I’ve never been an animal person. Owning anything furry, scaly or feathery has always seemed to me like a lot of work, a lot of noise and a lot of mess. For years, I’ve quipped that I’d sooner eat most animals than own them. Friends know better than to show me cute pics of their new kitties or to let their dogs nuzzle up to me when I visit — I won’t be cooing “whoozagooddoggie?” while grabbing anybody by the scruff of the neck.

When my husband and I got married almost 17 years ago, we agreed: No pets. Kids, we decided, would be enough to take care of. Now, with three of them ages 13, 11 and 9, I can attest that they are a zoo unto themselves.

But then, last May, a friend asked our family to pet-sit her new fluffy black Havana rabbit. Could we watch the little guy for a month or two while she embarked on an extensive home remodel? At my kids’ insistence, I grudgingly agreed. I figured it would give them a spot of joy while virtual school had us all sticking close to home. But I made sure we took on the yet-unnamed animal on one condition: He’d return to his rightful home as soon as possible.

Nibbles, a bunny, has brought joy and comfort to the Garone family during the coronavirus pandemic. (Sarah Garone)

Bunny, as we creatively called him, didn’t take long to get comfortable at our house. He seemed to stake his claim on our fireplace as his preferred hangout, which I found amusing. Of all the places to choose, why the one where he could get roasted on a spit?

In the mornings, when we’d let him out of his cage, he’d go charging through the house with such boundless enthusiasm that I soon began to imagine him with his own theme music (and perhaps, a cape). When excited to see us, whether returning from the grocery store, a walk around the block or for no reason at all, he’d run joyful, hippety-hopping circles around our legs. And I couldn’t help but appreciate that his energy wasn’t accompanied by the disruptive barking or meowing that drives me batty in dogs and cats. He made no noise at all — a welcome feature in an animal, by my standards.

Even though he dropped occasional pea-size pellets on the carpet and chewed the lower perimeter of a rather expensive Mexican pine bookcase in our dining room, I found that I couldn’t stay mad at him. The more I petted his soft, silky fur and snuggled him during movie nights on the couch, the more I realized, to my own amazement, that I actually really liked this animal.

So when Bunny’s owner let us know that she wouldn’t be able to take him back as planned, a Serious Family Discussion found me in favor of keeping him. After all, his care and upkeep were so simple, he didn’t take up much space, and it didn’t hurt that he ate the scraps of going-bad spinach I otherwise would have guiltily tossed into the trash. In a family vote of 3 to 2, Bunny became an official member of our household. Not long after, in a symbolic gesture of his permanence, we named him: Nibbles.

My children eventually returned to school in person, leaving me working from home with Nibbles as my daytime companion. In the ensuing months, I’ve been surprised to discover how much his presence cuts the loneliness of tapping away by myself at my laptop. (My husband works from home, too, but I can’t exactly snuggle him while he’s on sales calls.) With Nibbles’s warmth and softness sidled up to me, I feel a little less alone in a world where, for the moment, social interaction is on a relative hiatus.

It’s not lost on me, either, that as my kids approach their teen years and I’ve flirted with the thought of another baby, Nibbles fills that void with far less commitment — and zero diapers. I know deep down that I don’t really want to go back to square one in parenting. But doting on this cuddly little animal fills a corner of my mothering heart: the part that wants to nurture, caretake and give love to a small creature.

In fact, it’s the tenderness that I feel for my pandemic pet bunny that has convinced me of the merits of having an animal. I see now that a connection with any fellow creature, especially during these difficult days of anger, frustration and sadness, is a beautiful thing. I love my husband and children unconditionally, of course — but not uncomplicatedly. No matter how deep my connections with them may be, I can’t deny that our status as flawed humans sometimes makes our relationships difficult. My love for Nibbles, on the other hand, is one thing in my life that feels untouchably pure. These days, that’s a rare find.

Although I’m still solidly anti-reptile and not ready to venture into dog territory, 10 months of rabbit care has gradually opened my eyes to the validity of the attachment people have to their animals. In short, I get it now. I get how any source of tenderness and love, whether from humans or animals, enriches our lives. At a friend’s house recently, when her terrier demanded my attention, I found myself petting his shaggy coat rather than pushing him away. Who am I to turn away a simple creature’s affection?

Meanwhile, as my heart has thawed toward other people’s animals, it has practically burst with delight for my own. I’ve turned into that lady who will regale you with stories of the latest adorable thing her pet did, who misses her fur baby while on vacation, who wonders why, if there are dog-friendly parks and restaurant patios, why not rabbit-friendly ones?

In the end, maybe my trouble with animals was simply that I hadn’t met the right one.

Sarah Garone is a nutritionist and freelance writer. She lives in Mesa, Ariz., with her husband, three children and Nibbles.

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