Do you know what’s in/on it? Be careful with that, especially since now we have to add concern about RHDV2 (have yours been vaccinated?)

If you do have some safe grass, I would start sprinkling it in the litter box to give him at least the smell that he is used to, and not feed it to him anywhere else.

The next closest thing to grass is hay, which is what I use in my litter boxes. I’ll tell you what I do, since you said you were already using pee pads and that Clove doesn’t dig.

I have litterboxes that conveniently fit a quarter of a sheet of a pee pad in the bottom. Maybe you have one close to that size. I’m talking about the 23” x 36” underpads for humans (Prevail is the brand I buy). Pee pads for dogs often contain pheromones that I would guess bunnies don’t like, and are often more expensive.

So I cut a pee pad in quarters and put one quarter in the bottom of the litter box. Then I cover it with hay. I mix timothy with orchard hay because the orchard hay is softer. For your bunny, it would also feel more like grass. Then I pile more hay at one end of the litter box for eating. Once a day, I pick up what hay is unsoiled and put it on a new quarter pad, roll up the dirty pee pad in the litter box, and toss it. Wipe up anything that may have leaked underneath, then place the new quarter pee pad with hay on it in the litter box. Add fresh eating hay at the same end as before. It’s quick and easy and I have to buy hay for them anyway.

I used to use paper pellets, but they’re heavy to deal with, both new and soiled, and I have hand problems. Plus it gets expensive too. Pellets do allow you to go longer between cleanings, and they do weight down the litter box for bunnies that like to tip them, so there is that. But pellets certainly don’t feel like grass. Carefresh doesn’t either — it feels like quilts or cushy throws, and you don’t want to train him to go on those! So I’d ditch the Carefresh, as well as the other boxes. Just one box per bunny, put where they most like to poop/pee, so they don’t get confused by all the boxes.

I‘d recommend picking a box with fairly low sides, since he didn’t have to jump over huge obstacles to get to the grass at his old place! Sprinkle fresh grass on top of the hay, some on the eating part and some on the bathroom part. And don’t clean the box out completely — always take some of his poop and some peed-on hay and put it back in the litter box every time you empty it, so it doesn’t smell too clean and smells like him. He may think you don’t want him going there either, since you’re always cleaning it out! Since he isn’t avoiding Olive’s litter boxes out of deference to her seniority, you could even try putting a few of Olive’s poops in his litter box right after you clean it out — my bunnies can’t resist pooping somewhere another bunny has pooped!

So: hay in the litter box, and nowhere else. Grass in the litter box, and nowhere else. Food should also be eaten while in the litter box. Greens can be put on top of the eating hay in the box. If the litter box is put next to the pen, pellets can go in one of those cups that’s made for hanging on bars of cages. You could try this with water too, but that may be more tricky. That’s what I meant with food and water cues—make him have to get in the litter box to eat and drink, so he’s in the right place when that stimulates him to poop and pee.

I was guessing his old outdoor enclosure had some sort of walls, and I was envisioning chicken wire or some other wire fencing. So I was thinking you could make his potty area look more like that by only leaving the pen/fence visible in that area and camouflaging it elsewhere, maybe by draping sheets or blankets over it, or attaching posterboard to it. But since you’re not sure what his enclosure looked like, that may not help.

Are you putting a litter box in your room when they get to run in there? If so, set it up the same way as the one in his area, with pee pad and hay and grass in it.

Since you’re not home all the time, it’ll be difficult to reinforce the training consistently, but be sure to praise both of them any time you see them using the box! Giving a favorite herb as a reward might help too (mine love fennel fronds and Italian parsley). Keeping in mind that intermittent reinforcement works better than constant, you don’t have to give the food treats every single time — just praise consistently and give food treats occasionally.

If he is still backing up a lot and reluctant to jump in the box, start out with just putting the hay and grass on half a pee pad on the floor. I do that with my senior bunny, anchoring one edge of the pee pad under the fence so it doesn’t move around. Once Clove (hopefully) uses that and nowhere else, you could then try moving it into a litter box.

Feel free to ask more questions, and please post followups!
 

JBun

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If you could post a photo of your litter box set up and their enclosure, that might give us a better idea of what could be causing these issues. It's possible the way you have the litter box set up, is why he's not wanting to go in there and use it.
 

MeggyM

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If you could post a photo of your litter box set up and their enclosure, that might give us a better idea of what could be causing these issues. It's possible the way you have the litter box set up, is why he's not wanting to go in there and use it.
He goes in every litter box variation I have presented him with, he just also goes everywhere else! ;)
But I'll still get some pictures up soon.
 

lasopsjes

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He goes in every litter box variation I have presented him with, he just also goes everywhere else! ;)
But I'll still get some pictures up soon.
I'm having the same issue! Did you figure anything out? My new bunnies (age 2 and 4) came from a rescue situation where they were in cages. They are awesome at going in the litter boxes!!! But...they also love peeing on EVERYTHING else so I can't make their habitat as homey and cozy as I want it to be. I wanted to get them a bunny-safe rabbit tree too!!! :(

Im going to be decreasing their space in hopes that will help. I don't know what else to do. They pee on vinegar-cleaned areas as quick as I can put it down.
 

MeggyM

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Thank you for all the advice, this honestly makes me hopeful that I really will be able to let him roam with Olive some day!

I've started putting hay down like you said on a pee pad and grass on top of it. Think I'll give that a go before purchasing those grass pads because as you said, they are expensive and this could work! But thank you for looking into it for me because I very well could end up needing to try it.

There is a field behind my apt that is city owned and I'm 99% sure they don't use anything on it. I do not know exactly what plants are in it so I try to only cut what looks like regular grass.

That's a great idea to reinforce Olive's good habits and use that as training for Clove.

I went back to the beginning and just used a pee pad with hay and grass on top of a large plastic tray from a dog kennel - this way I can put all food and water on it which seems to already have helped! Only problem is that this is incredibly messy and as the hay gets spread around and off the mat it may confuse him again. So I'm going to get a very large low sided litter box, as you're right, he's not use to jumping in a box and I can tell he's more likely to hop in a low liter box that's completely open when he's unsure of where to go, than finding the entrance for a high walled box. It will be big enough for me to put their food and water bowl in there as well.

Yes, I put a litter box in my room and I will set it up the same way with hay and grass now.

Questions:
-Should I continue to clean the areas around and outside the litter box with vinegar to let him know I don't want him going there?

-Clove gets territorial and starts marking all over when I enter to clean his pen. He also pees out of spite when he is not pet so it could be that as well.
-I've noticed I sometimes come home to a fairly unmarked pen but then he starts to poop everywhere and sometimes pee as well. I'm not sure if he's just trying to get my attention and mad or what... I guess I could just put him in my room whenever I need to get in his pen.
-Do you think it will confuse him to have more than 1 litter box? Because I thought it was helpful to have multiple ones for other areas of the pen, when he wakes up and realizes he has to go right away, or when he's confused, or bored, or lazy...?

-Lastly, I sometimes leave frozen 2 liters with water in them around the cage to cool them off when they lay against it. They create alot of condensation, should I avoid these or anything wet inside the cage for a while in case it encourages peeing next to the ice pack/waterbottle?
 

MeggyM

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I'm having the same issue! Did you figure anything out? My new bunnies (age 2 and 4) came from a rescue situation where they were in cages. They are awesome at going in the litter boxes!!! But...they also love peeing on EVERYTHING else so I can't make their habitat as homey and cozy as I want it to be. I wanted to get them a bunny-safe rabbit tree too!!! :(

Im going to be decreasing their space in hopes that will help. I don't know what else to do. They pee on vinegar-cleaned areas as quick as I can put it down.
I think it's going to take some time to retrain the new boy but the advise has been very helpful to my situation with the bun coming from an outdoor enclosure in grass, so I'm not exactly sure what the root cause is with yours.
Yeah, mine too, are completely unfazed by vinegar!! And I have had to keep their habitat functional as well, so it can't be cozy at all right now. I see it as training and took out/away pretty much EVERYTHING absorbent. It just is not worth constantly cleaning this, plus it is training them that it's ok to pee on those items because it becomes a habit...
 

rabbit_friend

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Unless his space is really large, I would stick to one litter location. The idea of using the crate tray is excellent! If the pee pad shifts around too much, I also used this kind of thing after one of my bunnies had bladder stone surgery and wasn’t supposed to jump:
(IRIS USA Small Pet Training Pad Holder - 19.3" x16.5" x 1.2" , Blue)
I think Petsmart and Petco have the same kind of thing. I found it perfectly held half of the human pee pads I mentioned earlier.

The issue of hay getting everywhere is a problem with these low-sided solutions, as is the bunny peeing over the side! I used to put quarter pieces of pee pad all around the pad holder so that I could easily clean up stray pee and hay.

I wouldn’t trust any grass from a city-owned lot, personally, but you know your city better than I do 🙂. I’d be worried about what people are or have dumped there.
 
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rabbit_friend

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I would keep cleaning with vinegar where you don’t want him to go. Be sure to rinse with water to get rid of the vinegar smell, because it can be annoying and also irritating to the respiratory tract.

If you haven’t noticed them peeing beside the ice bottles, I would leave them, although I wouldn’t think a bunny would want to lie next to a wet bottle. Maybe get some porcelain tiles to put down—bunnies like to lie on them because they’re cooler, and maybe he won’t pee on them If he sees them as a nice place to sleep.

As for him pooping/peeing more when you get home, he may just come alive and be active only then, or get excited that you're there. Or he may feel insecure about what's his and feel the need to make sure you know once you're home. Does he have a hideaway house that is his safe space?

As I mentioned before, be sure to not completely clean out his litter box—always put some of his poop back in. He may be feeling like he has to make an extra effort to mark because you're always cleaning everything up!
 

MeggyM

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He seems to be a little bit better! I had to ditch the peed pad on a tray because my female was doing zoomies over it, flinging hay, poo, and peed on hay everywhere, making obscene messes and I was worried this would further confuse Clove. Nonetheless, in just one day he learned to pee ON it and not near it, which seems to have carried over to not peeing elsewhere as much. So that's great!

I have expanded their enclosure because it's so boring since I removed anything he'd want to pee on/has before. I also noticed Clove is like a little toddler who doesn't realize they need to go potty and then all the sudden they gotta go now!! That's one reason I am weary of taking the second litter box out, It's there in case he doesn't have time to hope the extra few feet to the other side and otherwise he may just go wherever he is at that time... Still, There are a lot of stray poops that maybe wouldn't be there if I removed the second box. I'm not sure, I'm torn and he is inconsistent with whether or not he needs the extra one on the other end as a reminder to use a litter box instead of the floor...

If you let the vinegar dry, for instance while the buns are in a different area, does it evaporate and you're good to go once dry? Or should I still rinse the area with water? I use so much vinegar and so frequently that I stopped rinsing with water but I can start again.

I have some tiles for them, though I'm not sure what their made of, but they don't seem much cooler than the laminate floor and he's peed on them before so I haven't reintroduced them. Think I should?
Clove likes to hang out on the patio and I live in Florida so I try to give them options to really cool down - that's where the ice bottle comes in hand and surprisingly, they like laying against them - probably because it is so darn hot here! He has peed next to them before but not for a while.

Got it! I've noticed he is hesitant to pee in a box with no soiled hay so I am always putting some in the clean box.
 

MeggyM

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He seems to be a little bit better! I had to ditch the peed pad on a tray because my female was doing zoomies over it, flinging hay, poo, and peed on hay everywhere, making obscene messes and I was worried this would further confuse Clove. Nonetheless, in just one day he learned to pee ON it and not near it, which seems to have carried over to not peeing elsewhere as much. So that's great!
 

MeggyM

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Sorry, please ignore the last post.

As for the evening time, there are many possible motives and I can't quite pin down why.

They have one cardboard box but Clove prefers to sleep/be on top of any box I've given him rather than under - he's fearless and even in my room opts to sleep flopped with his back to everything and face towards the wall instead of under the nice cool bed with Olive.

This may be a dumb question but is territorial marking the same as showing dominance? Could he be pooping all over his habitat on purpose, as still part of the bonding process? Ah, as I write I am figuring this out: they are not tightly bonded yet. Clove is always asking Olive to groom him and she only sometimes obliges for a few seconds. Clove is rather stubborn and dominant and will not groom her at all yet gets angry and pouts when he is not groomed. When I finish petting his he goes right for Olive with some "fake lunges" to try and push her into submission but she won't quite have it and knows he is only fake threatening her.

So maybe this evening time issue, when they come alive, is more about the bond than litter habits...?
It's tricky though because I, as well as my dog, add more layers to the hierarchy and Clove definitely responds depending on who is there, in what space, and in what way.
Suggestions???
 

MeggyM

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Would you look at that!!! This is about 20 hours without cleaning the cage floor, which is unheard of with Clove...!
They went a whole afternoon, evening and night! There is more poop than you can see from the pic but much of that is near the litter boxes and most likely from jumping out.
I try not to use this high sided box, but they go though so many this was just what I had clean and on hand. I can not believe how well he did and with his main box being one he has to work to get into...! Now I’m wondering if he’s ok with this high box in his habitat, he is very familiar with it.
The milk gallon is filled with water which they enjoy laying next to when they’re hot but it’s mostly used as an awkward shape to block off tempting/confusing pee spots.

You see what I mean by their habitat is boring? This is all that’s left which he won’t pee on. Hopefully I’ll be able to introduce more soon.
 

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MeggyM

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Also I watched Olive lift that bowl right out of the litter box! 😂 she’s use to eating pellets outside the box, I’ll fix that problem!! 😉
 

MeggyM

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If you could post a photo of your litter box set up and their enclosure, that might give us a better idea of what could be causing these issues. It's possible the way you have the litter box set up, is why he's not wanting to go in there and use it.
So you think the litter box set up in the pic is good enough or could there be something discouraging about using the box?
 

JBun

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It doesn't look big enough to me, but then some rabbits like smaller ones. So it's just a matter of trying different things until you find the size and set up your rabbit does best with. Here's an example of one of mine in the past. It's plenty big for her to move around in and eat her hay. It's a mortar mixing tray from home depot. It's what I've used for most of my rabbits, though this one is cut low in the front because this rabbit had arthritis. But normally the side is about 6 inches tall and the box was about 20 x 27, which size has always worked well for my rabbits.

9146-fbc16d862503e57efe72b77b4fb5a3f0.jpg


This is the same thing, but doesn't have a side cut low.

rabbit pen3.jpg
 

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